Ascent of Mount Rogers on 2020-06-25

Climber: David Odenwalder

Date:Thursday, June 25, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Rogers
    Elevation:5729 ft / 1746 m

Ascent Trip Report

The last of my 6-state high point challenge in the southern Appalachians. I had had to wait until daybreak for my treacherous drive to Black Mtn (KY). And I had a couple of hours' drive, plus about a ten-mile round trip hike to reach the top of Mt Rogers awaiting me. I had to have the car back to FL the next morning, so yes, time was a big concern. I'd had pretty good success following Siri rather than my scrawled Google map notes, so off I sped to tackle Mt Rogers with Siri's instructions. The Mt Rogers area is pretty large,, so it wasn't clear to me how best to proceed. Highway signs pointed one way, my Google notes another, and Siri yet another. (You know how they say that a man with two watches never knows what time it is. That was my geographic predicament at the moment. I tried to follow one, then the other.) At one point, I ended up going exactly the wrong way on a freeway - so much for relying on one's intuition. I was inclined to approach Grayson Highlands State Park from the west - which would have been the best choice in retrospect. Instead, I followed Siri, and ended up at a dirt road plowing into a forest next to farm fields. Not exactly what I had expected. Then it became difficult to retrace my path. After inquiring at a local eatery, I finally figured out that I had gone too far, but that the road I was on would take me to the east access to the state park. My handwritten Google notes to the entrance of Grayson Highlands State Park (from the west) would have been absolutely correct.

I arrived a good two hours later than my most pessimistic predictions. But this was my best chance to complete Mt Rogers - and with it the final state high point east of the Mississippi. So even if I had to drive all night, I was headed for the top. The trail, though long (a little under 10 miles round-trip) was pretty easy. Very easy to start out with. After a very short access - across a field more or less - one joins the Appalachian Trail for most of the rest of the hike. The first section of the trail is a modestly steep climb, nothing too difficult. There are a succession of rocky ledges, followed by some small sections of gently sloped meadows, where a herd of wild ponies hangs out and grazes. The ledges themselves are rocky, but compared with many other hikes, this one is a pretty clear, well-maintained trail. A couple of times I wanted to use my hands a bit, but pretty much Class 2 I'd say - no worse. As I progressed up the mountain - based on what I had seen driving in - I assumed that the trail would crest at a ridgeline for a straight shot to the top. Wrong. You don't even see the main part of Mt Rogers until you round a rise about 2/3 the way through the hike - and then you first catch a glimpse of the bulk of the mountain. It's a bit disheartening at first - looks very distant, with a substantial climb - but for the faint of heart, the rest of the trek (the last couple of miles) goes very fast, and the final ascent is a piece of cake. Since one is on the Appalachian Trail, there are occasional way-buildings and other features to benefit through-hikers. After a substantial distance - but terrain that allows a pretty quick pace - you reach the spur trail to the summit. The blaze markings change from white (AT) to blue (summit spur). As noted, the final ascent isn't all that steep. The flora - and I assume climate - changes noticeably for the last section of the summit trail. Somewhat reminiscent of the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park - lots of trees, everything moss-covered. At the top. I joined a handful of other climbers. Someone pointed out that there were at least three large boulders within maybe a 50- or 100-foot radius that could easily claim the title of VIrginia's highest point. Two of these boulders had survey markers - and I'm not willing to argue which one takes the sweepstakes prize. I touched or stood on all three contenders, to be certain. The trip down was uneventful. with one small issue. About half a mile or so from the parking lot, there is a wide space without any blazes and it's a junction point for several trails. I got confused and turned around - and started hiking back up from whence I had just come. Quickly realized that this was all too familiar - retraced my errant path, and gambled correctly on another path. I had to ask several other hikers if I was going the right way - not that I couldn't have hiked further - but I was racing the clock. Got off the mountain after a total of about 5-6 hours.
Continuing my journey to return my car to Orlando (FL) by the next morning, I learned why they called this area the Grayson Highlands. Driving east a ways along the Wilson Creek and then turning south into North Carolina, I hit an abrupt and unexpected drop of maybe as much as 500-1000 feet - I assume based on my limited knowledge of geography it was the escarpment that separates the piedmont from the coastal lowlands. Quite a surprise to me - I drove back in the dark, arriving in Orlando around six in the morning - just a couple of hours to spare before the car was due. End of a crazy, tiring, but successful road trip to complete the 41st-45th state highpoints for me.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles

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