Ascent of Mount Rogers on 2013-07-17

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:David Stone
Date:Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Rogers
    Elevation:5729 ft / 1746 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Rogers Trip Report:

After leaving the somewhat unsatisfactory Black Mountain in Kentucky, we were keen to climb some decent mountains to finish off our Washington DC, Fallingwater and East Coast highpointing tour.

Time was limited so we headed for Virginia and specifically Mount Rogers without delay. Due to the winding nature of the roads of the Appalachians our journey took longer than expected, so it was uncertain whether we'd be able to ascend Mount Rogers before nightfall. As we drove ESE my son studied trip reports of the two most popular hiking routes and we decided to go for the Rhododendron Trail rather than the Elk Garden approach as there was next to no difference in hiking distance or elevation gain between the two but there was talk of seeing cute ponies on the former trail and we made an educated guess that there would be camping available in the Grayson Hills State Park.

We were correct about the camping, but when we eventually arrived at the park entrance the youthful Ranger had problems with the computer booking system (entering my UK address and driving licence details just didn't fit into the booking template) and he had to call a colleague to assist which further delayed our arrival at the Massie Gap parking lot and trailhead.

It was about 17:00 by the time we set off and we compromised equipment for being as lightweight as possible. We set off in shorts and T-shirts, carrying a trail map, drink, a torch (flashlight), and not much else. The idea being that as it was pretty warm getting wet wouldn’t be a disaster and we'd be back at the car within a few hours’ time.

So we set off past the bins at the end of the parking lot onto the Rhododendron Trail. The trail soon joins a more major track and a fence. This is where we met the first of many ponies. We had a quick look at the area trail map on a large information sign before proceeding uphill along the path and onto the gentle ridge. We overtook a young guy with an enormous backpack who was enjoying the view and taking pictures, met up with the Appalachian Trail and followed the signature AT white blazes along Wilburn Ridge. The clouds had been gathering for much of the afternoon and unsurprisingly, we saw a flash of sheet lightning and heard a loud clap of thunder overhead. By this time we had reached Rhododendron Gap and were back under trees so being brave, or stupid, or both, we continued and used the forest as cover. We passed the tents of a few people who were overnighting and soon reached the Thomas Knob Shelter. We had a quick nosey around and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of this hut; perhaps we should do the AT someday and use these facilities. We had a swig of some rather flat Diet Pepsi and then continued on towards the summit. Not very long after we'd left the hut area we noted the signpost and blue blazes which signify the Mount Rogers Spur Trail off the AT. We hiked up this slightly less well maintained trail into the thick Fraser Firs that cover the summit area. The rain started to get heavier as we walked through the woods, so we began to jog faster.

We'd read that there was a small clearing on the summit but really there isn’t much at all. In fact the clearing is so small that we actually ran straight over the summit and continued a few tens of metres on a small path beyond. It was only when we realised that we hadn’t seen any more blue blazes and the ground was marginally downhill that we stopped, turned around and headed back until we saw a blue blaze again. We actually visited the summit area twice before we noticed the only indicator; the small USGS benchmark embedded in a large rock. Happy that we had made it, we took a few hazy photos of each other on the summit in the gloom and rain and then started on our way back down.

The downpour intensified and we got soaked through. We sheltered in the Thomas Knob Shelter for 10-15 minutes to let the worst of the rain pass. In this short space of time the previously met young guy and an older man arrived at the hut, equally heavily laden and both doing the AT but in opposite directions. After some brief conversation the rain seemed to lighten a bit so we decided to go for it and make our way down. We were glad of the rigorous blaze-marking as in the reduced light the multiple horse and human tracks through the woods made navigation more difficult than you might think and it all looked strangely different in reverse. The rain eventually stopped, the sky lightened markedly and we enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful walk back down to the car.

Just before the parking lot we met a young chap from Ohio who'd apparently set off from the trailhead 30 minutes or so after us but who'd decided to abandon the attempt when the lightning started. I assured him the mountain was well worth the hike and much more rewarding than Campbell Hill (which we'd visited the day before); he planned another attempt the following day.

A great hike in a lovely area - it took us just under 4 hours round-trip and we managed to complete it before dark! The rain returned with a vengeance once we were back at the Hickory Ridge Campground and after hurredly setting up camp we cooked our supper and retired for the night.
Summary Total Data
    Route:Rhododendron Trail, Appalachain Trail, Mount Roger
    Trailhead:Massie Gap  
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Weather:Raining, Pleasant, Windy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:2 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:1 Hours 45 Minutes

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