Like most of the country, we got unexpectedly and unseasonably warm weather for most of the month of December. Despite it being a few days after Christmas, we found ourselves itching to go hiking in the 75-degree weather - wearing shorts and t-shirts no less. Since NoKey got a new camera for Christmas, we decided to take it for a spin on a trail with a few different and interesting things to see. We chose the Snake Den Ridge Trail in Cosby and hiked up to the Appalachian Trail to see a plane wreckage site and an incredible view of Mt. Sterling to see the new camera in action. Snake Den Ridge Trail is not generally thought of for nice views or waterfalls or, well, really anything. It's more of a connector trail in the park, leading you to the places you want to go. Since it was a nice weekend and right after Christmas, we chose it thinking it wouldn't be crowded with tourists and we chose right - we only saw four people the entire 12 miles we hiked.
We began first by walking through the closed-for-the-season Cosby Campground back to the trailhead. The beginning of this trail is an old roadbed with a gentle grade for the first 1.5 miles or so. Just before leaving the road, you'll see an old cemetery off to the right. Now that we were nice and warmed up, we were able to shed some layers before heading up to the only creek crossings on the trail - the first on a beautiful new log bridge and the second a usually easy rock hop. The high levels of rain we got in December made this one a little tricky, but we got across relatively dry. Snake Den Ridge Trail climbs a little more steeply for the next mile before coming to a switchback where you can take in a beautiful view of Mt. Cammerer and the Cosby valley below us. We also started to see evidence of other hikers around this point - hard boiled egg shells littered the trail for approximately the next mile or so. Now we were at about 4000 feet in elevation and the scenery began to change - the hemlock trees gave way to spruce and the trail began to level out. We also saw three backpackers coming down from the AT. After climbing a huge and recent blowdown, we reached our junction with the Appalachian Trail.
Once on the AT, we headed southbound for less than 1/10 of a mile before coming to the site of a 1984 F-4 plane crash. The pilot slammed into the mountain and it's said that the explosion was heard as far away as Newport. After checking out the site, we headed up to the old Deer Creek Gap Helipad to soak in the views before needing to turn around. We didn't get started hiking until 11 a.m. and it was now 2:30, so if we wanted to beat sunset, it was time to go! When we got back down to the AT junction with Snake Den Ridge we met another dayhiker headed down the same direction we were headed. He started all the way at Newfound Gap that morning and was headed down into the campground. He had covered some serious mileage! Our hike down was pretty uneventful other than the fact that during our unbridged stream crossing we both misstepped and ended up wet on one foot!
We made it back to the parking lot by 4:45 p.m. and prepped for our drive home when it began to sprinkle. Talk about great timing! We followed up our hike with nachos and chicken wings. Even though we didn't have time to get in major miles for the day, we called it a victory getting in a quick 12-mile, 4400-feet elevation gain hike.