Grayson Highlands-Mt Rogers National Recreation Area Backpack November 2015

We missed our October hike to the Graysons area due to massive rainstorms so we rescheduled to November.

Of course the leaves were down and we had a chance of weather.

Grayson Highlands State Park is adjacent to Mt Rogers National Recreation Area and is located in the far western part of Virginia.  Mt Rogers, at 5729′,  is the highest point in VA, and most of the hiking is right around 5000′.

The Appalachian Trail runs thru the MRNRA and turns south to make a large “U” thru Graysons.

GHSP (Grayson Highland State Park) and the MRA are home to several herds of wild ponies, and in spring thru fall,  a herd of Texas Longhorn  cattle.

But the best part of this area is that you can make a 3 day backpacking trip in an area with little or no tree tunnels. You are hiking thru and over a series of high (5000′) meadows, bare ridges, and rolling hills.

It was around 65F when Mike and Paula drove up from Virginia Beach to pick me up and start the 7 hours drive to Graysons.

We stopped in Newport News and linked up with Jen, Mike and Heather for the convoy.

The weather was forecast to  be in the 50’s and then drop to the 30’s for both nights, so we had a heads-up that we needed to be a bit prepared for our first cold hike of this season.

There had also been a wind advisory earlier in the week and that’s just the sort of thing you breeze (ha ha) right over when looking at the forecast.

Seven hours later we pull into the Park gate and Anna, from Roanoke, pulls in at the same time.  At the Backpackers Lot, we find Zack already there and changing clothes out of the back of the car.

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At that point we realize that we shouldn’t have disregarded the bit about wind conditions.

My temp gauge hanging from my pack was reading 36F and was dropping but the winds were surely giving us a wind chill in the low 20’s! Yikes!  No worries about getting hot and sweaty on the hike to the campsite!

Despite leaving Hampton at 0900, we didn’t arrive at the campsite until sunset, so tents were erected by headlamp. (it dawned on me at that moment, temps now in the 20’s, that I took out my spare headlamp batteries for the JMT and hadn’t replaced them, causing me to worry about this most of the weekend).

Paul and friends, whom had arrived earlier, had collected a huge amount of dead-fall so we had a great campfire while we cooked diner, again, under headlamps.

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I brought 2 liters of Gluh Wein (Zach carried 1liter for me), so after dinner we heated up 1 liter.  It was all gone in a second and was a big hit.  Probably any warm beverage is a hit in temps in the 20’s and a gusting steady wind.

That night, my temp gauge minimum reading was 22 under my vestibule, quite a unexpected for a “fall” hike.  However, everyone was prepared and we suffered no casualties, but we did have several water hoses and bottles tops freeze up.

On Saturday we took our usual route following the AT as it wound South East then turning North East leaving the trees as we went uphill into scrub vegetation, cresting over a hill and getting the magnificent views we came for, then dropping down into a valley, passing thru the “Scales”, a rather large stock corral, where we stopped for lunch.  We had great sunshine all day, but the temps were still in the upper 30’s with steady wind.

We needed to kill some time at the Scales since we only had about a 5 mile day, so I coerced several folks into letting me give a map reading class.  That killed about 30 minutes.

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Leaving the Scales, the AT heads north up out of the little valley goes into the trees and up to about 5000′ then drops over a hilltop going down to the next shelter and then to the highway that bounds the recreation area.

Also leaving the Scales, the Crest Trail parallels the AT up to the 5000′ elev then turns due West in the direction of our campsite for Saturday, Rhododendron Gap and Wilson Ridge.  The Crest Trail is primarily a horse trail on an old road but the big difference it doesn’t dive into the forest so you have the spectacular views of the valley below while you walk.

So as we left the Scales, half the group continued up on the AT where they would eventually link to yet another trail, the Pine Mountain Trail, also at the 5000′ point (a busy trail junction indeed!), turning West and paralleling the Crest Trail again and separated by only a few hundred yards, but in the trees.  So I guess you’re trading the views for a wind block (?).

Note:  It’s a bit hard to explain, but the Pine Mountain Trail used to be the AT until it (the AT) was re-routed South at Rhodo Gap so it would loop around and into Graysons, going south then east (where we picked it up), then north (where it goes thru Scales) up over the 5000′ junction where it links back with it’s old self.

So my group heads west on the Crest Trail and the great views.  Well, the sun was shining and the trail had been repaired so the walking was greatly improved, so we had an excellent time and took many photos.

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We checked out the spring just before the campsite, it was good, then

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arrived at the most magnificent campsite in VA. and set up tents.

About 30 minutes later, the other group arrived.

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Tents up, water purified, bear hangs skipped, wood collected, fire started, meals cooked, gluh wein drank, yadda yadda yadda.

As I head to my tent, really early, but a while after sunset, a freaking herd of ponies enters our campsite to graze, and apparently mate, right over my tent.  Fortunately for me, Buff notices that their friskiness is leading a pair dangerously close to my tent and yells them off, more or less.  Thanks Buff!

Next morning, super cold, a few incidents of water freezing, great sunrise, lots of photos, great breakfast, pack up and head out.

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Hiked to Rhodo Gap,

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hiked over and along Wilson Ridge,

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noticed the park had new trail signs making it much easier to find the right trail, in the mish-mash of trails, back to the back packers parking lot.

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Then off to Marion and the McAdoo Restaurant for a very very nice feast, then everybody headed home.

The end.

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