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[at-l] Trip Report (LONG)

Monday, December 16, 1996

     Just got back from a trip to Grayson Highlands in
Virginia.  Brent, my dog Micah, and I pulled out of Raleigh
around noon on Friday the 13th and arrived at the park by
4:30.  It was a blissfully traffic-free trip--a good start
to the weekend.
     We saw several deer and a flock of turkeys on the park
access road.  There was only one car at the Massie Gap
parking area when we arrived.  We soon found out that the
campgrounds had closed the first week of December, so we had
to park the truck outside the campground area and walk in to
the campsites with our gear.  We had our choice of almost a
hundred campsites.
     Brent had brought a bottle of wine to celebrate the end
of his final exams--it went quite nicely with our black
beans and rice.  We sat out after dinner and the clouds soon
cleared like stage curtains being pulled back just for us so
that we might enjoy the wonderful meteor shower.  The wind
had picked up pretty fiercely and the temps were below
freezing without the windchill factored in.  We were only
able to last about 45 minutes before the cold sent us into
the tent for the night at a very respectable hour of 8:30.
     Micah bestowed a small gift upon us as we entered the
tent.  It seems that while we were enjoying our heavenly
entertainment, he had a more earthly subject drawing his
attentions and he had caught a mouse.  Im absolutely
positive now that he is ready to hit the trail with me next
year.  We might even be in high demand in the shelters once
his reputation is known.
     I had some trouble keeping Micah warm that night, so he
eventually ended up sharing my sleeping bag.  This is no
minor accomplishment for a leggy, 65 pound dog, but we were
quite snug come morning and we were all reluctant to leave
our warm coccoons.  I guess that showed in the fact that we
didnt get on the trail until almost 11 that morning.
     We took the Wilson Creek Trail from the campground to
the AT.  Micah successfully negotiated some stiles, but he
bailed out and took the low road under the barbed wire on
others.  At the very first register we came to as you enter
the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness I was able to pick out
Chases signature from just a few weeks ago.  I think its a
pretty universal habit we regular hikers have developed to
search those registers for a familiar name and it never
fails to bring out a smile when we spot someone that we
recognise.  It only seems to emphasize how close knit the
hiking community is and I think the AT List has added to
that considerably.
     Soon after we hit the AT and headed north, we ran into
two men from Charlotte walking down the trail with no packs.
We found out that they were searching for their third hiking
companion.  It seems that these two had left camp a little
earlier than the third and the threesome had not been able
to find each other since leaving camp.  We talked over
different possibilities with them and discussed their lost
friends situation as far as food and shelter were
concerned.  We were relieved to hear that they were all
pretty self-sufficient and it was decided that they would go
on to the trail register we had just left and leave a
message.  They would then retrace their steps and leave
notes at each trail intersection directing their companion
to a rendezvous location.
     We continued on northward and played tag with these two
hikers until we reached the Scales.  As we descended the
hillside towards the paddock, we heard a far off call of
wooohoooo!, which generated quite a bit of excitement for
our temporary hiking companions.  The calls were answered
back and forth for several minutes as the two men quickly
headed on up the trail towards a ridgeline from which the
calls seemed to be coming.  Brent and I stayed behind in the
valley to have our lunch, but we assume that there was a
happy reunion since there was peaceful silence once again as
soon as our companions reached the ridgeline.  Im glad
things turned out as well as they did.  Again and again it
is brought home to me how easily things can go wrong.  I
always try to have enough gear of my own to be self-
sufficient and when I do hike with a partner, I very much
try to stay within earshot or have very detailed plans in
place for the day.
     We sat out in the sun, shielded from the wind by some
nearby bushes, and heated up some Ramen noodles.  While the
soup was cooking, we munched on Triscuits and cheddar cheese
slices and admired the beautiful views to the northeast.
After our late lunch, we headed on to the Old Orchard
Shelter, just a few more miles to the north.  The terrain
went from the bald, meadow-like hillsides of Stone Mountain,
to fir stands filled with moss-covered stones and the scent
of pine, to rhododendron-bordered trail, and then to
hardwood forest of maple and beech.  All this within a few
brief miles.
     The first siting of the shelter through the trees
brought that familiar sense of relief.  Why these plain
little three-sided structures can bring forth such a feeling
of comfort and of coming home is one of the great
attractions of the AT for me.  That night we feasted on a
Lipton pasta dish to which I had added some dehydrated
spinach, peas, and corn to make a trailside version of pasta
primavera.  We then broke out our sleeping bags and sat out
to watch the stars.  We didnt last too long before our
drooping eyelids finally signalled our required retreat.
Our tent was nestled in under the trees near the spring.  We
had a very peaceful night--that is of course once the local
owls finally found each other after what seemed to be quite
a frantic and prolonged search.  I guess it was just another
version of the search we had taken part in earlier in the
day, and once again we were relieved at the reunion and the
peace that soon followed.
     We woke to another cloudless sky on Sunday.  Brent
volunteered to make pancakes and I volunteered to eat them.
He made them with a banana nut muffin mix to which he had
added some dehydrated blueberries.  He then served them
covered in a dehydrated fruit stew he had made from peaches,
strawberries, blueberries, and pineapples.  They were
absolutely fantastic!  What a way to start your day.  I wish
I could pack Brent along with me next year.  It seems like
he really knows how to do the royal treatment while out on
the trail and Im a little jealous that hes a big enough
individual to be able to carry a few extra pounds of
luxuries in his pack without really affecting his hiking
     From Old Orchard we headed west on the Lewis Fork
Trail.  By this time I had a Hefty bag filled with garbage
strapped to my pack.  Some of it had come from the area by
the Scales, but the majority of it was trash we had picked
up in and around the shelter.  Who are these people that
seem to think cans will burn in a campfire???  I really need
to meet one of them because I still find it hard to believe
that such people exist, but I guess the evidence speaks for
     From Lewis Fork we took the Cliffside Trail.  What an
absolutely beautiful trail!  The Lewis Fork Creek runs
alongside the trail for a long section and here the trail is
flanked by thick rhododendrons that almost meet overhead.
What a magical tunnel of flowers this must be come June.  At
the intermittent breaks in the undergrowth you can see the
creek and catch glimpses of waterfalls, crystal clear pools,
and rocks wrapped in froth as the water tumbles by.  I could
see the wheels spinning in Brents head as he planned his
future fly fishing trips.
     The last half mile of Cliffside leaves the creek to
follow a steep drainage run until it finally dumps you out
on Pine Mountain Ridge.  We took a brief rest before heading
southwest on the Pine Mountain Trail to the intersection
with the AT at Wilburn Ridge.  We ate our lunch of broccoli
and cheddar rice while seated on top of one of the stone
outcroppings along the ridge.  We had become so warmed by
our hike that we were down to t-shirts, but the winds on the
ridge soon dried our sweat and we pulled out the fleece.
     From our vantage point we could see Mount Rogers to the
west flanked by Elk Ridge, then Hurricane Mountain and the
Iron Mountains to the north.  To the east we could just make
out the Scales and the route of our previous days hike.  At
our feet we had the company of a small herd of wild ponies.
     Onward once again for the final days push.  We headed
south now on the AT along Wilburn Ridge.  We came upon a
short tunnel near the top of the ridge that takes the
trail through some pretty narrow rock-sided passages.  The
floor of this little cave was covered in ice, but we wanted
to try it anyway rather than taking the alternate route
around the side.  I believe this little piece is called the
Fatman Sqeeze. :-)  We felt like little kids playing in a
forbidden cave for that brief little section.
     We had been planning on spending our last night at the
new Wise Shelter, but neither of us new of its exact
location and we had limited daylight left.  The last hour
and a half of our trip was rushed in trying to beat
nightfall as we were both a little apprehensive about
finding the shelter or some good tentsites with water.  We
werent so rushed though that we didnt enjoy the beauty of
the Highlands.  As we were approaching Massie Gap, we could
see more wild ponies feeding quietly on one of the opposite
hillsides.  They all had their noses buried deeply in the
grass and never moved a muscle when a lone deer darted into
their ranks and out the other side.  It was as if she were
flaunting her speed and grace as she seemed to pass through
their midst unnoticed.
     We finally made it to the shelter just as the sun was
setting behind a ridge.  There we found one lone hiker--Zeb
from Indianna.  We chatted with him as we went about setting
up camp and fixing dinner.  He was one week into his annual
two week trip.  He had begun at Damascus and would return
there in a large loop that spent much of its time in the
Mount Rogers area.  Every summer for the past fourteen years
Zeb has worked with Konnarock and eventually became an
assistant crew leader.  His only absence was for a year or
two while he recovered from a broken back!  And here he was,
just a few years later, backpacking once again in spite of
having been told his days of hiking and trail maintenance
were over.
     Sunday night was our last night out and we had planned
on getting an early start Monday morning.  The temps were in
the 20s each night we had been out, but we seemed to get a
lot more frost on our gear and in the tent than usual.  Even
the tent zippers needed some coaxing to get them to open up
the next morning.
     We had a very short hike out to my truck and we ate a
light breakfast as we walked.  The skies were now overcast
and Im willing to bet that Zeb is watching a pretty
snowfall as I sit at home and write this.
     Our trip ended with a very welcome change of clothes at
the truck and a high fat, low fiber, mega-breakfast at a
nearby Huddle House.  What better way to end a perfect

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