The Monday after trail days we all trickled out of Damascus into Virginia. After a mentally difficult 10 miles I got to the first shelter only to see in the log that Rockman moved to the next one 6 miles away. I flipped a coin and decided it was too late for more and so I waited for the rest of the crew.
I spent my first night in the famous, fabled, and formidable Alpine Hammock, a weather proof bivy sack that hangs as a hammock or sets up on the ground as a Bivy. Ryan was nice enough to lend me one for the week for me to play with.
I slept surprisingly late and posted my first noon start. Mount Rogers has such a mature and non-regional ecology that it makes the new state of Virginia feel epic in that trilogy sort of way. Red spruces, healthy hemlocks, and old growth hardwood birches and beeches. I moved slowly with my eyes sky high to the canopy and my jaw to the trail. It made a new sense of urgency all too difficult to commit to.
For once I had an itinerary. Thursday night my brother was to pick me up around Partnership shelter to go to a bachelor party in New Orleans. After quitting two years ago, I’m generally terrified of stepping off trail. Yet, for my boy Brendan I’ll willingly do it twice.
The schedule I set to make my ride was challenging yet extremely possible. The only thing in the way were lingering feelings of fatigue, a haze of laze, and our lowest motivation yet.
After noon on Monday the bulk of the Thru Tang set off after Rockman. Lost Mountain shelter was our first stop and one I’d been looking forward to. The shelter wasn’t anything special but the privy had the entire Lorax story by Dr Seuss written on the walls. I saved up some rare afternoon business to enjoy the spot.
The privy had the entire Lorax story by Dr Seuss written on the walls. I saved up some rare afternoon business to enjoy the spot.
Lost mountain probably didn’t have a ton of mice thanks to a sizable black rat snake that had taken up residence in the shelter. I almost stepped on the poor boy before he slid home beneath the floor boards.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (NRA) and the Grayson Highlands are famous for beautiful high elevation views. And the ponies. They were released as an attraction and they have lived without predators in harmony. It’s not uncommon to find one sleeping in the trail and refusing to move out of the way.
Along with ponies there are intermittent farm lands with beautiful open expanses.
Caboose and I finished late but caught rock Kelly and Snugz at the shelter near the summit of Mount Rogers. Rocky and I decided to try a summit bid on Virginia’s highest peak the next morning. The trip report is as follows.
6:51 am: I awake the same way as any other day; filled with panicked urgency to find my orange shovel or a privy. Luckily Thomas Knob Shelter has a delightful moldering privy.
7:05 am: The summit team grouped to discuss the day. Rock Kelly and myself, The Southern Lorax, in attendance.
7:07 am: Rockman and I begin our summit attempt on Virginia’s highest peak.
7:19 am: Summit team encounters large quadrupeds in and around the trail. They appear to be sleeping without fear of predators. Perhaps their nonchalance indicates they should be feared.
7:20 am: Get our pictures with pretty ponies
7:24 am: Enter dense conifer forest.
7:29 am: Complete Objective. Rockman and I stood on two separate rock piles then switched since we couldn’t tell which was higher.
7:32 am: Rock tells me about his successful trip he lead to find an undiscovered spider in a cave. He found it first
7:35 am: mild snacking
7:44 am: Rock and I descend to our base camp for a celebratory yerba máte
8:08 am: safe return complete, máte enjoyed
We stayed at hurricane mountain shelter that night and weathered a strong storm. The group spent 40 minutes deliberating over camping on a stand of dead hemlocks by the river. In the morning branches were scattered all over the grove and would have surely hurt someone. Don’t forget to look up when you’re picking your site for the night as loose or dead branches, “widow makers” can change your trip pretty quickly.
Complete Objective. Rockman and I stood on two separate rock piles then switched since we couldn’t tell which was higher.
Another 20 mile day put us out of Mount Rogers NRA and at my pickup point. We found a campsite past the road and away from the Partnership shelter. It had a rare shower but law enforcement was harassing hikers and performing illegal searches of backpacks so we pushed on.
Thru Tang did order pizza and my brother brought fried chicken as well. It came out of nowhere and it was one of the best trail feasts and the last one together for a while. Atlas has to push ahead to meet his girlfriend in DC, Rockman was headed to northern VA to get his foot checked out and rest, and I got in a car to drive away from the AT. Excited for the weekend, terrified of the worst case scenario.