Intro - travel to Mt. Rogers from NJ
The weather forecast for the July 4th weekend in the East did not look so good - rain was going to be falling in many areas. The best possibility for Eastern highpointing (that I had not already done) was Virginia's Mt. Rogers. I left a 10:30 pm July 3 to make the drive to the VA-NC border. After a night of caffeine and catnaps, I arrived at Grayson Highlands State Park around 8 am. The parking fee is still $3 for holidays and weekends ($2 otherwise), which I consider very reasonable! The park also had left some of their park maps available at the entrance, which I appreciated. The map/pamphlet is also available online in a pdf version, but this was clearer than my printed copy.
Initial hike on the Rhododendron Trail
(See the Don Holmes book "Highpoints of the United States" as a reference for trail mileages. However, the stiles have been replaced by either gates or tight passages that large animals cannot get through. Also, I did not note any of the inconsistent mileage signs indicated in the Wingers' 1999 edition "Highpoint Adventures" book.)
After parking at the Massie Gap parking lot, I started up the Rhododendron Trail at 8:55 am. I passed through the gate and started the uphill hike. The temperature was cool, but warm enough for only a shirt. The trail is mostly a dirt path with loose rock through Grayson Highlands State Park. Much of the trail system is for dual use with horses - this state park also caters to horseback riders.
The park is very open, not too filled in with trees. You can see a long way in most directions. The pony herd(s) was/were in many places - I had to watch my step to avoid pony "land mines". But, they were pleasant to look at and seemed to be friendly, though I did not actually try to get too close. At about 0.5 miles you meet the Appalachian Trail (AT). At this point the AT goes northbound toward a rocky-topped hill and southbound toward Mount Rogers.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is very well built and maintained along this stretch. I especially appreciated the stone steps and stone inlays into the trail in many places. I am sure this cuts down on erosion, as people can step on the stones. There are a few places where the trail has been widened by alternate paths, but I could see that through blazing the maintainers are trying to keep only one route in use and let the others fill in.
After turning onto the AT, the trail proceeds to the state park boundary in about another 0.5 miles. You leave the park via a set of two pull-open gates - animals cannot pull them, so this is an excellent barrier. I think this replaced one of the stiles. You have now entered the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. There is a trail register to sign here.
I hiked upwards to about 2.6 miles (Rhododendron Gap). Again, I saw more beautiful open scenery. On the way to the Gap, the trail becomes narrow and bush-lined, then goes through a narrow gap between large rocks (though I think you could easily walk around). My only issue with the AT blazers is that they sometimes put the white blaze higher up on some of the rocks, which made me wonder if I was required to climb over some of the larger outcroppings! (The well-maintained trail nearby convinced me that I did not have to.)
Once you reach the top, it is a generally slightly up-and-slightly down hike to the Thomas Knob Shelter. Again, there were wild ponies in places as well as other small wildlife. I noted a few places where people were camping - I hope the weather remained good for them. By this time, you have probably done at least 1,200 ft of the 1,500 ft elevation gain total.
After the Thomas Knob Shelter, it is a very short distance (<0.1 mile?) to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail (3.8 miles total). I did not see any indication for this as the "Susan Spillane Memorial Trail", as noted by Holmes.
Final hike to summit on the Mount Rogers Spur Trail
Holmes indicates this trail is 0.5 miles in length to the summit. As with all the trails, it is very well maintained. After the first 0.2 miles or so, you enter the forested top of Mount Rogers. I found it odd to have walked this far, generally out in the open, to have arrived at a totally-treed-in summit. It is sort of a "reverse timber line".
After maybe 20 minutes I reached the summit, met two other fellow hikers and talked for a few minutes, and took pictures of both of the markers. As indicated, there is only a view of the trees. Total time to top: about 1 hr, 55 min. Total distance: 4.3 miles according to Holmes.
After about 5 minutes, I decided there was nothing more to see. And, if there were going to be thunderstorms, I wanted to be on my way back to my car.
This was a very easy descent in that the combination of the mostly gentle slopes and the rock stairs made it pretty easy on my knees. I returned the same way I had hiked up.
There are many opportunities for side trail explorations to other local maxima for viewing the landscape. But, I was out of energy after a night of driving and a morning of hiking.
I did not hear even one rumble of thunder, though I caught a very light 2 minute rain shower and a few sprinkles on the way back. There were many other people doing this hike or parts of it this day.
I made it back to the car in good time. I went slowly on the descent, since I had grown tired.
Total time: 3 hours, 50 minutes.
Wrap up and lessons learned
This was not a hard hike. But, the all night drive made the descent more difficult. So, I need to make sure that with a harder hike/climb that I sleep more before the hike.
- Water drank: 1 liter during the hike, 1 liter during the next 1-2 hours after. I'm sure I would have drank more if the sun had been out and the temperature higher. (I took 2 liters with me, so I had enough.)
- Bug spray was not necessary, but I had it with me.
- Clothing was adequate (zip off shorts - pant legs with me but not on, synthetic shirt, Capilene underwear, wool socks, baseball cap, sunglasses). I also had a headband, gloves, and a synthetic jacket that I did not need.
- Boots were fine for this activity.
- Trekking poles were necessary (for me) and made this hike a breeze.
It was an excellent day for this hike. I may come back here again; it's a beautiful place.
Pictures: Sorry, I have none I can share right now.
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