I may have walked along the dragon's back a few weeks ago, but more recently +Leanne and I climbed up to its tooth, or perhaps more accurately, its fang. This impressive little spire of upright sandstone atop Cove Mountain (actually a fin, not a spire - more on that later) is one of the so-called “Triple Crown” along this section of the Virginia Appalachian Trail. The other two are nearby McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, and all three are spectacular destinations.
|Cove Mountain summit and Dragons Tooth from Point 2363|
|This translates to "Fun Ahead!"|
We started at the big parking lot for the Dragons Tooth trail on Route 311, rather than where the A.T. actually starts up the mountain on Route 624. There were already a lot of people here, but nothing like there would be later. On the way back down, we were rarely out of sight of at least one more group of people, and even had to wait our turn at a couple more restricted spots. The scene at the trailhead was then reminiscent of a popular Adirondack or White Mountains trailhead. The parking lot was full and there were cars parked up and down the shoulder of the road for a respectable distance. However, we didn’t see many people at first. Most who start here seem to go up the Dragons Tooth Trail, but we took the Scout Trail to the A.T. Not too far beyond this junction, the trail gains the crest of a ridge that leads to Lost Spectacles Gap. But before following it, we first made a short off-trail excursion to nearby Point 2363.
|Perhaps my favorite part of this hike.|
Back on the trail, it quickly gets more interesting as the trail steepens and moves onto a narrow rocky spine known as Rawies Rest. There are a couple of spots where a handhold is needed, at least for balance, and there are more views - though none as wide as from Point 2363. After crossing another minor summit, the trail drops off about 100 feet to Lost Spectacles Gap and the junction with the Dragons Tooth Trail’s upper end. This was one of the first really nice days of Spring, and here is where we joined the steady progression of people headed up to the same place. The trail stays mellow just a bit longer and passes the spot where the trail once headed straight up a spur ridge to the top of the mountain. I followed this route a couple years ago, and while I enjoyed its steepness, I must admit that its lack of views and scrambling makes this one of those cases where the new trail is vastly superior.
|Typical terrain on the upper part of the trail.|
But the highlight of the hike, and its namesake, is a short distance down a sidetrail off the summit and the AT. Here, right on the very crest of the ridgeline, are a series of Silurian sandstone fins standing tilted upright at a nearly vertical orientation. They are at most ten feet thick near their tops, and the tallest of them - perhaps 50 feet high on the side you first see - is the Dragons Tooth. It drops off even more to the steep slopes below the east side, and at first it appears that the only way to get to the top is by rock climbing. It is somewhat of an illusion though, because the fin slopes down to the south. By walking around the right side, there is an easy way up to a notch in the fin and a crevice that leads back toward the top. You can either go under a chockstone wedged in this slot, then up, or stem up just before it. There is ample room and “safe” seating just above the chockstone for a great lunch and rest spot, and to take in the great 270° view that includes McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs - the other two-thirds of the Triple Crown. The Peaks of Otter are also visible 30 miles away and just to the right of McAfee Knob. Getting to the very top of the tooth is a different matter. It’s only another 30’ or so away, but it gets intimidating quickly. The crest of the fin slopes upward somewhat steeply and narrows down to 4’ wide or less, and it overhangs on the west side. Few people have enough nerve to walk right up to the top. I usually sit about halfway up, and scoot the rest of the way while keeping secure handholds. I don’t go to the very top every time, and I’ve only been brave enough, (or stupid enough) to stand upright on the top once or twice and can’t say I recommend it to anyone - unless they are letting me take their picture, of course. You can probably only stand on the sharp end of a tooth so many times before it bites you. Not feeling overly brave (or stupid), I didn’t stand up today. Actually, I didn’t even go the the very tiptop, opting instead to stand and sit for a while on a narrow ledge on the east face. But there was another guy who climbed up after I had departed, who stood on top as nonchalantly as if he were standing on the ground. It made a great photo op and nobody got bit.
|Another upright fin adjacent to Dragons Tooth.|
|The view of Catawba Valley with Tinker Cliffs (center) and McAfee Knob (right) above it.|
|Below Dragons Tooth, on the AT.|
|More fun trail.|
|Yes, this is the trail, my favorite part.|
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Hike Stats: 5.3 mile lollipop loop, 1,675' cumulative elevation gain
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