Monday, July 18, 2011

Grayson Highlands...To-Die-For...Almost

Rusty and I didn't leave the backpacker's parking lot at the Massey Gap trailhead til 3:00m on Saturday, July 16th. We were a bit apprehensive about committing to the hike because of the rainy weather. After all, it was the views we were after and we didn't want to 'waste' a hike! (Can that be done?)

Finally, we made the plunge and took off thru the gate and made our way thru the grassy path. Soon, we found the second gate that led to the Rhododendron Trail and began the gradual climb in the rainy mist. In less than 1/2 mile, we found ponies grazing.
We left the ponies and continued on til we came to the gate that led out of Grayson Highlands and in to Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. At this point the rain had subsided, the misty fog remained, but we found the  AT spur trail and began to climb. From what I had heard about this area, I knew we were passing by astounding views we couldn't see! Still, Rusty and I were enjoying the quiet experience...the stillness of the path, the hush of everything except our breath as we climbed and occasional bursts of song from Baltimore orioles along the way.

Then, we made what I'd call a big mistake...we came across a sign pointing toward the 'Wilburn Ridge Trail'...a mile long trail that also connected to the AT. We couldn't see anything in the mist except a few feet in front of us. The first rock formation we climbed, we high-fived each other on our little adventuresome scramble. The next, we were more subdued, the third, I was getting frustrated, the fourth, I admitted, I was over it. This one, I felt I had put myself in some danger. The backside of my long rain poncho flew up over my head as I crawled over the slippery rock precipice. I was already hindered by the front billowing out in front from the wind. All this kept me from seeing where to put my next foot. Believe me, in that situation, on that rock, I needed to see. I held on like a crab while Rusty made it up past me, grabbed a hand and pulled me up. We got off that rock relieved to be alive and descended into more lush vegetation, verdant green ferns and foliage lured us into twists and turns alongside boulders jutting alongside the path that finally joined the AT.

Another 1/2 mile or so, brought us out of the mist and we found a view!
The Hunchback of Mr. Rogers

The adrenalin kicked in as we walked the AT, enjoying the spruce and firs and pristine wilderness. Then, we began to spot camping areas along the way and we began to search for one of our own. We'd already decided to be out in our tent rather that in Thomas Knob Shelter which we knew was close to our water source. It didn't take long to spot an area. Rusty allowed me to talk him into a certain spot for the tent (I wanted because of the view.) By the time we got it set up, it was near 7:00pm. 
About 1/3rd mile down, we found the Shelter and Ernie who went with Rusty to pump water from the spring. Now, we were finally seeing the gorgeous views! We also saw deer jumping along as we made our way back to camp.

Back at camp, Rusty filtered water while I pumped up the air mattresses. In no time, we were enjoying Chili Mac for was tasty! My sweetie let me climb in to the tent while he served up hot chocolate. I love that man! Did I mention the chill? Yes, I had on a fleece and kept it on.

Rusty regretted letting me choose the tent spot...we fought the roll all night. He also experienced leg cramps and realized, he had become a bit dehydrated. A fitful nights' sleep didn't keep us from enjoying our quiet morning on the side of Mt. Rogers; our coffee, oatmeal, and mother nature...sweet!

We packed up and headed out, avoiding the dreadful Wilburn Ridge leg of the trail:-) Without the rain and mist, our trip back was much quicker. The oohs and aahs continued as around every turn there was a spectacular view. The AT path was rocky and the climb thru the boulders caused a slow-down, but so worth it. The grassy meadows were gorgeous with views on surrounding sides!
Near the end of Mt. Rogers, we found this sweet pregnant mare with a colt nearby. A wonderful short backpack that left us wanting more of Grayson Highlands/Mt. Rogers. There are so many trails in this area to be explored! (I also understand the lower end of Wilburn Ridge is wonderful..I just advise avoiding the upper end in the rain.)