I had hoped to make it all the way to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, it was still too close to the winter solstice. The daylight hours were short and the trail was long and surprisingly steep. There were also many portions of the trail under snow or ice, which necessitated slow going to avoid slipping and falling. It reminded me of segments of the Profile Trail on Grandfather Mountain, without all the big stone steps. I had a specific time that I needed to turn around to make it back to the parking lot by dark. I did not have enough time to complete the trail during one day. When the time arrived to hike back I was maddeningly close to the Parkway. I could not tell exactly where I was because my paper map did not match my GPS map. But I could tell by the lay of the land that the top of the ridge was close, maybe just a few hundred yards away. Anyway, I turned around just short of my goal.
To hike the rest of the trail, rather than come back another day and start from the bottom, I decided to drive to the Parkway the next day, start at the top and hike back down to connect both ends of the trail. Further unfortunately, it was too deep in the winter. The next day, when I tried, I found that the Parkway was covered with ice and snow, the rangers had put up barricades and I could not get to the Devils Garden Overlook. I vow to return to the Parkway when the ice clears and make the trail connection.
This hike was a great workout. Despite ice and snow in many sections, there were plenty of places to hike hard uphill. I found that going uphill takes twice as long as going downhill. About 2/3 of the trip time was spent climbing, and about 1/3 of the time was spent hiking back to the truck.
As often happens, I got to play Ranger Bob. At the Widows Creek Trial and Mountains to Sea Trail intersection, I encountered a middle aged lady hiker with a big dog. She was not lost, but had never been there and was not good at reading her map. At her request, I have her some directions and trail segment times. She expressed her gratitude.