Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mount Rogers

Panorama shot during the hike
On Sunday, July 28th Amy, my mom, my dad, my sister Marissa, our dog Baci, and I did the hike up to the summit of Mount Rogers, located in southwest Virginia. Once again, it proved to be a unique and extraordinary experience.

Planning out the hike
This was one of the several balds on Amy’s list to do around the Boone area. For these hikes, we had planned on staying in my family’s mountain house on Powder Horn Mountain for a couple of days. For this trip in particular, we planned to do Mount Rogers on Sunday and Little Hump/Big Hump on Monday. Both of these hikes had round-trip distances of over 9 miles, so we knew from the beginning that this would be an exhaustive, but hopefully satisfying couple days.

We woke up early Sunday morning, hoping to get most of the hike in before the likely afternoon showers. The trailhead for the hike was located at Massie Gap, part of the Grayson Highlands State Park, which was an hour and fifty minutes drive from our house. At 5,729 feet, the summit of Mount Rogers is the highest point in the state of Virginia. Our hike to the top would consist of about 4.5 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

We arrived at the trailhead around 11 am and quickly got our boots on, eager to get our legs moving. From the very start of the hike, we were enveloped in open grassy meadows. The grassy bald area on Mount Rogers is all situated below the summit, which is unique from many of the other balds we had visited. In fact, the summit of Mount Rogers is covered in an incredible spruce-fir forest. So, from the very beginning of our hike, we were able to gaze across acres of open meadow and grass rolling in the wind.

Our hike soon led us onto the Appalachian Trail and we continued for a couple of miles through the thriving grassy meadows. Baci was having the time of his life. It was during this section of the hike that we came upon one of the park’s favorite features, a wild pony.

We walked up to it cautiously at first, but soon realized that it was not bothered by our presence. Marissa was the first one to go up and pet it, and everyone else followed suit. Surprisingly, Baci was content watching from a distance with my dad. The wild ponies were introduced to the park in 1975 in effort to keep the bald area open via grazing. They are now managed by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association. Apparently, they are very comfortable around humans.
Eventually we got back on the trail and proceeded towards the summit. At a couple spots along the way we found blueberry bushes, each sprinkled with only about a dozen or so berries that had already had the chance to ripen. We ate the ripe ones that we could find, rejoicing every time that we found a sweet one.

Just under halfway to the summit, we came across the huge rocky outcroppings of Wilburn Ridge. The trail traversed up and down and over and under the huge boulders. Each of us took time to stand on top of one and peer down over the valleys as if we were Mufasa from Lion King.

We could hear the naying of ponies in the distance and quickened our pace a little bit, hoping to find them. It wasn’t long, however, before we came up to an Appalachian Trail Shelter, and we all agreed that it was a good spot to eat lunch.  It not only offered a picnic table and shade, but it also had expansive views of endless mountain ranges.
Lunch gave us the boost of energy we needed for the last mile up to the summit. This final mile was unique and beautiful in a different way from the rest of hike. We ascended through a wet, shaded Red Spruce and Fraser Fir forest, the only one of its kind in Virginia. The evergreens gave the air a fresh Christmas aroma. Green mosses and ferns carpeted the forest floor.

We made it to the summit at 2:30 pm and sat down a rock to rest before heading back. The shade and the cool temperature made it very comfortable, especially on this July day-we knew it was probably 95 degrees and muggy back in Greensboro or Columbia.
5,729 foot summit

The hike back presented a completely different perspective; most of the clouds had cleared to reveal valleys and mountain ranges that we had been unable to see before. Still, we had not had a single drop of rain. Nobody wanted to jinx it, though, so we avoided the topic.


When we had come about halfway down the mountain, Amy and I were behind the rest of the gang. We caught up to them to find them standing still and signaling for us to be silent. Turning the corner, we saw the reason why. There was a mother pony with her young foal, rummaging through some campers’ food.

We slowly walked towards them and eventually were able to gain enough trust for them to allow us to pet. The young foal slowly warmed up to us, but her attention was soon diverted. She had seen Baci and wanted to play. She put her head down and playfully started trotting towards Baci. I think it took Baci a little while to realize that this was actually happening because it wasn't until the foal was a foot away from him that he jumped up and scooted out of the way. The foal followed him in a couple of circles around my dad before finally giving up, probably disappointed that Baci wasn’t willing to be her friend.

After this last memorable encounter we continued on down the mountain and made it back to the car around 5:30 pm. My family had to go back to Greensboro so they took one car, while Amy and I took the other car back to the mountain house. We stopped at Boondocks Brewing Tap Room & Restaurant in West Jefferson for dinner, and we both ordered specialty burgers. With our incredible streak of great quality, charismatic, and local meals we’ve had on all of our trips so far, Amy and I felt compelled to keep the streak alive. While this meal didn’t really live up to the character of the fried cheesecake from Lynn’s Place or the chicken dumplings from Black Bear CafĂ©, it was a still really good burger. Simply enough, I think that a good burger was all we really needed.

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