Grayson Highlands and Mount Rogers
Here it is. My first blog post. Rest assured I have no clue what I'm doing, so buckle in, sit tight, grab some popcorn and please read because I want you to think my life is cool for just a quick minute.
A little back story first.
For the past several months my cousin and I had been planning a trip to the Adirondack Mountains. Now I know what you're thinking, "Evan, you already messed up your first blog post, the title doesn't say Adirondack mountains!" and to you I say, I definitely probably did mess up, but the title is correct. After months of planning, and two days before we were supposed to leave, we realized the weather in the ADK's was harshing our mellow. So we made a decision on the spot. A decision to go further South and therefore somewhere much less snowy. The place we landed on was Mount Rogers and Grayson Highlands. There are a few reasons we came to this conclusion. I'll organize them into a neat little bullet list for your viewing pleasure.
- My cousin wanted to go to Mount Rogers
-I want to summit every states high points and Mount Rogers just happens to be one
-Neither of us had hiked the AT
As you can see, the odds were stacked against the ADK's.
So it was settled. I ordered a map, we made a rough plot of our route and left for the Jefferson National Forest.
May 11th, 2017
I'm not a morning person. Anyone that knows me knows that if they want to do anything on the weekend with me, it had better be later in the day. My cousin (whom I will refer to as Chris from this point on) is the kind of morning person who prides himself on waking up at 4 am. He's the type of guy that will go to bed at 8 pm. Chris is also the type of guy that doesn't like to really break away from that trend. Do you see where I'm going with this? What I'm saying is we had to get up at 5 am to leave for this trip. I'll spare you all the details of the drive down, but I can almost 100% confirm Chris has a prostate issue. I've never seen someone pee as many times as this man managed to pee within a 6 hour drive.
We did however stop at a pretty rad subway for breakfast which if you have not done, I recommend everyone go and try a steak and bacon melt for breakfast. Oh, and we also stopped at the New River Gorge Bridge. I got some cool pictures of the bridge on my phone. I would have used my camera, but 1.) I'm lazy and 2.) it was kind of rainy and I didn't really want to have to deal with that whole situation.
That was a pretty cool place. The construction for the bridge began in June of 1974 and wasn't completed until October 1977. I'd tell you more but the only reason I knew that was because I read it on the little wooden sign that they always have at overlooks like this one. Sorry folks.
After we visited the Gorge, I realized I had forgotten my boots. I know what you're thinking. Anyone could make that mistake and it totally wasn't my fault. Hiking boots are probably the last thing on my list of things to remember on a hiking trip.
So we had to make a pit stop at a Dick's Sporting Goods for a new pair. I had been wanting a new pair of trail runners, so it kind of worked in my favor anyways. I totally MEANT to forget my boots, is what I'm saying.
So after a 6 hour drive with periodic pee breaks, wrong turns, delicious breakfast sandwiches and a totally planned shoe shopping trip, we arrived at the base of Mount Rogers. The specific campground we parked at was Grindstone, if you were wondering. The trail leading up the ridge to Mount Rogers (Mount Rogers Trail ((Duh))) was, to put it simply, hell. We had the bright idea to drive down as early as possible (I hate you Chris) so we could have an extra day of hiking and get deep into the mountains before we set up camp. Little did we know we'd be exhausted from the long drive and cramped up from not walking (minus those walks to the urinals).
The highlight of the day for me was my first steps on the Appalachian Trail. I really want to hike the AT in it's entirety one day so it was pretty monumental to be on that trail. After a bit of hiking on the AT, we saw a split in the trail and could see an opening to the right. We almost skipped this, but thankfully we didn't. It ended up opening up into a huge bald with some pretty incredible views. I'll let the pictures do all the justice.
We were so happy to have an opening in all the trees, we decided to run down to the other tree line. That was a pretty bad idea, so we sat there for a bit and took a break.
After we followed the AT north bound for a few miles, we arrived at the Thomas Knob Shelter which is really close to the summit trail to Rogers. We decided this would be a pretty cool place to camp so we set up South of the Shelter in a little thicket. At this point it was beginning to look like rain, so we ate really quick and went to hang our bear bags.
Of course the second I threw my cool mesh bag full of rocks over the tree, it got stuck. We were so tired we just said forget it, cut the line and set the bag under a tree ~200 feet from our camp. Probably not the best idea, but I never claimed to be smart. Just handsome and super funny.
That night I had the weirdest dream that I woke up in my tent, went outside and I was in downtown Pittsburgh. My buddy was there and I asked him where the forest went and he just looked at me confused. So I looked at my camera to see the pictures I had already taken and realized they were all pics of graffiti.
Now I don't know what the hell that means, but it freaked me out for some reason and I woke up to it pouring down rain. There was a little bit of lightning but I couldn't hear any thunder so I decided I was totally safe and went back to sleep. This was real life foreshadowing.
May 12th, 2017
The next morning Chris woke me up around 630 am, because of course he did. He had already had his breakfast and like, 12 cups of coffee. It was still raining, but not nearly as hard now. More like a slight drizzle. We laid there in our separate tents (sorry guys, this isn't a weird internet fetish site) for a while and contemplated what we should do if it was going to rain all day. I wanted to just continue along the AT like we had planned, and Chris thought it might be a better idea to head back the way we came and drive closer to Grayson so we had the car just in case. I understand his reasoning, we had reports of tornado warnings and really bad thunderstorms later in the day, so it was super risky. After I ate and we laid there for a while, the weather decided to clear up for a bit. We took this as a sign to go forward with our orginal plan, but instead of sticking to the AT, we would go camp in an established campground in Grayson for added shelter from the storm. But first, we were going to take that summit trail to the top of Rogers.
I'm sure some of you have seen the summit of mountains. Rogers is a little different, in that within a 1/2 mile hike to the top, the trail opens up to a big bald, and then immediately closes back up as you continue to the summit. Not many summits at that height are like this, so although it doesn't have the same breath taking views of other mountains, it's still pretty special. I highly recommend checking this place out. For real. It's a super thick sprucey forest up there. It doesn't really make sense when you see it. It's almost got a spooky vibe. The summit is approximately 5,729 ft. Here I am standing up there, along with the geological survey marker doodad.
After we hiked back down the 1/2 mile summit trail, we went back to camp, finished packing up and set off northbound on the AT once again. Wilburn Ridge was coming up, and we were pretty excited about it.
After we hiked on the AT for a while, we came to a switchback with a gate which meant the ponies were lurking. I was so hyped for the ponies that I almost missed the ridge line right in front of me. Luckily, Chris pays attention (it's what I pay him for).
At this point it was still pretty nice out, but that was about to change so fast. I'd say about a mile after that picture was taken, the clouds started taking over our views. It went from looking like that...to this.
Don't get me wrong, being inside a cloud was still pretty rad, but we did miss some sweeping views because of it.
Anyways, after we climbed up a couple hundred feet of elevation, it got really rocky and I could see a herd(?) of ponies. We climbed up over some more rocks so we could get a better view of them, and as we did the clouds magically lifted up. We could see some mountains from atop the rocks, and decided to hang out there for a bit. Sadly we couldn't see the ponies anymore, but we figured there were more along the way. I did get some cool pictures from that spot though. I'll share them with you now because my blog is chaotic and has no rhythm at all.
Once we walked back down from those rocks, the clouds decided to come back. We probably walked another mile or so until we got to a wide open bald where we intersected with another trail. I'm pretty sure the trail we intersected with was the Virginia Highlands trail, but don't quote me on that. So anyways, we had a mini melt down right around here because I figured since it wasn't pouring down rain by this point, we should keep following the AT up to the Wise Shelter and camp around there that day. Chris wasn't too happy about that. He was pretty set on going into a Grayson campground. So after some angry conversing, and me pushing his buttons, we decided we'd stick to his original plan.
A half mile or so after that, we came to a rock that looked over a field. In that field, we could see a herd(????) of ponies sitting along the trail. This was my chance. My moment. The stakes were high, but I was ready. I was about to get some cool pictures of ponies.
And yes, I totally regret not getting a selfie with one of the ponies.
I decidedly named every pony I came across that day Earl. It felt so right. Look at them and tell me they don't all look like an Earl. Also there was a baby pony that we thought was dead for a hot minute, but it ended up being a false alarm. I was going to take a picture of it as well, but I felt Earl and the other Earl would be pissed if I got too close. I'll never forget you Earl.
A little further down the trail was another switch back into Grayson Highlands. As we approached the switchback, we were ambushed by a ninja/ghost pony. He was super friendly and I also named him Earl.
He helped us to the switchback, and we said our goodbyes. I think when people go to Grayson Highlands, this is the part they think of. There's a nice bench to sit and catch the views and a nice wooden guide marker. Of course for us, it was beyond cloudy and visibility was at around 20 feet at this point, so we couldn't see jack. This was kind of unfortunate but I'm not mad since we did get to see so much stuff.
The next two hours were really boring, we met some nice people, broke off the AT onto the horse trail, peed 600 times and got really lost. We ended up at the old country store and were greeted by a nice girl who told us we needed to call the rangers station to make a reservation for the camp behind the store. It was roughly 5 miles from where we were and we were pretty tired at this point. We figured worse case scenario, we could have a ranger ride us back to the camp ground, so we followed a trail to the road, Grayson Highlands Lane to be exact. By the time we got to the road, we were both pretty exhausted and knew we had another 3ish miles to go. It was also at this point that the weather took a turn for the worst and it began to slightly drizzle. So, we did what any sane person would do. We hitch hiked as we walked down the road.
By this point in time our plan had completely unraveled and we figured we should just cut our losses and go back to the car to regroup. Unfortunately, the car was roughly 20 miles away. Luckily we snagged a ride after maybe 20 minutes. An off duty park ranger greeted us. I'd give his name, but I don't have his permission and I'm not sure if that would be cool with him or not.
I've met some pretty nice people, but this park ranger takes the cake. The dude was a saint. He told us he'd drop us off at the ranger station down the road so we could use the bathroom (Chris had to pee) and he'd pick us up in 30 minutes. While we were there we were offered a ride from an older couple as well. We politely declined, saying we already had the hook up with our main man Mr. Park Ranger.
I can only assume there is something in the drinking water in Virginia that makes people so damn nice. I guess I drank too much of it because I was overwhelmed with all the kindness and decided to go into the convenient ranger station gift shop to get my lovely girlfriend a cool mug. She loved it and to this day tells all her friends how great I am for being so thoughtful.
After proving I'm the best boyfriend ever, the ranger returned to take us back to Grindstone. It was a pretty long ride, so we got to chat a lot with him. He ended up being the Park Manager of Grayson Highlands, and he had some great stories. I'm really thankful he saved us because 5 minutes into our drive, it began pouring rain. Now since Chris and I are experienced professionals, we knew the best place to put our packs, with an impending rainstorm coming, was in the bed of the rangers truck. So they got sopping wet. This was the last straw for us and we decided to avoid more terrible weather and head home.
I should also note that we decided to borrow Chris' dads Prius for this trip. The ranger thought it was really funny and told us his wife also drives a Prius. What an awesome dude.
Thanks Virginia for the rad memories. I'll never forget that trip and I'll definitely be returning sometime soon. And a special shout out to my cousin Chris for putting up with me. You the man. 143.
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