But first, a little about Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
Spanks and I left Enota Campground, our home for the week, on the morning of Friday April 6th. Could have easily stayed in the area just to explore, hike, hang out in a beautiful spot, etc but it was time to move on. Our next destination, Asheville, NC.
An old friend of mine (since we were kids), Jaan, his wife Linda, and their dog Susi, recently sold their home in St Pete, FL and moved to Asheville (actually Waynesville – a neighboring town). As I’ve explained several times, one of the key functions of this traveling circus is to visit old friends along the way. The fact that the highpoint of North Carolina is close to Asheville and an opportunity to stay indoors for a few nights also factored into our planning.
We arrived at Jaan and Linda’s house around noon. Spanky and Susi (the dog) had only met briefly down in Florida. They proceeded to get acquainted in proper doggy fashion – vigorous sniffing, some barking, chasing each other, marking in front of each other, etc. Didn’t take but a few minutes till they were best of friends.
The afternoon was spent doing a little grocery shopping, checking out the area, watching the dogs run around the back yard, culminating with burning up a couple pieces of most excellent cow on the grill. That evening, Jaan built a fire in the backyard (which happens to be on a river – really gorgeous) and we sat around the fire telling tales of our misspent youth, trying to out do each other and, I think, shocking Linda with some of the tawdry details.
OK, so I thought it was springtime. Saturday morning greets us with 4 inches of snow on the ground. What the hell is going on? Winter apparently is not done with us yet. In any case, the snow quickly melted and did not hamper us from doing some sightseeing and looking at real estate. The Asheville area is beautiful! But, being that is such a great place, it has attracted quite a bit of development. Homes (mostly vacation homes) are being built left and right, and prices are going through the roof. Jaan and Linda are unfortunately having a rough time finding a reasonably priced house to buy (they are renting at the moment).
Mount Mitchell (see I got back to the summit thing) can be directly reached off the Blue Ridge Parkway and it’s pretty close to Asheville. Jaan and Linda decided that they would like to be part of the great adventure so we all head out together on Sunday morning. Not so fast! We take the shortest route to the Parkway only to be confronted with a closed off entrance gate. OK, let’s try another approach, closed gate again. Several hours later, trying to approach Mt Mitchell from the east, yep, you guessed correctly, closed gate again.
You know how guys are, we never ask for directions or any info for that matter. We can figure it out on our own! Finally, after three failed attempts, and at Linda’s suggestion, we stopped at a campground/trout fishing place and I talked to a guy that worked there. According to him the Parkway (runs way up on the ridge line of the mountains) is closed cause way up there, they got more than a foot of snow and they don’t plow, they just close and wait for the snow to go away. Wrong! According to the Blue Ridge Parkway site, there is a stretch of Parkway that is closed until the end of this month due to maintenance. Seems like none of the locals are aware of that.
So no Mt Mitchell at this point. But…….Spanks and I vowed to be back soon – we must! Being the flexible travelers that we are, we just left town, bidding farewell to Jaan, Linda, and Susi for more summits down the pike. Lots of you readers out there know Jaan and Linda – check out our visit pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/rkrevald/JaanJaLindaS
Which brings us to Mount Rogers, Virginia.
Based on all the info that I’d found on the net, I figured out that we were in for a fairly significant hike to get to the summit of Mount Rogers. The only problem was that I was kinda sketchy as to which trail(s) to take and exactly where to find them. So….we left our campground early to give ourselves ample time to find the place (at about 7 a.m. on April, 10th on a cold (low 20’s) but sunny morning). Long story short – we talked to a lady forest ranger in the parking lot of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Visitors Center who hooked us up with directions to what she felt was the most scenic hike to the top (she was right!). Thanks!
Our approach started from Grayson Highlands State Park (within the Nat’l Forest) at a place called Massie Gap, at approximately 9 a.m. Remember that it snowed a few days ago. Massie Gap is above 4,000 ft and there is still plenty of snow to be seen – northern exposures, in the trees, and on the mountain tops. Me and Spanks looked at the posted maps and figured no problemo – we got it together. Looked like it was gonna be about 8.6 miles round trip and according to what we had read, should take us around 5 hours. We did run into one other person headed up the trail that morning – a dude and his Chocolate Lab – he told us, “Me and the dog are gunna spend a few days in the woods.”
The trail started up through several alpine, grassy meadows. Higher up we encountered some sparse hardwood trees, lots of rhododendron forest, and spruce forest. But for the most part there were just rocks and grass and a lot of remnants of dead trees. Wow, this place was really different looking – and really beautiful! I figured that nature had done this all on her own – not!
As beautiful as theses highlands are, the landscape's original beauty has been altered by, you guessed it, us humans! At one time, every fourth tree in the mountains was a chestnut, but blight killed all the massive chestnut trees in the early 1900s. After the blight, loggers hauled out every available tree for its valuable, decay-resistant wood. About the same time, logging and fires decimated the virgin stands of other forest species. It took the logging companies a period of only 12 years to de-nude the landscape. What nature had given us, we destroyed – an all too often told story.
Due to the severe climate, strong winds, and loss of soil following logging operations, recovery to a natural state is an extremely slow process. That said, it is recovering. Trees are renewing themselves, and a community of hardy wildflowers, shrubs, insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals that can withstand the harsh conditions of the open highlands have adapted to life in the alpine meadows. In the end, the place is different and it is gorgeous beyond words. There are spectacular views in all directions of the valleys below, there are rugged rock outcroppings and peaks, the grassy alpine meadows, dense rhododendron forest in shaded areas, dense spruce forests on many of the summits, it’s just really cool!
So me and the Spankster are on our way up, we cross up over a grassy knoll and lo and behold, wild horses! I quickly put Spanks on a leash – don’t know how he and or the wild ponies are going to react. Spanks spies the horses and stops in his tracks. The horses spot Spanky and me, check us out, lose interest and continue to do horse stuff (eat grass, walk and run around, and leave lots of pasture pastries). Turns out humans had a hand in this also. I couldn’t find much info but……someone turned a bunch of horses loose up here, they have adapted, they are healthy, the heard continues to breed and call the highlands home.
Does not take us long and we are clamoring over some fairly rough terrain. We encounter snow drifts, lots of nice sticky oozing mud (where the sun is hitting – otherwise frozen mud), we have to climb up over rocks, try not to slip on ice (shady spots), the trail actually leads through a cave, it’s not exactly a walk down the sidewalk. As I said, the trails looked simple enough to follow, I did not have a map, and I must admit that I spent a little extra time and distance trying some alternate routes (took a couple of wrong turns). Fortunately my built in compass (actually looking at pics of the place on the net ahead of time) brought us back to the correct route.
For those of you that are interested, most of the hike is actually along the Appalachian Trail but we don’t see anyone (I think it’s still early in trail hiking season) until about 11:30. Two dudes that started in Georgia last month and are hiking through all the way to Maine – remember that’s 2,174 miles – hats off and good luck to you guys!
Our final summit approach (mountaineering lingo thrown in to make us sound like cool mountain type guys) is a one mile spur off the Appalachian Trail. The spur goes up through what starts as mud and snow into dense spruce forest where the trail becomes just ice and snow. These spruce normally grow only further north but the elevation of Mount Rogers provides them with just the right climactic conditions. The trees are so dense that the sun barely filters through.
At 12 noon Spanks (when’s he gonna let me get there first?) and me hit the summit – 5,729 ft. Mount Rogers is a rounded mountain. The summit is a small clearing in the forest where the USGS marker has been embedded in the top of a boulder. Because of the dense forest, there is no view to speak of. However, it is really cool anyway, beautiful green spruce, snow on the ground, and sun shining through onto the summit clearing!
There was actually someone up there ahead of us! A guy named Chris from Boone, NC had camped up there overnight. He’s hanging out in the woods, camping for a few days, on a walkabout so to speak. Chris helps us out by snapping a few photos, we shoot the breeze for a while, he plays with Spanks while I take another few shots, and he takes off for some more out back adventure. Nice to meet you Chris – travel safely!
I’ve gotta admit, I was a little wary of this venture up Rogers. I had no idea how Spanky would do on a half day excursion into cold, muddy, snowy, icy conditions. He’s amazing, he loved it! He never missed a beat. Most of the time Spanky actually leads me up the trail. He stops every once in while, looks back to me, sometimes he runs back, sometimes a slight diversion to the side of the trail, tail wagging all the way, underbelly wet and covered with mud and snow. Our round trip, as I said, was officially 8.6 miles – I’ll bet Spanks did twice that with his back and forths and his periodic run around in circles routine (in the meadows and in open snow drift areas).
I must say that this is our favorite summit so far. Why? The scenery was great but the main reason is cause we actually had to put in some effort. We really accomplished something through our own foot and paw power. By the time we made it to the truck at around 2 p.m., both Spanks and me were pretty well tuckered out. He drank a bunch of water, laid down in the grass and fell asleep, I guzzled coffee left over from the morning ride. We basked in the sun for a while just kinda feeling good.
Spanks and I have been staying at a KOA campground in Wytheville, Va for the last two days (our home for the Mount Rogers Summit). The campground is owned and run by a guy named Mike, his son, and their families. Mike is originally from Long Island, NY, moved to Florida, had a successful sheet metal business in Orlando, got sick of the rat race, the traffic, etc and bought this KOA a few years back. It’s a really nice, well cared for campground. It sits on 60 acres (I think), has plenty of trees, a ton of nice camping spots, a fenced in dog park, and just generally a great place to stay. Mike was more than nice to me and the Spankster. Thanks for your hospitality!
The weather has taken a turn for the worse – lots of rain. Undaunted, we are moving forward to hit Spruce Knob, the highpoint of West Virginia.
Thanks for dialing us up!
Spanks at the Massie Gap Trailhead
Checking out the Rhododendrons
One of Many Wild Horse Encounters
Rocks and Sparse Vegetation
Spanky Finds the Next Trail Marker
The Final Summit Approach Through Thick Spruce Forest
Moutains and Valleys In the Distance
Me and Spanky On the Summit
The USGS Summit Marker
Go to http://picasaweb.google.com/rkrevald/MountRogers to view all of our Mount Rogers pics.