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19 Days In The Mt Rogers Backcountry


June3 15--July 2, 2011

This trip begins with a 3.5 hour drive north on I 81 to Marion, VA where I exit on Hiway 16 south to the Mt Rogers National Recreation Area headquarters.  I get a permit to leave my car for 21 days and begin the journey from this parking lot onto the Appalachian Trail south.


Not 100 feet into the hike I come to my first AT box, the Partnership shelter.


Once3 again I'm loaded down with books and about 45lbs of food so I take a break on some hilltop above Rocky Holler and about 4.5 miles from the NRA.


After seven miles of hiking I find this campsite next to a creek and not far north of the South Holston Creek crossing.  It's my first night on the AT in several years and it feel good.


On Day 2 I drop off the hill and cross route 670 and immediately come to the long footbridge across the South Holston river.  It's nice not to deboot into crocs and ford rivers.


Crossing dirt road 672 I find an injured fawn by the side of the road---hit by a car and left.  I spend many minutes with it before reluctantly leaving.


The AT skirts by this shelter and so I take the half-mile detour to check it out.  Trimpi shelter.


I find a little sidetrail off the AT in a little gap where there's a water mudpit so I decide to follow it down to a mossy campsite above what used to be the old Raccoon Branch shelter, now gone.  Here's my camp on Bobby's Trail by the water source.


Twelve boy scouts need water and want to camp next to me (no!) but when the leader sees how bad the water is they bail to another spot.


On Day 3 I leave Bobby's Ridge and cross the Virginia Highlands horse trail which runs 80 miles between Elk Garden in the west and the New River in the east.  It parallels the AT thruout my trip.


At Dickey Gap I cross over gravel road 650 and get to Comers Creek Falls, with a nice footbridge.


I take a break by the Falls and adjust my pack straps.  I'm once again using the Mystery Ranch G5000.


Past the Falls I stop at this little creek to get water before my big climb up Hurricane Mountain.


I finally make it to another carport box, this time it's called the Hurricane Mt shelter, where I throw off the pack and get several liters of water for a further campsite up on the mountain.  Who wants to camp with a bunch of know it all newbs?


Here's my campsite near the top of Hurricane Mt and well away from the crowds.


Water and some Tasty Bite meals---all a person needs.  The new platypus bottle works great and holds around 85 ozs.


Day 4 is a big day because it's my first day to be inside the Mt Rogers highlands.  I cross over route 603 and cross over Fox Creek on these two footbridges.


Here's the second footbridge.


When you see this sign you know you're getting close to Wilburn Ridge and the highlands.


I make it up to Old Orchard shelter and take a picture of a guy named Scrubs preparing to shove off.  He's doing in one day what it took me four to hike.


The haul from Old Orchard to this trail jct is tough and rocky but it finally puts me on the high ground.  The Pine Mt trail used to be the old AT.


I get off the AT and take a portion of the Crest horse trail down to Scales to get water.  Along the way I'm greeted by views of Stone Mt meadow above Scales, and by Wilburn Ridge behind me.  I pass thru all the trails that go thru the intersection called Scales and need water so I go up the Scales trail to a spring and take the Bearpen trail up to Stone Mt.  I look behind me and see Wilburn Ridge North in the distance.  You will see more about this ridge soon.


Here's the Bearpen trail on Stone Mt and I find a good campsite right before those clouds in the distance turn blue-black and nasty.


Near the top of Stone Mt I find this monument like rock and set up camp and then the blue-black clouds in the distance wallop me with a mean windstorm with buckets of pelting rain.  It comes so fast I don't have time to completely stake out the tent so a few pegs where pulled out in the tumult.  During a lull I grabbed a rock and hammered in every stake I had but the worst was over.


This fotog really shows the wonder of the Mt Rogers area.  All backpackers should spend a week here.


After the storm and towards evening the ponies come up to my camp and we talk.


On Day 5 I pack up early and catch the first rays of morning light on the Bearpen trail.  I follow it up the hill and it jcts with the AT which I take south again and enter the Little Wilson Creek wilderness.  Here's a view looking back from the top of the Bearpen trail.


I reach Wise shelter and find a campsite 200 yards before it next to Big Wilson Creek.


My camp by Wise shelter on Big Wilson Creek.


Matchbox's old Kelty pack.  I do a dayhike from my camp and see two AT backpackers and one has this old Kelty, circa 1975?


Day 6 is a special day because it's the day I climb up to Wilburn Ridge and survey the three peaks of Wilburn north.  It's what the highlands are all about!  I stay on the AT south from Wise shelter and cross this little branch called Quebec Creek. 


Yes, I crossed Quebec Branch on an earlier trip in 1997 and here I am with my old North Face external pack.  Compare the two fotogs.  Drat it, I'm older now.


From Quebec Branch it's a moderate hump and then you start passing the pink-blue granite rocks of Wilburn Ridge east.  Near the top of the ridge you pass this AT Spur trail and it's a good place for a rest.


Right past the spur you enter a giant amphitheater of stunning views which show my day's destination on Wilburn Ridge north.  I'll be camping at the base of the little hill on the left, Maw Peak.


As the trail winds over to Wilburn north, I pass by many pretty rocks.


There's ponies here too and I pass by this hippie pony with the long hair.


I reach the first peak and decide to set up camp in a howling windstorm.  A word of warning: Wilburn Ridge gets windy!  I had to put rocks down on the tent before poling it out and lost a pole bag in the gusts.  I didn't bring my winter kit number of pegs so I had to use six sticks I found as supplements.  I also whittled out four nifty emergency pegs, see below.


Here are my emergency tent pegs for the highlands---you'll need them.  I whittled them out of plant stems.


The next hill is the second peak and it is north of my camp and will be along my next day's route.



On Day 7 I wake up to calm conditions and strike camp.  The AT continues across Wilburn Ridge and goes thru another windy gap before crossing over the last peak which I call Grandmother Mt.


Here I am on peak three and looking back to peak two.


Wilburn Ridge ends in Rhododendron Gap where I find this patiently stacked cairn.


In the Gap the AT heads west and left to the Thomas Knob shelter where I take this fotog.


I get water by the shelter and go a hundred yards beyond to a fine campsite where a massive deluge rainstorm hits thru the night and into the next day.


A pony comes to visit and seems to want company.


On Day 8 after the rain I decide to pack and return to Rhodo Gap where I get on the Pine Mt trail.  Here I am by the shelter after everyone leaves.


Here is a nice view along the Pine Mt trail.


Pine Mt eventually reaches this gap where there's a spring and I get my full load of water, about 135 ozs.


Here I am with my water.  All I have to do now is hike until I find a decent campsite.  There are plenty.


I find this shady campsite in the middle of the Pine Mt trail and call it a day.


Several highland cattle pass thru camp.  What with all the horseback riders and ponies and cows, I sometimes think the Mt Rogers area is a designated catch basin for mammal excrement, hence my Highlands Warning #2:  Always filter or treat your water---no matter where you get it.  I learned this the hard way on a trip here in 1984.  I drank tainted water and threw up all night by my tent near WhiteTop Mt.

Other Warnings #1:  Always put on the rain fly and stake out every loop and guyline you have.  You'll need them and won't be able to do it when it hits as it'll be too late.



On Day 9 I pack and finish the Pine Mt trail and end up above Scales on the AT south where I stop and find a collection of backpacks belonging to this group of women backpackers from Women of Adventure, a guided group.  This one made Little Mitten laugh.


Here's a picture of Scales as seen from the AT going down into it.  The women are huddled in a group for a reststop.


On Day 9 I set up this camp on the AT a mile or so north of the Wise shelter and call it the Enchanted Forest Camp.


On Day 10 I decide to backtrack a bit on the AT and take a series of trails inside the Little Wilson Creek wilderness, so here I am on the Kabel trail as it connects to the First Peak trail.


Here's the sign for the First Peak trail where it connects with the Kabel trail.


At the top of the First Peak trail I come out to the full view of Wilburn Ridge with the three peaks and Mt Rogers on the right.


I take a break on top and run into these horseback riders---I call them saddle potatoes.  It's very windy here.


First Peak trail can be left on top of Stone Mt for an overland bushwack of about a half mile to intersect the AT going south across the mountain, so I walk overland and reach a fine campsite next to the AT in a protected spot out of the fierce wind.


Can you find the tent?  This is Stone Mt at its best, and the AT runs right thru it---see the blazes.


On Day 11 I leave Stone Mt and want to do another run over Wilburn Ridge and pass Wise shelter again.  Along the way I run into old backpacking buddy RCarver and his friend Dwight, both from Tennessee.  The last time I saw RCarver was on a winter trip to Hangover Mt in the Slickrock wilderness.


FLASHBACK IN TIME---2004:  Here's RCarver (left) and Jody of Little River Outfitters in Maryville, TN enduring a very cold night at 7F on Hangover Mt.  I surprise them with a nighthike from my camp 1.5 miles away.


After seeing RCarver, I pass Wise shelter and climb back up to Wilburn Ridge and go to peak three which I call Grandmother Mt and set up camp in . . .  uh . . .  Grandmother Gap, a great spot to get wind-blasted.


Ponies come into camp and want to climb into the tent with me, so I shoo them off and the young one wants to eat my hiking pole.


Can you find my tent?  It's right in the center of the picture as seen from the top of Grandmother Mt.  This is usually a very windy place and would be an excellent place for some serious winter camping.


On Day 12 I pass backpacker Scott from Norfolk.  We shared the windy gap in tents around Grandmother Mt.  He's hanging out in Rhododendron Gap waiting for his buddies to catch up.


On Day 12 I take the AT south around Mt Rogers and stop here at a gap on Brier Ridge which at first I think is Deep Gap since it has a water spring where I fill up my jugs.  It is not Deep Gap.


I get off the AT and take the Mt Rogers trail which contours around the big mountain and I set up camp in a sudden rainstorm close to the Lewis Fork Spur trail at around 4,700 feet.


On Day 13 I leave the Mt Rogers trail and connect to the Lewis Fork Spur trail which takes me to the upper section of the Lewis Fork trail.  Unfortunately, the Lewis Fork trail is a horse trail and the horseback riders do a tremendous amount of damage on this wilderness trail.  Here's a pulled off horseshoe stuck between the rocks.

RANT---I call these trails Wilderness Poop Chutes for the amount of turds laying in the trail and in creeks which pass over the trail.  Backpackers know how to bury their turds away from a creek, but these human saddle potatoes just let their animal turd vehicles (ATVs) crap right on the trail and right in the creeks.

Yes, the Lewis Fork trail is mostly a stream bed and runoff watershed and yet the head honchos of the Mt Rogers area allow this water fouling and trail plowing to continue.  I thought a wilderness is supposed to show no sign of man's passing?  No sane ecologist would allow human generated horse excrement to intentionally foul the waters of a wilderness area.  Why don't the riders use a poop bag and haul out their waste?  END O SCREED.


The Lewis Fork trail finally pulls up into a gap on the Pine Mt trail where there's a spring water source and where the Crest trail passes thru.  I meet three friendly backpackers camped in the gap and join their camp for an hour of conversation.  A big horned cow wants to join in the festivities.


Another cow investigates my pack and licks it to gauge the weight.  "Too heavy for you!" I shout.


I get to the end of the Pine Mt trail where it jcts the AT and set up camp at a place I call Rabbit Gap for a big rabbit who lives in the rocks on the AT.


THE NUWATI TREKKERS:  On Day 14 the guys I saw yesterday near Pine Mt spring pass thru my camp at Rabbit Gap and say hello and tell me to look them up on the interweb.


I take the AT north and lose a thousand feet and end up at Old Orchard shelter where I stop to take a break.


Shelter sign.


I find a campsite a couple hundred feet away in a stand of evergreen trees and close to the spring.


Back in 1983 when I was living out of a backpack I used this same exact water bottle, which is carried by an AT backpacker named Dan.  All of his gear was "vintage".


The shelter fills up with several wet hikers after a heavy afternoon rainstorm.


On Day 15 I begin my long journey back to where I parked the car and so here I am resting at Hurricane Mt shelter.


On Day 16 I pass by Comers Creek Falls again and take the time to wash out my socks and underwear---needed.


Here's a Tasty Bite pouch of brown rice---not my best meal ever.


On the morning of Day 17 I have a good talk with a roaming deer who shows no fear.  "You will probably be dead by Christmas", I try to tell him but he doesn't listen.  Or is he a she??


On Day 17 I make it to Trimpi shelter where I find a decent campsite by water.  It's starting to get hot again and the mosquitoes are bad.


The Uncle Fungus Comfort Zone.


I spend my last night about 4.5 miles south of the Mt Rogers NRA and camp on Rocky Ridge.


All trips must end and so this one ends by packing up the kit and heading the last several miles along a rocky roller coaster ridge on the AT north.


When I got back my GF Little Mitten turned me on to a whole new line of backpacking gear and a much more comfortable pack than my heavy Mystery Ranch G5000.  The store clerk just fitted me after measuring my torso length and so I've been slowly replacing all my gear with these fantastic products.  Stay tuned for the next trip.

Awesome pics. The fawn kinda brought my mood down. Poor thing. I didn't see any pics with your new "Spongebob Pack."

Rick-Pittsburgh said:

Awesome pics. The fawn kinda brought my mood down. Poor thing. I didn't see any pics with your new "Spongebob Pack."

 Tune into the next trip.

Lol, I definitely will.


Great trip report and pictures. I need to get back east to do some hiking. Last trip was in 1996 whiles working near Lake Placid NY.

August 5, 2020
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