This is about our six days and five nights backpacking and camping in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, where Virginia meets North Carolina and Tennessee.
We hiked the Appalachian Trail to the Virginia Creeper trail, starting from the Fox Creek Trail Head near Grayson Highlands State Park, to Damascus, Va.
Nine of us from our meet-up group Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers (www.meetup.com/ocbackpackers) from Hampton, Williamsburg, Richmond, Chesapeake, and VA Beach, did this 4-7 May 2012.
The trip included Chupa, Biscuit, Sherpa, Trail Surfer, Crockett, Condor, Mark, Tim, and Paul.
Day 1, Thursday 3 May:
We rendezvoused in Newport News Va and drove the 8 hrs to Damascus so we could check out the area, eat dinner, and allow Condor to get a new canteen. When we were in the Mt. Rogers Outfitters (MRO) store, I noticed a hiking “kilt” for sale and remember thinking, I bet that would be pretty cool, as is ventilation, to walk in, but I would need to carry a broadsword to keep myself, um, gender appropriate 😉 . We then drove the 30 miles back to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp for the night. There are showers and additional trail head parking. Theoretically, you could sneak into the showers even if you’re only using the area to park.
Day 2, Friday 4 May:
Next morning at Grayson, we pack up the tents, load up and drive back to Damascus to link up with MRO, for the shuttle to the TH. We piled into their van and they drove us to where the AT crosses S.R. 603 (Fox Creek TH – I guess).
At the trail head, I noticed a tall woman wearing the same ‘kilt’ or skirt over a pair of leggings I had noticed at the MRO store. I thought that was neat until the women greeted us with a deep husky voice and we noticed the huge muscles, the only things missing were a Viking helmet with large horns and an axe…time to sit on the jokes and hit the trail!
At the point where the AT crosses Pine Mountain Trail, we had a long lunch and watched the small herd of ponies fight amongst themselves – and – there was a small herd of (and I’m not making this up) Texas Longhorn cattle. After lunch we voted to cut off the AT loop which takes you south into the trees of Grayson Highlands, opting instead to turn west on the Pine Mountain Trail, before rejoining the AT.
We camped about 1/4 Mi E of the Thomas Knob shelter in one of the most beautiful campsites you will ever see, with views deep into Tennessee and North Carolina. The spring was barely flowing behind the shelter. I had to use a cup to fill my water bottle to use a steri-pen. A purifier with a hose intake could be dropped into the very shallow stream.
Day 3, Saturday 5 May:
We then hiked to the Mt. Rogers side trail and by the time we got to Elk Garden Ridge, the rain had started. So from here to around Whitetop to Buzzard Rock and on to Beech Mountain, we had a pattern of rain-sun, then rain-sun, and so on. It finally stopped raining on the long haul around and down Beech Mtn but it was hot, humid and muggy as we walked down and across Hwy 58 and up to Lost Mountain Shelter. This is an extremely long haul, over 12 miles. Next time I’ll break it up and stay an extra night somewhere between Beech Mtn and Buzzard Rocks. It had been raining off and on all week and the spring was from a pipe over a huge mud hole. When I got to the campsite there was a large crowd at the shelter but we found a great clearing to pitch our 9 tents. I put up my tent and made a dash to the mud hole/spring, without my parka, and just as I was leaving the spring, – you guessed it – it started to pour, shit. End of day 3.
Day 4, Sunday 6 May:
That morning it started raining as we’re all getting up for breakfast and I ate in my tent under my awning. We got lucky as the rain soon stopped and the sun came out in full strength!
After Lost Mountain, the trail eases up quite a bit and we chose to get on the Virginia Creeper trail and follow the very large trout stream to Taylors Valley for lunch. Extremely beautiful walking! If you’re coming from this direction there are several ‘pretender’ food stops before you get to the main attraction, the Creeper Trail Restaurant which is in the main section of town, with a picnic deck on the water, full menus and service to a gazillion day bikers.
Departing Taylors Valley, we camped in a lovely sight on the water about 4 miles from Damascus. Some of us fished for trout, others, went swimming. Water shoes recommended for the rocks in the stream. The Creeper and AT run literally side by side, The Creeper has the fantastic water views, the AT is literally a rhododendron tunnel.
Biscuit started fishing and caught a trout, but released it. He had promised us fish cooked over a fire, so when asked about it, he said he thought Sherpa had turned vegetarian on us, so he didn’t want to offend her (don’t worry about offending the rest of us ! ), anyway, this was just a misunderstanding, but we didn’t get any more fish :-(.
Day 5, Monday 7 May:
This day was a leisurely walk getting us into Damascus and MRO around noon. Plenty of sunshine, only very brief showers. MRO has a shower you can use at their hostel, directly across the street from their store, which you can use for $2.00 and they give you a bath-towel (bonus!).
We hung around the MRO hostel, drinking a powerful Ale Sherpa had purchased, feeling no pain until we decided to take a side trip to Tennessee to see Rock Hole, or something like that, a large hole blasted into a narrow natural rock wall to make the shortest railroad tunnel ever!
We ate a great meal at the Old Mill Restaurant in Damascus, which didn’t open till 5PM.
After dinner, we drove back out to Graysons State Park and set up camp in the same spot as on Thursday night.
As we hung around MRO hostel, drinking lots of beer and waiting for the restaurant to open, we got to see quite a few AT thru hikers, coming in for showers or just a break. There was one tall tattooed covered dude actually wearing the hiking skirt I had seen in the store and again at the trail head several days before. Although he had tattoos, he was more like an accountant than a biker dude. We had a chuckle about a dude wearing a hiking dress, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was cooler and suitable for walking. Sherpa did point out that his skirt was too short and should have gone over the knee. I don’t know, something about kneeling or stooping. I’ve seen plenty of women hiking in both the US and Europe, but nobody in skirts, just saying.
Day 6, Tuesday 8 May:
As luck would have it, it started pouring rain as the sun started to come up. So we had to take down the tents and load the pickups in a driving rain. We didn’t stop for breakfast until we got to I81. The rain finally stopped and the sun was hot as we got to Williamsburg to drop off Sherpa and see her take off in her vintage WWII motorcycle with sidecar. How perfect!
End of book.
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