|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
My brother-in-law (Indiana Mapes) made time to join me (Carrots) on this trip. This would be his second backpacking trip. We went light weight on this trip... our starting pack weights including food and water were 19 and 22 pounds.
The first day began where the AT leaves the Virginia Creeper trail along highway 58 via a set of stairs that rise into the forest canopy. The first two miles are a gradual 1000 foot ascent to Cuckoo Knob. Views of the rolling mountains cape can be seen from time to time. Once we passed the knob, which we never saw, we descended 700 feet to cross highway 58 only to begin our next ascent to the summit of Straight Mountain. The trail skirts alongside the Creeper Trail offering views of the Laurel Creek valley before rising steeply to the summit. Shortly pass the summit we reach Saunders Shelter, 8.5 miles from our starting point. I refilled our water bottles from a mountain spring flowing into a pool with a dead salamander floating in it. We ate a late lunch and took an hour cat nap. By this time it was 5pm and we wanted to make the next six miles to Lost Mountain Shelter. Our hike down from Straight Mountain was quick and we soon reached the Virginia Creeper Trail. Once we crossed a long wooden bridge that spans the Laurel Creek and Green Cove Creek junction we took a left, leaving the Creeper trail, and headed towards the summit of Lost Mountain. It was starting to get dark when we reached the Lost Mountain Shelter. The shelter was well equipped with a privy and a picnic bench. We made our beef and been burritos and hot chocolates and went to sleep. Amazingly there were no mice skittering about that night and we didn't even get pestered by bugs.
Day two began with a nice warm-up hike down Lost Mountain. At the base of the mountain we crossed Highway 58 again near Summit Cut. This was soon followed by a gentle stroll over a cow pasture with views of Beech Mountain. We would soon be ascending the flanks of Beech Mountain, the largest ascent of this hike at 2000 feet of elevation gain. Our goal for the morning was to reach Buzzard Rock and take a break for lunch. I made the climb up to Buzzard Rock 20 minutes ahead of Indiana Mapes and started preparing our lunch of chicken salad while enjoying the awesome 360 degree views. After lunch and some panoramic photos we continued around the flank of Whitetop Mountain and down the other side to Elk Garden parking lot. From here we began our climb to Thomas Knob shelter, our final destination for the day. When we reached Deep Gap it did not seem worth the trek to get water so we continued on without stopping. It didn't seem too long before we were stepping over piles of horse dung. This meant we were in the roaming range of the wild ponies that inhabit the Mt Rogers area. About a mile from the shelter we broke free from tree cover and could see Mt Rogers to the left and the Appalachian mountains to the right. I reached the shelter first and went to gather water from the spring behind the shelter. A fence protected the spring from being contaminated by the horses. Dinner was spaghetti with dehydrated sausage, I mention this because it was probably the best trail dinner I have ever made, not because I was hungry but because it was very tasty!!! The moon was full and made for a spectacular evening of relaxing on the rocks behind the shelter until the night's chill came upon us. We made camp in the top floor of the shelter while a father-son duo claimed the bottom floor.
Day three began with a hot meal of oatmeal. We took our time getting ready because we were only three downhill miles from Massie Gap parking lot, our end point. Since it was Saturday and we were not going to be picked up until 3pm on Sunday we came up with a long loop hike. The plan was to hike the AT north 1 mile to Rhododendron Gap. Take the 2.5 mile Pine Mountain Trail (PMT) to the AT. Then hike the AT south 8 miles back to Rhododendron Gap. Finally we would hike 1 mile south on the AT back to Thomas Knob shelter. We were off and on our way. We made it 100 yards before we had to stop for a photo op with our first sighting of the famous wild ponies. Continuing on we quickly reached Rhododendron Gap. I climbed the large pile of rocks there and took several photos of the panoramic views. From there I could see our entire plotted route. We turned off the well trodden AT and started down the PMT. The PMT is not as well traveled as the AT so it feels a little more rugged at times. We braked for lunch about halfway on the PMT. This was when I started picking blackberries, and there were plenty of blackberries for everyone and the bears. Indiana Mapes foot was bothering him so he decided to track back to the shelter while I continued on. My pace was slow due to the abundance of black berries but I eventually made it past the scales and up to some bald mountains. This is a great stretch of trail to take your time on because the views are fabulous!!! I could see Wilson's Ridge across the valley; this would be my route back to the shelter. After moseying over the balds I worked my way down to into the valley. It was mid to late afternoon and I was running off the original liter of water I brought from the shelter (this wasn't so bad because the blackberries were very juicy). So when I reached the first creek crossing I was ready for a break. I ate a snack, drank a liter of water, and jumped into a pool of water... cold but very nice. I found out later that Indiana Mapes was managing some kind of bath at the shelter as well. Seeing that the sun wasn't taking a break from its trek to the horizon I started hiking again. It wasn't long before I passed Wilson Creek Shelter and made my way to Massie Gap. I didn't hang out here because the sun was quickly approaching its finish line. As I hiked up Wilson Ridge I decided to take the more rugged spur trail that parallels the AT for a few miles. This trail includes some easy scrambling to well worthwhile views atop rock outcroppings. There is a potential campsite atop the second outcropping. Soon I was past the PMT and on the last mile stretch to Thomas Knob Shelter with the sun already below the horizon. It was good to see Indiana Mapes there and we began preparing our last dinner of the trip.
Day 4. We woke up to another beautiful day. I convinced Indiana Mapes to do the 2.5 mile round trip to the summit of Mt Rogers. Leaving packs behind we find ourselves at the summit in short order. The summit is tree covered so there is not much to see but the forest leading to the summit is very wet and vibrant. After grabbing our packs at the shelter we start descending Wilson Ridge. Along the way the trail goes through a couple rocks leaning against each other known as Fat Man's Squeeze. Soon we are at Massie Gap were we find a perch on some rocks to enjoy lunch before being picked up.