Thursday, July 22, 2021

Hiking Sharp Top Mountain (Strenuous!)

As I sit here typing this, my quads are burning. This morning, after my Bible time in James, I decided to drive up to the Blue Ridge and try out my new Altra Lone Peak 5s on a hike. I already knew they were great on the trails and even on hard surfaces. But how would they do on a really challenging mountain climb? As per usual, I took the back roads through scenic Southside Virginia.

This is some of the most beautiful and bucolic country in all of the Eastern Seaboard. Funny thing, despite being out in the boonies, I kept passing churches I have spoken in, like this one on the border between Halifax and Chatham Counties.

I finally arrived in Bedford where I caught my first glimpse of Sharp Top, one of the famous Peaks of Otter (the other being Flat Top Mountain).

When I began my hike at around 9:30 am, the weather was slightly overcast with a perfect temperature of 70 degrees. The parking lot, which is usually packed, was almost vacant.

Since I saw very few hikers out on the trail I assume that most of these people had taken the shuttle to the top and back. Before I tell you how the shoes did, let me walk you through the hike today. The trail starts out looking like it will be a piece of cake.

The opposite is actually true. Here in the mountains of Virginia, a hike can be classified as either Easy, Moderate, or Strenuous. Sharp Top is definitely a strenuous hike. The hike up was relentless.

The climb is a never-ending trek over rocks and boulders until you arrive at the summit. Not only is hiking footwear recommended, but I would also recommend you take along some trekking poles since the climb up and back is brutal.

At first the trail ascends gradually.

But then you find yourself in the midst of a real climb where the danger of tripping on a rock or root is very real.

The final third of the climb consists of ascending an endless number of stair steps that are cut out of the rocks.

All I can say is thank God for my trekking poles because my shoes were not very helpful for maintaining balance. When you reach this stone shelter you know you have just about arrived at the summit of Sharp Top Mountain.

This marker tells you that you've finally made it.

The haze meant that the views weren't quite as spectacular as they usually are, but you could still see a long ways down into Bedford County.

And just to the north is Sharp Top's twin, Flat Top. Gorgeous.

So how did the shoes do? I've climbed Sharp Top multiple times but today's hike was by far the most challenging (and slowest) of them all.

I'll give the shoes an A+ for traction -- I never felt like I would slip on wet ground or on scree. On the other hand, I'm sorry to have to give the shoes a solid D- when it comes to comfort and safety. With almost every step I could feel the rocks pushing into the soles of my feet. Furthermore, the shoes were much too loosey-goosey to provide a sense of security. The heel counter is too soft to give you protection from twisting an ankle, which I almost did several times. The only solution was to climb slowly and use your poles as a security backup for any surprises your shoes might throw at you. All this to say that I will definitely not be able to use my Lone Peaks on hikes that are in the moderate to strenuous range. They offer plenty of support for non-technical trails, but they are definitely not meant for more strenuous climbs. I might look into the Nike Wildhorse 6s instead.

I can't recommend this hike enough if you're ever in the Bedford area. But plan for it to be gnarly and do bring your trekking poles -- as well as shoes with a strong heel counter and thick soles. Not only is the view from the summit amazing, you might also run into some wildlife on your trek.