Unfortunately for the purposes of this blog post, I lost two hours of photos from the day. But there are still enough below to give you an idea of what it is all about. Even in the horrid weather, it was worth every step. I would do it again and again, from Grayson to Thomas Knob shelter and back. I'd skip going to the top of Mt. Rogers as not worth the effort, but I would love to see this phenomenal place in the sunshine. Anyway, on with the tale.
After a bunch of twisty roads and you-can't-get-there-from-here driving, we turned off US 58 at Grayson Highlands State Park by 8:30 in the morning for hike number 17 of 9.5 miles to Mt. Rogers. Even at that early hour the weather was threatening to go to hell, so, naturally, I was anxious to get moving up to Mt. Rogers and minimize our time hiking in the very cold rain. The clouds were so low that visibility was about 50 yards at any given time and the wind was howling, a constant 20+ miles an hour with plenty of gusts, though down in the relatively sheltered Massie Gap Overnight Backpackers' parking lot, we really couldn't tell how bad the gusts were. Time would tell.
It was a bit further up the trail that Ann quipped that the park was misnamed. It should have been "Grayson Highwinds State Park" instead.
Two trails leave out of the back of the parking lot, separated by a line of trash cans. The trail to the left is marked Massie Gap and the other is marked Appalachian Trail Spur. To go to Mt. Rogers, stay left on the Massie Gap trail and that will bring you after a two tenths of a mile or so into a large field or what we felt was a large field in the fog. As we walked across the field, we would get our first glimpse of ponies away in the fog. We entered the field on the east side. You can also enter from a parking lot on the south side of the field. In either case, to get to Mt. Rogers, you need to traverse the field and exit through the gate on the north side of the field.
|First Pony Sighting|
|Yeah, Do Not Pet the Ponies|
|Fabio is Not Camera- or People-Shy|
|Roots on the Rhododendron Trail|
|Wild Apples, A Rare Bit of Color on a Bleak Day|
|Ditto for a Lone Trout Lily|
|The Approximate 500-Mile Point on the AT|
|Our View at 9:45 in the Morning|
|Our View at 1:45 in the Afternoon|
|Leaving Grayson Highlands State Park|
Meanwhile, climbing the ridge, the weather was showing no signs of abating. Once we got up on the ridge, we had to cross through a gap in the rocks, a gap that was fairly sheer on both sides and a place where we really needed good balance and good footing. This gap, being at the very top of the ridge, was exposed to the now 30-plus mile an hour winds and as I was desperately trying not to be blown off the ridge and down the sheer rocks, my 240-lb body was being rocked and I was being tossed about like I was a scrap of paper in the gale-force blasts of icy wind.
|Our View Was Like This All Day|
|Some Rocky Sections|
|See The White Blaze?|
|A Bird-Man Sculpture?|
|Lots of Rocks on the AT Here|
At times we could only see a few feet ahead of us for the cloud fog and the icy wind was enough to fog my glasses to the point where I could barely see. Rolling along south on the AT as fast as we could motor, suddenly the Thomas Knob shelter emerged through the fog and my fogged glasses. We were immensely thankful that the wind was directly behind the shelter, letting us sit in relative comfort to bolt some lunch. Just as soon as we sat down, some other 8 or 10 hikers also converged on the shelter for lunch.
Everyone was taking only a five-minute break from the wind, trying to get in miles before the rain. We took our five minutes and promptly left heading south, the others leaving soon after. The Mt. Rogers spur trail is just yards south of the Thomas Knob shelter, heading straight on while the AT veers left. It's a very short and easy climb to the top.
Unfortunately, there's nothing much to see up top, the hill being crowned in a wonderfully eerie cloud forest of spruce and fir, especially the very rare (in the south) Fraser fir, Abies fraseri. For AT hikers, unless you have to say that you bagged Mt. Rogers, this is not a blue blaze for you. All there is to see is a rock in the middle of the woods crowned with a survey marker. There is exactly a zero-degree view as a reward for the short walk up to the summit.
We lost the way once on the return trip when the AT turned unexpectedly up the hill (no double blazes) while the Virginia Highland Horse Trail kept on straight. I have no doubt that many hikers make the same mistake. We also found another place where the AT turns without warning while another trail heads straight on. On the way back we took the time to put stone arrows on the ground and mark the location with a small cairn. Hopefully the maintainers will see this and recognize the need for better blazing at this spot.
By the time we got back down into Grayson Highlands Park and 45 minutes from the car, it was clear we would miss the rain and so we could slack off the race pace that we had been on. It is just as well because we had several more wonderful encounters with the ponies and we could take our time near them.
|Annie and Nonchalant Ponies|
|This Little Guy was Shy|
|This One Was a Pain in the Ass|
We got back to the Jeep very happy to have only been damp and really cold at times, having seen our fill of the wonderful shaggy poines. We both had windburns to show for our hike, but at least we were not soaked to the core. I must say that it felt really good to be in out of the wind. Next, on to Trail Town USA, Damascus VA.
|We Missed Trail Days by Two Weeks|
|Late Afternoon Burgers and Beer|
|Our View in the Rain in Damascus|
|The Mill Dam Below our Balcony|
But one of the upsides is that sometimes you get a picture like this. From the balcony in the rain, I kept seeing a mallard that would fly 4-500 yards upstream, float down a little, swim like crazy to the dam, hop up on the dam, look around for a couple minutes, then take off flying upstream. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over, the silly duck.
|Silly Mallard on Laurel Creek|