With a tropical storm dumping a few inches of rain on the east coast, you just know that DC UL would be going backpacking, don't you?
Friday morning, Heavy D, Michael, Jasmine, Jimmy, Kingsley, Katie, Cover Girl, Will, and myself all met up at Vienna, where we stood huddled under umbrellas in the down pour. Soon, we were on the road, and basically it rained on us the entire way south. We stopped a few times on the long drive, meeting a bunch of thru-hikers north of Roanoke--I guess the rain had driven them all into a hotel north of McAfee Knob. By the time we reached SW Virginia and Grindstone Campground, it was, well, still raining. We donned our rain gear, shouldered our packs, and set about the 2,000 foot climb, first to the AT at Deep Gap, and then to Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.
It was wet, sure, but the rain held off. What water we did get dumped on us was being shed by the trees. We reached the spur trail for Mt. Rogers and took a group photo on its rather unremarkable summit. Check that off the bucket list. Then, back down to the Thomas Knob shelter, which was chock full of hikers of various stripes and reeked of the whacky weed. We got water and then hiked through the mists to a campsite that Jimmy knew, just a few tenths of a mile along the AT. A brilliant meadow opened up for us, and we were soon pitched as the clouds began to clear, giving us hope that our little gamble would pay off and we'd have fine weather for the weekend. Ponies and cattle wandered about. Covergirl got her butt nibbled on by a frisky pony.
It rained on us through the night, hard at points, but by the time we started walking at 8am, we had a glorious day for wandering the highlands. We climbed rocks for vantage points; Jacky tried to join a herd of ponies; and we took dozens of photos as we wandered through this beautiful countryside. Much like our January Shenandoah trip, the unusual weather meant that we had lovely light, clouds below us, and just great atmosphere for picture taking.
We left the highlands to walk down to the Wise shelter and then begin an extra loop in the Wilson Creek Wilderness. This proved of mixed value, as the trail was very muddy and had been churned up by the passing horses. A sign read: "Deep Mud: Not Recommended for Travel"! We did not let that deter us. Somehow, some of us ended up taking a short cut that a few others did not. First, Second, and Third Peaks were largely wooded, but we walked across open high meadows with big views as we made our way into Scales, where we took a long break.
From there, we climbed back up to the Crest Trail, and made our way to a beautiful (if somewhat poop-filled) campsite about halfway along, where the trail intersection is. The spring was a trickle, but gave good water, and we settled in for a campfire and a beautiful sunset up high. Admittedly, we were a little worried about Jasmine, but Heavy D brought her along in exemplary fashion and she did prove to be quite tough. We cheered as they walked in, though we were, we confessed, a little confused about how they got so far behind. Turns out, they had followed my route better than I had out in the Wilson Creek Wilderness!
Anyway, Will, Kingsley, and Jimmy did a great job with the fire, and we had a convivial gathering, discussing plans for big trips, from Sweden to the JMT. We agreed that this was one of the best campsites we all had had all year, despite the poop. After a beautiful sunset, we went to bed, and got rained on yet again, only to wake up and hit the trails (7:30am) to another perfect day. Thoughts of the featureless BATONA trail were left far behind.
We descended the Cliff Trail to the Lewis Forks Trail to the Fair Valley Trail, disturbing some cows on VA 603. Soon, we were back to the cars, having walked 27 miles, with splits like 8-14-5, over about 42 hours. The rewards for this walk were really high--so much beautiful scenery! I do think, though, that when I lead the trip again I will cut out the Wilson Creek Wilderness and try to include even more high country walking, as that is certainly the best part of the trip.
On the long drive home, we stopped at not one, but two (!), places for lunch, as it turns out that the Devils Backbone in Lexington doesn't serve food! A bummer. But we recovered.
Thanks, everyone, for the great trip, and for helping me get over the loss of my dog Fritz last week. It was a lovely trip with a great group of backpackers, and it was nice to be out on the trail, thinking of my old trail dog.
And that is the 24th book trip!
Here is the Google Earth data.
Minus terrain distance, we walked 26.3 miles with 4,860 feet of gain and 4,860 feet of loss.