“Or, How to tell you’re the Old Dude in the group!”
Last Tuesday we hiked Nicholson Hollow Trail from Skyline Drive (mile marker 37.9) through Nicholson Hollow (1350 feet elevation loss) to the intersection of Corbin Cabin Cutoff. This hike is one that takes you down and back through layers of history with many relics of past residents. It’s a fairly steep descent following what starts out as a dry stream bed and soon becomes a trickle over rocks and then a stream.
The trail runs through mountain laurel, which looms up on both sides, both protecting and entrapping you at the same time. It’s a beautiful trail now in the Fall and it must be amazing in Spring when this is in bloom. I’ll come back then to report and photograph.
Like I said, the trail descends rather rapidly and John, James and I were accompanied on this hike by friends of James’, Audrey and Patrick, a couple I would guess are in their mid-thirties. Also along were Patrick’s dogs Minnie and Danger, sweet little French Bulldogs that had the energy of a twenty cup a day Espresso drinking madman! Those puppies had enough energy to pull a sleigh loaded with the rest of the hiking party if we could have harnessed them. ( Yes, they were leashed, per Park Regs and for their own safety.)
Here’s where my age started telling on me! The younger folk were so quick, and so immune to the shortness of breath and need to “take five” I can succumb to going up or sometimes downhill that they were far ahead of me as I wandered down the trail. But, this also led to their missing some of what we were here to see. I don’t hike for endurance, but rather for enjoyment and observation of my surroundings. More than once I found myself calling them back to check out a foundation or other feature they had missed while following the trail. And this trail has some of the best remnants of pre-Park history you’ll find.
Along this trail you quickly start noticing stone walls and the huge piles of rock left from clearing the fields for gardens and orchards. A lot of the trees are quite small here, possibly due to a major fire in November of 2000 so views are good through the late Autumn woods. Nearing the bottom of the trail, about two miles in we come upon a foundation and the remains of a chimney base cozied up near the stream, conveniently located to facilitate the necessities of life in the nineteenth century. Old stovepipe and other remnants are scattered within the foundation. Check them out, you’ll find things I missed.
Each trip is a different experience so yours will be unique to you. Move on a short way taking care to peer through the woods both left and right. Very soon you’ll see what appears to be a short, intact cabin through the woods to your right. A barely discernible trail will take you there for a closer look.
This is the remnant of the Nicholson Cabin, one of the few that weren’t burnt upon the occupants departure from the Park. Most were set ablaze to discourage the residents from trying to return to homes they had occupied for years, if not generations. This cabin, however, was left to slowly return to the forest on its own. Maybe the Nicholson’s, as some of the Park residents did, retained a life estate that kept them there long after others were forced to vacate the Park’s lands and that’s why it wasn’t condemned to the same fate. Ironically, a fire in November of 2000 burned the first floor logs of the cabin and it settled down to earth to rest in the state you now find it. A lowslung building accessible by what were formerly second story Windows is what remains to give a glimpse of the life led here.
Corbin Cabin, a short walk and hop across a stream gives a much more complete picture of life here in the hollows in the distant past. This cabin was preserved by the Park and the Potomac Appalachain Trail Club and is furnished sparsely as a rental for hikers and weekenders. It has a nice wood stove for cooking, a fireplace and a bunkhouse attached for sleeping quarters. We were fortunate enough to be passing when the cabin maintainer was on the premises performing the periodic maintenance required to keep the cabin in good shape and suitable for rental. He was full of history on the Park and also on both Corbin and Nicholson Hollows. He had great suggestions for reading materials such as Hollowfolk, a book on the peoples of the Park and also told us about an archaeological survey of these, the most inhabited hollows in the park, that are available from the PATC online bookstore. You can be sure I’ll be checking them both out!
After wandering around and taking lots of pictures it was time to head back up (1350 feet elevation gain) Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail to Skyline Drive. I have to say here that it’s only a couple miles, but man are they killer. Felt like the hills were straight up! Here’s where that aforementioned youth of our companions really stood out. Audrey and Patrick were up those hills like mountain goats, running mountain goats! John hung right with them too, to give him the credit he deserves. I however, took my sweet time, and many, many breaks on the way back up. Unless you do this every day it’s easy to bog down on the uphill and this was no exception. My saving grace may have been that James, still recuperating from a cold wasn’t at one hundred percent either, so that gave me the excuse to stop and take the necessary breathers. But again, like I said earlier, the main purpose here is to be out on the trail, breathing fresh air, taking in your surroundings and letting nature work its magic. And that my friends, is exactly what it does.
I was comforted get a comment from a fellow experienced hiker that she loves this hike, but NOT taking the trail back UP Corbin Cabin Cutoff. There is another route following Nicholson Hollow Trail down from the cabins to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road near The Old Rag parking lot. NEXT TIME!
Until then, Peace and as old Roy Rogers used to say:
“Happy Trails to You”