Grayson Highlands (State Park) to Damascus (VA) 14-18 May 2014 Trip Report

Just a quick re-cap of the trip.  Additional photos here:  http://www.meetup.com/OCBackpackers/photos/21964582/

Attending: me, buff, pyro, biscuit, Justin, Jen, Jim.

Hard to believe this was our 3rd annual trip doing this, might be our last time trying to do this in May.

Two years ago, May 2012, the first trip, the weather was great. The main thing I remember is that when we got to our camp on the VCT (Virginia Creeper Trail) it was pretty warm so I was able to go swimming in the creek.

I also remember that I didn’t bring any water shoes and the rocks were killing my feet as I waded out into the middle of the stream next to one of the VCT’s many bridges.

That’s the trip where Biscuit caught a fish and I was able to get a pretty good photo of his DSC02870Ccheese-eatin grin when holding up the small thing.

I believe this was the year I went to get water after setting up my tent at the Lost Mountain Shelter, leaving my flaps open of course, ran down to the spring, and it starts raining like a son-of-a-bitch, so I had to high tail it back to close up my tent. Of course I didn’t have a rain jacket on, what an idiot. Lesson learned.

The second year (last year, May 2013), it rained our second night when we were camped up in the meadow just east of the Thomas Knob shelter on the AT, beautiful site. But it was horribly windy and foggy and cold when we got up. Ice had also formed on the trees and bushes from the wind chill, which broke off and pelted us as we walked above 5000′.

That trip, my jet boil broke down, the fuel canister wouldn’t engage the pin or screw in completely, that sucked. It also sucked that I had to borrow gunny’s stove, but not until waiting for him to finish breakfast (come on Gunny, hurry up already!) But I did get some great photos of him eating in his tent vestibule in a reclining position no less).DSC00267

 

 

 

 

 

Also, Biscuit’s dog, Shadeaux, gets attacked by one of the wild pony’s roaming around up there and Biscuit has to fight him off with his hiking poles, great drama for about 15 seconds.

This is also the trip where it rained like crazy once we hit the VCT and marched onto the restaurant stop in Taylor’s Valley and on towards VA HWY 58.  DSC00389It was raining so hard that once we got to the campsite, the same place we fished and swam in the sun the year before, that we wimped out and sent the drivers, sans packs, the 5 miles into Damascus to pick up the cars so we could bail.

 

 

So now this is where we pick up this year’s little trek, May 2014.

Buff and Pyro drive up from VA Beach and pick me up in Hampton.

Seven hours later we arrive in Damascus and park next to Mount Rogers Outfitters. We meet Biscuit and his son, Justin, and a little later Jim arrives with Jen. I check in with the outfitters, pay for the shuttle and collect the cash from everyone and off we go, taking the shuttle to the fox creek trail head on the AT.DSC05217

This is the same piece of shit 12 pax van that we’ve ridden in for our other shuttles, and I’m sure I’m bitten twice on the arm by a spider or fleas or whatever while riding in this crapped out vehicle.

It’s about a mile and a half from the trail head to Old Orchard shelter and we arrive between 4-5pm.

Absolutely gorgeous day, blue sky, very warm temps, early spring blossoms everywhere, nice grass to put up the tents. Worked up a nice little sweat humping up the 600′ elevation gain to the shelter. That would be the last sweat worked up that weekend!

We scrounged for wood and pyro made a nice campfire. The campsite area around the shelter started to fill up with arriving AT thru-hikers as it got later, about 8 or so between tents, hammocks and the shelter, plus our 7. Jen was using her hammock.

The weather forecast for the next day, Thursday, was for 100% rain, and the weather guys were 100% correct this time (the bastards). About 2am it started raining and was still raining when we got up.DSC05227

I had prearranged with everyone, that in the event of heavy rain, with people eating in their tents or not eating at all, and no way to communicate effectively, that we should plan on having tents down and the walk started at 0830, trying to minimize anyone standing around getting soaked.

So at 0830, in a steady but light rain, we were off.

It’s about 1.7 miles and 1000′ elev gain from the shelter to the AT/Pine Mountain/Crest Trail junctions at 5000′.

When we got to the junction (not petticoat junction) it was basically pouring and the winds had picked up. At that point we had some decisions to make, either take the AT down from the ridge, thru Grayson state park and back up Wilburn ridge to the shelter, about 8.5 miles or take a shortcut on the Crest trail, about 5 miles.

Biscuit, Justin, and Jen opted for the short cut and headed to the shelter. The plan was to camp in the same meadow as last year, just before reaching the shelter.

Jim wanted to hike the AT section, I wanted to just hike down 1 mile to the ‘scales’ and see if there were any photo ops of horses or the Texas Longhorn herd that grazes up there.

So Jim, I, Buff and Pyro hike on down to ‘scales’ in the now blasting wind and rain and fog.

Unfortunately, no animals so we take a short break on the park service latrine porch to get out of the wind for a bit.DSC05244 DSC05248 DSC05253 DSC05258 DSC05262

Then Buff, Pyro and I head back to the ridge and Jim continues on the AT.

The 3 of us arrive at the meadow by the shelter about 1330, no tents, so we march up to the shelter and find Jen, Biscuit and Justin and 17 others crammed into a cozy little situation.

We double back in the blasting rain/fog and set up in a very small clearing just off the trail in a nice grassy spot.

 

 

 

 

 

We had a technique where we were able to take down the tarp tents and put them back up in such as way as to keep in the inside under the rain fly and stay dry, more or less.

DSC05265Getting into the tent while drenched became my big problem.

But prior to dealing with that, after we got the tents up, Buff and I had to trudge back to the shelter and down a small ridge to the spring and fill up. Then back to the tents and setting up our gravity fed filter systems on the handiest brush. I stood out in the rain waiting for the water to finish filtering because once I got in the tent and got everything dried out, more or less, I didn’t want to have to get out again to get the water as the forecast was for rain until the next morning, it was now only 2pm in the afternoon.

Now, how to get in the tent while I’m dripping wet?  I opened up the rain fly vestibule, with my torso hovering over the threshold and my butt in the rain, took off my dripping jacket and shirt, piling them under the vestibule, then tried as hard as I could to flip the fly over my rear end, then pirouetted my butt into the tent and quickly removed my dripping rain paints adding them to the pile outside the tent, under the vestibule. I only had shorts on under the rain paints but my legs were cold and seemed to be wet. I dried off with the hand towel I had the foresight to bring the quickly put on every layer of clothing I still had dry, including my down parka and stocking cap. Semi success.

We could talk between tents and Pyro told me she was able to completely change clothes under their tarp tent vestibule (arggggh!)

Jim arrived a few hours after us and set up in the same clearing. Unfortunately, for him, he can’t cook under a vestibule, as his tent had none.

Next morning there was still another tent set up next to ours!

So we settled in for the next 18 hrs! The hard rain continued, temps in the 40’s, getting as low as 38f in the morning. It did stop raining before dawn and the winds were killer. I wondered why the tent was not dry on the outside from the winds as I could see drops thru the material. Reaching out and around to feel the water, it turned out to be ice, from the wind chill!

Both tents stood up well, I have the tarp tent ‘notch’, buff and pyro have the stratospire 2, which is freaking huge, but under 3lbs!!! They did have one of their pegs pull out of the saturated ground in the middle of the night, but that was about it.

DSC05276We were more than ready to get going in the morning and were off by 0730, it was misting and really cold.

We had to put back on our wet clothing from the day before so we didn’t feel like waiting around for the others when we blew by the shelter. Jen was outside brushing her teeth and we told her we needed to keep walking to generate some much needed heat and that they would have to catch up, or else we’d see then at the next shelter.

I tried to wear my wet nylon gloves to help with the wind, but that only made things worse, my fingers almost numb in the wind and my toes freezing. It took probably over an hour for us to start warming up a bit.

Fortunately, as we went on, the sky cleared, just a bit, and the winds died down, just a bit,DSC05297 DSC05287 in the tree tunnels. And, as luck would have it, when we went down across Elk Garden and then up and over White Top, the winds lessened, and it wasn’t as bad as last year.

We made it to the Lost Mountain Shelter about 4pm. We actually had some brief periods of sun and warmth during the last half of the walk.

During the day, Buff’s left knee started to hurt, really bad, and he was starting to be in a lot of pain.

 

DSC05327We set up camp in nice spot and hung our stuff out to dry a bit in the slight breeze.

We collected firewood and pyro once again made a nice fire.

Biscuit, Justin, and Jen arrived around 5pm. Jim had caught up and passed us about 2 miles from the shelter and had set up in the shelter.DSC05326

At the end of dinner, under patchy blue skies it started raining. Buff and I called this ‘Immaculate Precipitation’, pretty clever, if I do say so myself ;-).

So it was back inside the tent, about 6 or 7pm until the next morning, now we’re really starting to get cabin fever.

Saturday morning was pretty nice. Breakfast #3 under my vestibule, Buff and pyro eating under theirs.

DSC05356 DSC05368

The morning walk on the VCT into Taylor’s Valley was pretty nice but it was starting to look like rain again when we arrived and Buff’s knee was hurting pretty bad.

The clouds were closing in once again when we got to the next campsite on the VCT, just about 300yrs or so from the HWY 58 pull off.

At this point, with Buff’s knee and no one desiring to spend all afternoon in the tents, we decided to once again send the drivers up the trail to Damascus for the cars.  We were hoisting the white flag, again.

DSC05357

 

 

 

 

Notes:

– there were hundreds of bikers on the VCT which made walking suck as we had to keep running back to single file on the sides of the trail. This was on a Saturday, so we should have known.

– Trail Days were taking place in Damascus, but after we got to the cars in town, we just wanted to get the long drive over with. I got home at 1130pm, Buff and Pyro had another 40min.

– As far as I’m concerned, I’m packing for winter trips until June first!

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