On the chilly spring Saturday morning of April 16, 2005, Bob Boettger, Dan Bumgarner, Debbie Staley and Bob Laney took off for Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia. Even though many spring flowers and buds were showing in Wilkes County, the VA highlands were still under the lock of winter, with frost on the ground, no flowers and no green leaves. The wind chill factor was likely in the range of the teens Fahrenheit. We even hiked past a couple of remnant snow patches!
We parked in Massie Gap with all the other backpackers, then climbed the main saddle up to the Appalachian Trail and headed northwest. A surprisingly large number of other hikers and backpackers were on the trail. It seemed like about 10 campers told us they had spent the night before at the AT trail shelter just south east of Mt. Rogers. We met a very knowledgeable, nice seasonal ranger, who had retired from a job in the Raleigh area, who was directing traffic in Rhododendron Gap.
Near the beginning of the hike there were several wild horses, one of which had just become a new mother. Her foal was still wobbly on its legs. A shaggy black pony apparently had become acclimated to begging for food because he came up to the hikers and even let some of us pet him.
Apparently my early onset of CRS disease had struck the night before. I had told Debbie that the terrain was “undulating.” My last prior trip had been several years earlier. I had totally forgotten what a long, steep climb it was, up all those rocky ridges and hills, before we got to the top of the mountain. [Note: over the ensuing years, whenever I describe a trail as “undulating,” Debbie has had a tendency to kick me in the shin.]
We had a pleasant, sunny lunch in a meadow near the AT trail shelter outside the northwest side of the Park, overlooking a panoramic view of the Highlands towards the Virginia Creeper Trail and Damascus. We all took off our boots and socks to dry our tootsies. Bob Boettger even caught a few zzz’s in the warming sunshine.
Then we finished the job of hiking to the top of Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. There is no view, just an open spot in the woods with a brass National Geodetic Survey marker on top of a rock. Mission accomplished! But we still had to get back down.
The rest of the day was a long, strenuous slog, mostly downhill, back to the parking lot at Massey Gap. A great workout and a wonderful day of camaraderie. To top it off, Pat and Dan Bumgarner hosted us, with Larry and Beth Horrell, at their house in McGrady for a hamburger cookout. Yum!