Last night I slept like a baby next to the Laurel Creek. When I woke up, I felt refreshed and my legs were back to where I needed them to be (sore, but mostly functional). After crossing the Luther Hassinger Memorial Bridge, the A.T. leaves the Virginia Creeper Trail and returns to the woods. Following a short climb, I arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter, where I had intended to camp last night.
While in Damascus, I ran into Pyro and Nav. They are an uncle and nephew pair that I first met at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, and I really enjoyed their company. I hadn’t seen them since then, and it was good to catch up. When I arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter, they were there packing up and getting ready to leave. When I asked them how they got ahead of me, they admitted to hiking up the Virginia Creeper Trail. Their justification was that since the A.T. had originally followed the path of the Virginia Creeper Trail, they were just following in the footsteps of their ancestors. We had a good laugh at that, but I wondered if they also planned to skip all the new switchbacks and follow their ancestors straight up the mountain, too.
One of the running jokes on the A.T. is, “Just wait until Virginia. It is flatter/easier.” While that may be true of the Damascus Highway, I have seen no evidence of that since then. Shortly after leaving the Lost Mountain Shelter, the A.T. crossed US 58 and began the challenge of the day, with a steep, 2,000 foot climb to the summit of Whitetop Mountain. And it started to rain. Up and up and up went the trail, without mercy.
I passed a section hiker and told him that it was like an episode of the Twilight Zone called, “The Climb Without End.” Every time you could see a little daylight ahead, the trail would switchback, or it would be a false summit. Many times, I thanked my lucky stars that I ate that chocolate bunny last night instead of carrying him up the hill. Finally, walking in the clouds, the forest opened into a bald and a rocky outcropping called Buzzard Rock appeared, signifying the approaching summit. By now, I don’t even need to share with you the picture of the view, but I will anyway.
The climb back down was a little easier, but it was slow going due the abundance of wet rocks. Eventually, I reached the parking lot at VA 600, and took refuge from the rain under the roof of the information sign. I was joined shortly thereafter by Pop Top, a girl I had passed on the trail, and we ate lunch together. I remembered her from a story she posted on the A.T. Class of 2017 Facebook page, about her encounter with a wild pig in the Smokies. Her exploits were even funnier hearing them firsthand. Just as we were finishing lunch, the clouds dissipated and the sun came out. We could now clearly see the hill across the road and we both laughed when we realized that the A.T. went (where else) straight up and over.
Actually, the climb up that little hill, while steep, was pretty nice. Being in a meadow is always a nice change of pace, and there was even a bench with a view. The meadow climb, however, was just a prelude to the second challenge of the day.
The climb up the side of Mt Rogers had neither the steepness nor the duration of the Whitetop Mountain climb, but what it did have was rocks and roots. Mt Rogers is the highest mountain in Virginia with its peak at 5,729 feet. There is a 0.5 mile side trail off the A.T. that goes to the summit, but this is one blue blaze that I declined because (a) I have been there before by car, and (b) there is no view when you get there. The rock scramble up the trail was actually kind of fun, and I arrived at the Thomas Knob Shelter an hour before I expected to get there.
Just past the shelter, I found a campsite with a view that just might rival the view at the Overmountain Shelter. I even have the rare treat of setting up my tent in soft grass. Just prior to arriving at the shelter, I got a sneak preview of what is in store for me tomorrow. It is going to be an extra special day.