[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Backpacking Trip Report (Mt Rogers, Va)

I decided that since the leaves were just starting to change where I live,
at about 2300 ft above sea level, they should be right pretty in the Mt Rogers
area which is about 5500 above sea level.  Boy was I right.  So here's my

I thought that I would do a loop hike and start out at the parking lot at 603
and hike to the Old Orchard Shelter, spend the night, and then hike along the
ridges the next day to some nice spot, spend the night, and come back home.
So I leave work at about 6:00 on Friday the 14th and head south on I-81.
As usual with my trips, I get to the trailhead just as darkness is starting
to fall.  No problem, I've hiked this section of trail once before and don't
remember any real tricky areas.  My flashlight will do just fine.  So I 
start walking.  The forecast for blacksburg was for freeze and frost warnings,
so I knew I would get one or the other this high up.  After an hour of hiking,
I made the clearing and found 4 guys already there.  I was kind of glad, 
because as a rule, I generally don't like camping alone.  I start to go up to
the shelter to see if there's room, but as I near it, I see 2 guys are already
in bed, so I decide to tent down below in the field.  I set up the tent I 
borrowed from Allen (thanks again Allen, I promise to remember to bring it back
tomorrow) and realize, hmmm  my flashlight is getting weak.  That's ok, I have
2 fresh batteries in my backpack.  When I opened the flashlight, I realize that
it takes 3 batteries, not 2.  So I replace the top 2 and get ready to go down
and get water.  Of course, that third battery was so drained, it drained the
other 2 fairly quick.  If I turn the light off for a few minutes, I have about
2 minutes of light when I turn it back on before it dies down again.  sigh.
Well, I know where the water is, I'll be ok.  So as I step out of the tent,
the 2 guys from the shelter who hadn't gone to bed had come down to say hi.
I ask if the water is flowing good and they say they haven't been down there
yet and would I mind if they followed along.  Since they had lights that
weren't dying, I sure didn't mind.  :-)  The water was flowing like a faucet
from the piped spring, so I had no problem filling my water bag up.  We
took it back to the shelter and set it on the picnic table.  As it turned out,
the 2 I thought were sleeping, were just laying on top of their bags.  So I 
brought my stove and food bag up and had dinner just as they were bedding down.
I finished my dinner (and HOT tea, it was already in the upper 30's and only
10:00 at night) and went to bed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up and wondered, who in the world
is shining a light on my tent?!?!?!!  I opened the flap and realized the half
moon had just risen.  So I got out to go relieve myself and realized how
beautifully clear the sky was.  Blacksburg isn't a big town by a long shot,
but once you get way out from lights, you realize just how much light pollution
there is even in small towns.  I was just agape looking at the stars that I
haven't seen for quite a while.  (This was my first trip since mid-summer.)
Then I realized how cold I was and went back to bed.

In the morning, there was a good 1/2 inch of frost on EVERYTHING.  It was so
beautiful.  Then I saw the trees for the first time in the light.  It was
staggering how bright the oranges, yellows, and reds were.   And there was just
enough green left to really have a rainbow effect.  I trudged back up to the
shelter area 50 yards away and was getting ready to make breakfast.  One of
the guys had taken my water bag and refilled it for me.  I'd told them last
night to feel free to use it.  No need in bringing tons of water up from the
spring.  I filtered my 3 quarts and then filtered a bunch for them.  So in
return, they gave me hot water for tea.  They'd built the fire back up and it
sure felt good.  So I toasted my bagel by the fire and just watched the sun
creep over the ridge behind us.  They poked fun at my putting mustard on my
bagel, but I love mustard and I love bagels.  (On the Konnorock trail crew,
we ran out of cream cheese, so I tried mustard and loved it.  Did I mention
how much fun Konnarock was?)  As the sun hit the trees just below the clearing,
the true colors of the leaves came out.  I thought it was beautiful before,
but that was nothing compared to this.  My tent was still in the shade and 
since it was free-standing, I moved it down to the sunlight to melt the frost
and dry it a little bit.  After breakfast, I cleaned up, packed up and
headed on.  I knew the forecast was for the mid 60's, so I just start out in my
t-shirt and shorts.  One of the guys at the shelter was from Lebanon and 
started to shiver just looking at me.  His buddies told him once he started
walking, he'd warm up in a hurry.

So I hiked to the ridge of Pine Moutain and walked over to the rocks that
lie between the AT and a horse trail and took in the view.  It was absitively
posilutely gorgeous!!  I didn't see the ponies, but figured, I've got all 
weekend.  I decided to spend the night at Thomas Knob shelter.  Going by the
AT the whole way, it's about 9 miles, but taking another trail it was only
3 miles.  Well, the 9 miles is tough.  I remember the last time I came through
I was not a happy hiker when I made the shelter.  And 3 miles is too short.
I know.  I'll hike to Scales by the AT, then take a horse trail to Rodedendron
Gap, then the AT to Thomas Knob.  I'll stay on the ridge most of the way
so it shouldn't be too taxing.  So I walk down to Scales.  When I go to Scales,
there were lots of horse people passing through.  They all had the same 
question, "Aren't you COLD?"  "Not as long as I keep moving," was my
usual response.  I decided I was hungry and stopped here for lunch and hot
chocolate.  While waiting for water to boil, a covered wagon came up.  No one
talked to me (they were 50-60 yards away) and were just content to look at the 
scenery.  Then a sole girl hiker came through and we got to talking.  She's
a French girl who volunteers for the Forest Service.  Kind of like the ridge
runners do for the AT, but more trail work.  She said they do trail work
for 3 days and "patrol" 2 days, and 2 days off.  Today she was out to be sure 
that everyone knew it was the first day of bow season here.  Dohh!!!  And I 
have a nice black pack and no blaze vest to strap to it.  Oh well, I'll be on 
the ridge and in the open.  If I'm mistaken for a buck, the hunter needs
help.  She moseys on and I pack up and head up the horse trail.  I reach
Rodedendron Gap and soak up another spectacular view.  The last time I was
here was in late June, just as the Rodedendron was blooming.  Now, the
surrounding dedicous trees are changing color.  After a half hour or so,
I head on to Thomas Knob shelter.  I reach the shelter at about 3:00 in the
afternoon.  There's 2 packs in the shelter, but no backpackers with them.
I realize how early it is and decide to camp back at a spring I saw a couple
miles back on the ridge.  So I leave my pack and go to get water since I was
out. When I got back, 2 fathers and 2 sons had arrived and were staking out their
space in the shelter.  They ask if I'm spending the night.  I reply no, I'm
heading back to a spring I saw a way back, I just stopped for water and to
enjoy the view.  Several day hikers pass by on their way to the summit of
Mt Rogers, which is only half a mile away.  I've been before and there's no
view, so I head on back to Rod. Gap.  I stop there again for another half
hour to enjoy the view and then reach the spring.  It's still REAL early.
Like about 4:30.  So I decide to head back to the car and come on home.  
There's lots of cleaning that needs to be done anyway.

I'm at the junction of several trails.  One leads a mile to where the AT
reaches the crest of Pine Mountain where I was earlier.  Another leads down
Pine Mountain and eventually reaches Old Orchard Shelter.  At least that's 
what this one hiker tells me.  I can't find it on my map.  So I decide to 
take his word for it and start down it.  I find another spring and run into
the same 4 guys from the night before!!  I sat and talked for a while again.
They're really nice guys all in the 30-40's I'd guess.  Then I head on down.
The hiker I talked to earlier says this trail (Cliffside Trail) meets the
Lewis Fork trail and take the Lewis Fork trail to the right to Old Orchard
shelter.  So I walk for a while and reach a fence with a gate.  The sign just
says Lewis Fork.  So I look at my map.  (Which doesn't have Cliffside trail on
it.)  Well, I don't see any other trails breaking off of this one, so this sign
must just mean I'm entering the Lewis Fork Wilderness.  Boy was I wrong.
I start walking down the trail.  I realize I'm going to the left and the
map says I want to go to the right.  But since I think I'm still on the
Cliffside trail, I figure I'll meet the Lewis Fork trail soon.  After 2 hours
of walking steadily to the left and downhill, I reach a switchback.  The sign 
says Lewis Fork trail is the one I'm on and the one switching back to the 
right.  There's another trail that continues on straight.  sigh.  So I break
out the food bag and enjoy some more bagels and mustard and granola bars.
Snacks of the champions.  I pull out my map and look for the intersection of
these trails.  Lewis Fork is on my map, but not this other trail.  Just as I
begin to realize where I think I am, I realize that I've walked 5 miles the
wrong way.  It's now 6+ miles to the car.  And there's only about an hour of
light left.  sigh.  Then a group of about 20 college age people come down from
where I just was.  I ask if they have a better map.  (my sugar coated way of
my pleading, "where in the Hell am I?" ;-)  One of the guys has a Mount
Rogers map and he pulls it out.  We realize that my map (AT map) has very few
of the side trails his map does.  sigh.  We both decide it would be better for
me to take this Spur trail ahead over to the Mount Rogers trail and take that
down to the Campground on 603 3 miles form my car.  I figure even if I
get on the road and it's pitch black, that's safer than trying to find my way
down a trail I've never been on before.  So I finish eating and pack up again.

I get to the road just as complete darkness took over.  My flashlight had 
recovered enough to give me enough light the last 20 minutes.  So I make it
to the road and start walking towards the car.  By now I've walked about 15 
miles when I intended to do maybe 7.  sigh.  So I put a white T-shirt on the
back of my pack so cars coming from behind will see me and open my jacket in
the front to expose my white t-shirt I'm wearing and start the long hike to the
car.  Road walking really does bite the big one.  Each time a truck passed me,
I think, I should have stuck my thumb out.  I could ride in the back.  There's
nothing between here and my car for them to stop at.  Of course, all of these
thoughts don't enter my mind till the trucks are all rounding the curve ahead
and going out of sight.  I finally make the car about 9:00 and figure I've 
walked something like 18 miles.  (I don't have my map with me now, but that's 
the number that sticks in my mind.)

So this past weekend, Laura and I decided to go day hiking.  Since she's never
been to the High Country before I decide to take her there.  Another friend,
Matt, went with us.  The 3 of us and our 3 dogs pile into Laura's Jeep and
head for Grayson Highlands.  We parked at Massey Gap and hiked the Wilburn
Ridge Trail so we'd be as high as possible with awesome views.  At one of the
outcroppings, we saw the ponies on the field below us just off of the trail.
When we headed on, they were still there, so Laura and Matt stayed back with
the dogs and I ventured close to the ponies to get some pictures.  They were
very docile animals and let me actually pet a couple of them.  So I got 
pictures of their various colors and we headed on to Rod. Gap.  While there,
another group came up with their dogs.  Their dogs were off-leash and came
running up to our dogs very quickly.  Matt's dog, Maggie,  does not like
dogs that she doesn't already know and growled at the dog.  One of their other
dogs didnt' come too near us, but we still didn't like the looks Maggie was
giving it.  One of them asked where the leash was and one of his partners
said it was in the pack.  What a brillian place to put your leash, pal.
We get past them without further conflict and head on back towards Massey

The ponies are still in the field and one of them has even moved to be right on 
the trail.  Laura said he was collecting tolls of apples to let you pass.  
We just sat there and took more pictures of him and pet him a little.  One
picture I didn't get, but wish I had was when he bent over to sniff at Maggie
and she strecthed out to sniff him at the same time.  But I was fiddling with
my day-pack when it happened and missed it.  sigh.

Laura had a good time and enjoyed the scenery.  She especially enjoyed the
ponies I'd told her about last June.  But she did say that if I ever thru-hike
the whole trail, she knew she wouldn't be able to come with me.  :-)

Well, back to work...
S. Schuyler Stultz              Recognition Research Inc.
schuyler@rrinc.com              1872 Pratt Drive Suite 1200
(540) 231-6500                  Blacksburg, VA 24060