Grayson Highlands & Mount Rogers

Pre-Hike Shake Down

Pre-Hike Shake Down

How long has it been?  Oh, maybe 10 years.  That’s awful…ten years since I have strapped on a backpack and headed out in to the wilderness for an extended backpacking trip.  That’s WAY too long for someone who once used to get paid to lead trips similar to the one we just took.  And, wow, it felt so amazing!

The Approach

The Approach

40lbs is all you need (give or take).  What a liberating feeling to know that you can carry everything, literally everything, that one needs to survive in a backpack strapped to your back!  Shelter, food, protection from weather, safety – what else do you need?  Seriously, what do you need to survive?  Think about it.  If you had to get rid of comfort you currently have, what would you need to survive in the world – and it all has to fit in to a backpack that you can actually carry?  Priorities take on a whole new meaning when necessity takes over.

Safety First!

Safety First!

Peaceful beauty surrounded us.  Our friends at GreenLife Adventure Sports put together this weekend long hike the first weekend of December.  We headed out to western Virginia, like WAY out, as far as you can get without heading in to North Carolina or Tennessee.  It’s actually near Abingdon, my birthplace (that could be a Jeopardy question one day).  This section of the Appalachian Trail is known for some beautiful high meadows and wild ponies…yes, I said wild ponies!  My father has mentioned this hike a few times in conversation and it’s always been an area I wanted to experience (especially because of the wild ponies!).  When the opportunity approached, it wasn’t hard to sign up!

Pony Kisses

Pony Kisses

2 boys, 2 girls, took off on the trail head late Thursday afternoon in short sleeves on  the first leg of our journey.  The first shelter, where we would meet 4 more boys and 1 dog, was about 4 miles in.  A relatively easy start on logging roads and switch backs began to progressively more difficult terrain as the sun went down and the drizzle started.  I would’ve loved to see some of the spots we hiked through – a few of the LARGE boulders we navigated made it feel almost as if we were canyoning out west.  Navigating with headlamps is definitely an art form.  Shooting the light far enough to see trail markers, especially on a trail none of us had ever been on was definitely a priority.  Lisa’s headlamp completely died (bad planning on our part) increasing the anxiety of our little night hike.  Staying together became ever increasingly important on this first night’s adventure and we made it to the first shelter without incident.  A mighty nice shelter I might add – two stories, clean – not at all what I would’ve expected in size or comfort.  Needless to say we were impressed.  This was the only night Lisa and I spent in the shelter…we quickly learned that our trail-mates were quite the snoring bunch lending itself to a rather sleepless first night.  Oh, and let’s not forget the mice (my dad warned me about these little food thieves)!  They managed to snack on a few of Lisa’s M&Ms, bite a hole in her bowl and may have opened a race track that included us as obstacle course.  Not too bad for what it could’ve been, but we decided not to take any chances on the other nights.

The First Morning

The First Morning

We averaged 10+ miles a day after the first night, quite a feat for the four of us that were NOT in trail shape.  As an athlete that dabbles mostly in crossfit and strongman, I figured carrying a pack for four days would be a breeze.  Not the case.  There were many times on the trail that I was just over it – my knees were sore, my feet were KILLING me (my boots sucked), my pack was making me mad (I need a new one), the terrain was rocky as shit, and it was wet (rain, sleet and snow) basically every day we were out on the trail.  This may sound like complaining, yep, it certainly looks like complaining.  However, the trip was AMAZING!  I got off the trail feeling a great sense of accomplishment, all of the gear held up (despite some piss poor planning on our parts), we saw some absolutely amazing sights, covered a large chunk of territory in a short span of time, met some great people, and have great stories and photos from this awesome experience.  We cannot wait to go back out on the trail again!  This time – a little warmer, better boots, more batteries, more fuel, and a better pack.

A little photo montage for your viewing pleasure:

Mount Rogers

Mount Rogers

 

 

Mount Rogers is the highest natural point in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, with a summit elevation of 5,729 feet above mean sea level.   The terrain, flora, and fauna changed with a distinct, visible line.  I highly suggest this trek!

 

 

 

 

 

Attempting a phone call to his wife...really, Raoul?

Attempting a phone call to his wife…really, Raoul?

 

Don’t you just love the sight of a whipped man?  Isn’t the point of getting in to the wilderness – to get in to the wilderness?  Consider yourself lucky that I didn’t publish the photo of you in your long johns!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were a little chilly.

We were a little chilly.

 

The wife and I at one of the shelters (this was our first time backpacking together!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up and Over!

Up and Over!

 

 

This hike proved to have many different technical elements – climbing over fences and into pastures being one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Ponies!

Wild Ponies!

 

 

The sun peeked out a few times, and look at what showed up behind the fog!  The wild ponies were plentiful throughout the weekend.  Who cannot help but to smile when these adorable guys come across the trail?!

 

 

 

 

Water! Very cold water.

Water! Very cold water.

 

My personal favorite water source because of it’s beautiful roaring sound.  It also symbolized the end of a fairly long and stressful section of the trail helping to lift spirits before turning in for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

icy leaves

icy leaves

icy branches

icy branches

 

 

Unbeknownst to us we were right in the middle of an ice storm.  This is what we woke up to find on the last morning – sheets of ice covering the tent, trees, trail, etc.  It was absolutely beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE DID IT!

WE DID IT!

Tired and beat up, we walked off the trail to find the ranger almost waiting for us – with all of the ice that had accumulated he wanted to make sure we came off the trail safe and that everyone was accounted for.  We changed in to dry clothes (I’m sure Raoul took another baby wipe bath) and we hit the road to find warm food before heading back home.  When are we doing it again, guys?

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