Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grayson Highlands To Mount Rogers



We decided to venture into the Old Dominion and visit the Grayson Highlands State Park and the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.  The hike looked on paper to be a moderate 8 mile out and back with our destination being the summit of Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in the State of Virginia. The trail featured many interesting features and proved to be one of the most challenging ventures of the summer.

Grayson Highlands State Park is a popular recreation area snuggled deep in the southwestern corner of Virginia.  Getting there is easy- take I-77 to Galax, the Highway 58 to the Park which is about 35 miles away. On the way in you will drive on the JEB Stuart Parkway through Independence and Mouth of Wilson on the banks of the New River.  Park in the "Overnight Backpackers"  Parking Lot and the blue blazed trail will take you up a forested path to a meadow ridge connecting with the Appalachian Trail.  

We did not realize it at the time but the hike up to the Appalachian Trail marked the first of four summits we would have to climb on the way to Mt. Rogers.  The elevation of each being in excess of 4500 feet....taller than Hawksbill....more like the elevation of the Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain.  Notice the hat on the signpost. Seems that folks along the trail adorn the signposts with gear found lost along the trail.

Near the peak of this first summit, we began to hear laughter of children and as we looked up we saw venturous teenagers standing on the peaks of some very interesting rock formations. 

 From the summit of the first peak, we got some nice views of the surrounding mountains...but what my hiking companion came to see were the Wild Ponies of the Grayson Highlands and it did not take long before we glimpsed the first pony of the day....

 Wild Ponies have been introduced to the upland meadows of Grayson Highland State Park to help reduce the risk of forest fire. It seems these herds of ponies keep much of the wild grass land under control and in the process become quite plump.  They are supported by a non profit organization who keep them healthy and it is my understanding will occasionally offer some for sale to thin out the herd.  Fortunately, there was no room in our SUV for I think Rene may have taken a couple home!

The largest group of ponies were found on the downhill side of the summit.  Rene left the trail to go and greet them and I stayed on the trail to snap a few pictures but it did not take long before one of the prettiest ponies of the herd came over to me bringing with her a young colt.

The young pony came right over to me and a group of hikers and immediately began to sniff out a treat.  Park rules prohibit the feeding of the ponies but the ponies can't read.

From the meadow on the other side of the first summit we got a glimpse of the hike before us.  Again I was reminded that mountain math does not take into account the linear distances. 3.8 miles on that sign was the mileage as crows fly....not as a Fat Bald Hike Guy walks!

Our next summit was rising in the distance.  I assumed that Mount Rogers would be just over the ridge ......yeah right!

 The terrain in this area of the Blue Ridge is very different that what we have experienced in North Carolina.  Some say it reminds them of Scottish Highlands, others say it reminds them of hiking in the is very rocky and very open which allows you to see where you are going.....and how far you have hiked.  The second summit is Wilburn Ridge from which there are some really nice views.  To get there you follow the Appalachian Trail and leave Grayson State Park and enter the Mount Rogers Recreation Area

The hike up Wilburn Ridge was described by the writer of another hiking blog.....he said is was very rocky climb but was one of the most scenic views and he was right on both accounts.

Look closely and you can see the "blue blazes" which mark the trail....incredibly this was one of the easiest summits of the day and was well worth it for the views it afforded.

From the summit of the Wilburn Ridge, you have a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.

Looking back down the trail you can see the first peak we climbed......and looking the up the trail you can see the next that is not Mt Rogers!  I am sure that Mt Rogers will be just over the ridge....yeah right!

We return to the "white blazed"  Appalachian Trial and take a rocky path across this third peak to Rhododendron Gap....while we chose to bypass the summit of this peak, the trail up was quite rocky but provided some interesting views.

The temperature was in the mid 70's and overcast with nice cool breezes....I cannot imagine how difficult this hike would be in full sunlight with temperatures in the 80's

The views on the trail to Rhododendron Gap were some of the best of the hike....but the trail was one of the more challenging sections of the day.

Especially as the trail led into a cave!.....It was narrow and dark and the Fat Bald White Guy was not sure how wide it was!

 But we made it through.....only to find that there was another ridge to climb....but it was not Mt. Rogers....but you could see Mt Rogers at long last.....We were told that Mt. Rogers was a forested ridged mountain....and every peak we climbed and saw to that point had a rocky ridge....

The sign said that Mt Rogers was only two miles away! And one more ridge to climb to get there!

 Looking back on the fourth summit we can get and idea of the rugged nature of the hike.
This area of the Appalachian Trail is very popular. In fact you could not walk a couple of hundred yards without encountering other hikers- young, old, male female, many with dogs....camping in many wonderful trail side camp sites....and by the way there were steers.....yep long horned steers grazing on the mountainside.  

Look carefully and you can see the faint outline of four hawks performing and aerial waltz.....mocking us foot tired earthbound creatures!

Out next stop was the Thomas Knob....there a shelter is built for the folks traveling the AT....and there was a spring fed creek where water could obtained....the view there was magnificent....the best of the day.

From Thomas Knob you can see the summit of Mt Rogers....just another mile away!  We had been on the trail for four hours and it being past 4 pm....we decided that we did not want to risk being on the trail back after sundown so we made Thomas Knob our final destination.  Truthfully, climbing four peaks over the most rocky trail imaginable, we felt that lounging on Thomas Knob was the best reward of the I went to the spring to refresh water supply and we headed back.

Looking back from the spring, you can see my hiking companion sunning herself on Thomas knob.

Hiking out we stopped many times to rest our tired feet....words cannot describe how rocky the trail is and how unpleasant the hike out was like walking barefoot on a gravel had to watch every step and every step was painful....but nevertheless we had many nice vistas to enjoy.

We also got to enjoy many examples of God's imaginative artistry in the form of flowers, flora and mushrooms.....stunningly beautiful!

Even on the most difficult hikes all you have to do is pause and you will see very special adornments of nature all along the trail....this hike was no exception.

This is the closest I got to the Summit of Mt. Rogers....I don't regret the trip as I experienced an area of the Blue Ridge unlike any that I had ever seen before.....the scenery was stunning....but the trail was brutal....with every step there were several rocks competing for the chance to bruise by how can I rate this trail?   The Fat Bald White Guy gives the access an 8.....the scenery an 8.....the trail a 2.....the overall hike is a 5....but don't count on me doing this one again!

Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life.
There is no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers.
The right road for one is the wrong road for another....
the journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit.
and it has no road signs.
It is a rocky path through the wilderness
M. Scott Peck 

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