Saturday, September 1, 2012

Grayson Highlands with the Boy Scouts

I led a troop backpacking trip down in the Mt. Rogers area shortly after school ended in June, but didn't have time until now to upload the photos and put together a description.  

On the first day, we met in Charlottesville, drove our vehicles and scouts down to Grayson Highlands State Park, and hiked a little over 3 miles on the Appalachian Trail southbound towards Mt. Rogers.  Grayson Highlands State Park is a great place to drop cars on any hike in this area, as they have a parking lot specifically for long term hikers.  Well worth the $3 daily cost.

The boys were excited to get out on the trail as they had heard that you can see wild ponies near Mt. Rogers.  We hadn't hiked more than ten minutes before the first group of ponies stopped by to see us.  The boys were thrilled!

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.

Day 2
Hiking towards Mt. Rogers.
The second day involved 11 miles of backpacking over about 11 hours.  We hiked the A.T. past the Thomas Knob Shelter, then dropped our packs just off the trail to hike up and back down the summit of Mt. Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia.  After reconnecting with our overnight gear, we continued southbound on the A.T., passing a trail crew moving boulders on the trail, to our lunch spot at the intersection of the A.T. and the Mt. Rogers Trail.  We split into two groups in the Lewis Fork Wilderness, and agreed to meet up at the Grindstone Campground, a car camp facility at the bottom of the mountain outside the wilderness boundaries.  There, one of the adults could use the Campground's pay phone to make an important business call, and we could reconnect both groups.

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:

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.

We hiked 11 miles that day it was Friday 7/15 very Beautiful  and it was one of the most memorable  hiking experience’s  of my life. That day we hiked mount rogers all the way to the top, but let me start from the beginning.We woke with a good breakfast and then we headed off to hike up and down mount Rogers. We hiked about a mile when we reached the trail intersection that led up to mount Rogers. It was a surprisingly easy hike up to mount Rogers.( Even though we hid our backpacks behind a tree.) We got up within a half an hour, and the site wasn’t that amazing the entire view was blocked by trees. At least we could say we hiked mount Rogers the highest elevation point in Virginia.
At the summit of Mt. Rogers.

We hiked back down grabbed our packs and headed down the mountain. We hiked on until we came to national forest area. (In federal wilderness area you can’t be with a group of ten or more people.) So we split up i led a group and my friend Cole led a group. My group hiked down first we where going to meet up at Grindstone camp ground to eat lunch. ( They evan had toilets!) Soon it became far past lunch and we had a while to go still. so we decided to eat lunch on the trail by the time we where done the other group was coming through. Then we waited and split up again. we hiked about four more miles and by then i had to go the bathroom. finally we arrived at Grindstone and we got to go to the bathroom. when we where done we had to wait for the others when the group had arrived and done some important business. After they where done we all set off to Cherry tree campsite we then hiked the steepest trail in elevation i have ever hiked. Up up up we went then finally we where done for the day, but we more adventures for the next day.

We hiked the highest of 5717 ft in elevation above sea level and the lowest of 3705

Break time along the Mt. Rogers Trail.
On June 15th, I hiked about ten miles. That was Day 2 of our 4-day Mt. Rogers backpacking trip. The first important part about the hike was that I hiked up Mount Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia. It is 5,728 feet tall. We took our packs off in the woods right next to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail to climb to the top of Mount Rogers, we took our packs off because we’d have to go back down that same way anyway. I thought we’d be able to see far away at the summit but the view was all clogged up by trees. We came back down, got our packs and hiked the AT until we entered Lewis Fork Wilderness area. We split into two teams: Alpha Team and Bravo Team, I was an Alpha member. Both teams hiked the same trail but Alpha was ahead of Bravo. We stopped and had lunch somewhere at Lewis Fork with the Bravo team. We then started off on Mount Rogers Trail towards Grindstone Campground, a setup campsite with flush toilets and running water. We went to the bathrooms, filled up our water, and stopped there and waited for the Bravo team. After that, we hiked the Flattop Trail to our campsite which was the Cherry Tree Shelter. That was our hardest day of hiking.

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.
while and I got pretty tired. We the switched onto a gravel road and went on until the cherry tree shelter. I was tired and ready for a good nights sleep.

Day 3
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?
We started off in the morning we hiked about three miles. Our plan  was to hike to a trail intersection that meets to a trail that led to a waterfall abut eight miles up. By the time we got to the inter section it was too late in the day. So we hiked to a shelter to have lunch i believe it was called the Hurricane shelter. After lunch we went back out to the trail intersection we hiked about four miles we where going to meet Mr.Furrugio he had brought Gator- aid  and candy it was so good then he joined us as we hiked to our next  shelter. by the time we got to the shelter it was full. Then we had to hike to the next campsite which was three more miles up. When we got there i was exhausted ,I will tell you that day didn’t exactly follow up as planed but the camp site was seriously it was the most beautiful spot i have ever set foot on. 

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!

Morning coffee at our campsite.

Day 4
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.

At Wise, I split off from the rest of the group, joining the two who needed to return early.  We hiked back to the parking area, where I was able to give them a lift back to their car on the Fairwood Road and drive back to the trailhead at Massie Gap in time to meet the rest of the group.  We camped overnight in the state park's group campsite, and took liberal advantage of the showers - each boy was required to bring an extra bag with clean clothes and a towel so we could return these boys to their parents in acceptable condition!


  1. Hi there. Do you have an itinerary of your trip? I am taking family up to the grayson highlands for a 3-4 day backpacking trip, and your boy scout trip sounds perfect!

    What was your total mileage?

    1. Total mileage was 32 miles. The climb up to the Cherry Tree Shelter was the toughest part of the trip. Here is a link to a map of the trip:


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