I had traversed this part of the A.T. the previous Autumn when I hiked the area with my son on an overnight. So this time we took a parallel trail (actually an older routing of the A.T.), over the peaks of Wilburn Ridge. This provided some of the most spectacular vistas of the entire hike and is highly recommended.
We hiked past an area known as Rhododendron Gap before deciding to camp on a flat ridge between Wilburn Ridge and Mt. Rogers the first night. We hiked just a little over 3 miles to get to our campsite. It got pretty cold and windy, but everyone seemed to sleep well.
|Hiking towards Mt. Rogers.|
We ran into trouble when approaching the Grindstone Campground. After following the sign indicating a turn off of the Mt. Roger's Trail to the campground, we came upon an area that was totally devastated. Trees where down everywhere, and the trail was nonexistent. Fortunately, I could see the campground (and a promised bathroom facility), so we hiked "off trail" to the bathroom and waited in a nearby campsite for the other group while our adult with business needs went off to use the pay phone.
When he came back he was followed by a campground volunteer who explained that a tornado had leveled that part of the forest the previous year. (Later research established the date as April 28, 2011.) He also explained that the portion of the campground we were in was closed and a ranger could cite us for trespassing if he found us here.
Here is NOAA's description of the storm:
AT LEAST 200 TREES WERE UPROOTED OR SNAPPED AT THE TRUNK...AND A BATH HOUSE WAS DAMAGED AS WELL. A FEW PEOPLE WERE CAMPING AT THE TIME...SHORTLY AFTER MIDNIGHT EARLY THURSDAY MORNING APRIL 28...BUT NO ONE WAS INJURED OR KILLED. THERE WAS NO DAMAGE TO ANY VEHICLES EITHER. MANY OF THE TREES IN THE FAIRLY WIDE SWATH HAD FALLEN TOWARD THE NORTH AND DOWNSLOPE.
|Group shot entering the Lewis Fork Wilderness.|
Reluctantly, we moved to another part of the campground, knowing that it would make it harder for the other group to find us. I complained to the campground staff that there was no indication on the trail that we were approaching a closed area and was told that the Forest Service had planned to put up a sign on the trail the previous weekend. Now, I know funds are tight in the National Forest, but waiting over a year to place vital information like this is beyond belief.
We eventually met up with the other group, who told us they had been waiting for us for 15 minutes in the same spot we had moved from. After reconnecting, we refilled water bottles and hiked up the Fairwood Road a quarter mile to the Flattop Trail, which climbed steeply up to the Cherry Tree Shelter, where we spent the night.
Because the day's travels totaled over 10 miles, the scouts could apply the hike towards hikes required for their Hiking Merit Badge. As part of that badge's requirements, the boys had to write a description of their hikes. I have copied below some descriptions (without edits) from the boys of the hike.
|Break time along the Mt. Rogers Trail.|
On this hike I remember we took off our packs in a little circle of trees to make the climb up to Mount Rodgers. It was rocky and grassy for a while but then it was weird because we got into a darker forest. We hiked that for a while. The path got narrow and we made our way to a large rock with a metal plate saying the elevation and stuff. It was pretty awesome because for a second you could be the tallest person in Virginia! We took a few pictures and then hiked back down to our packs. We then took a right down the A.T. and saw some trail work volunteers. It was cool because they were the ones making all the hikes possible. We hiked for a while seeing some pretty views. We hiked for a
|Cherry Tree Shelter and our campsite.|
The Cherry Tree Shelter is an old shelter along a previous routing of the Appalachian Trail. A quick inspection reveals serious deterioration, especially to the roof. We could not convince a single scout to trade his tent for this shelter. The shelter is on the Iron Mountain Trail, which was designated the Appalachian Trail until 1972, when the trail was rerouted by Mt. Rogers and through the Grayson Highlands area.
After packing up, we hiked along the ridge of Iron Mountain on its eponymous trail, following the old A.T. routing until we intersected with the current A.T. north of where we had hiked it the previous day. The Iron Mountain Trail was an easy hike, though we had difficulty following it at one point.
Because we had to meet one of the fathers on the Fairwood Road at 2:30, we timed our hike so we wouldn't get there early. This meant dropping a planned waterfall hike and instead hiding our packs and taking the A.T. north, on an out and back to lunch at the Hurricane Shelter. The Hurricane Shelter is a much newer trail shelter than the Cherry Tree Shelter, and the difference in construction was amazing.
|Lunch at the Hurricane Shelter.|
We hiked back and met the parent near the appointed time, and he brought cold drinks and chocolates for everyone, to the boys' delight. The drinks were really welcome after a warm day of hiking.
We spent about a half hour lounging in the parking lot before starting back up the mountain. We were heading south on the A.T., eventually hiking back to our cars. We had planned to camp near another A.T. shelter, the Old Orchard Shelter, but had heard reports that the area would be hosting another scout troop that night. We had to follow Plan B, which was to hike to the top of the mountain and camp at one of the sites I had heard were among the best campsites in the area.
It was a long haul for the boys, but everyone made it up the mountain and most were appreciative of the grand views from our hard-earned campsite. We ended up hiking 10.5 miles over a total of 8 3/4 miles, gaining 2,242 feet in elevation.
Here are the boys' descriptions of the hike:
|Group shot near the Fairwood Road. |
Who is ready for some chocolate?
On this hike we packed up from Cherry Tree shelter and hiked on the Iron Mountain trail for a while. It was more of a forest hike than open grass. Then we went from the Iron Mountain trail to the AT we hiked that for a while going mostly downhill. We then came to a hurricane shelter (although I'm not sure it would have been the best for a hurricane.) After that we went southbound on the A.T. to meet Mr. Farruggio at Fairwood road. First, we took pictures going across about 3 bridges. When we got there it was a really nice surprise because Mr. Farruggio had gatorades and chocalate bars. We rested and got water but then learned that we had 3.5 miles to the campsite. It was a hard finish to the day but we made it and the campsite was definitely worth it!
Our last day of hiking had several adults first hiking a mile each way to a spring to load up on water. Water sources are at a premium on the top of the ridges, and I knew of only one that was somewhat close.
One of the boys and his dad needed to get back to Charlottesville early, so we set off on the trail to get back to the cars. We hiked the A.T. back to Grayson Highlands, completing 7.2 miles. This hike was not far enough to qualify for Hiking Merit Badge, so I did not get descriptions from the boys.
We walked through the area known as The Scales and marveled at the people with campers and little toy sized dogs in the middle of our wilderness. Then we hiked through the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness before reaching our lunch spot at the A.T.'s Wise Shelter.