April 18, 2018 / Comments (6)

Week #8 Back in Virginia and Guest Hiker #2

WEEK # 8
4/9 – 4/14
“Back in Virginia and Guest Hiker # 2”

Damascus – Mt. Rogers Visitors Center (Marion) – Quarter Way Inn

After a relaxing weekend in Damascus (despite the town being substantially closed and ignoring the snow on Saturday), I hustled over to the post office at its opening to send excess food to my next resupply and then walked my way through the town on Main Street and headed north to begin the next 25% of the journey, all of which will be in Virginia.

The first day was grey and cloudy. Rain threatened, but never really appeared. We had some climbs and then descended to a river and the Virginia Creeper Trail.  My home state did not welcome my hiking friends and me with excellent quality trails. This first day featured overly rocky foot tread – a condition that would continue the next few days.
The next few days were long-awaited and special. Our second day hiking in Virginia offered up some of the most anticipated sights – Whitetop Mountain, Mt. Rogers and the Grayson Highlands. Moreover, my old college roommate, canoe partner, hiking buddy, and fellow Maine guide -Randy Storm – was coming from Pennsylvania to visit and backpack for a couple of days.


The climb up to Whitetop was long, but gradual. The trail was somewhat rocky and the sky was mixed with sun and clouds – I hoped for clearing at least by the time I reached the Highlands. As I approached the high elevation grassy meadows atop Whitetop, the sky and the frost covered trees and grass made for a dramatic scene if not a bright blue sky. Coming down from Whitetop and working back up towards Mt. Rogers proved slow going due to the rocky, irregular trail, which in many places had remnant ice and snow. Yet, by the time I reached the Grayson Highlands the sky had cleared completely and the views were magnificent. The hike through the Highlands was itself interesting. Not only did it offer a unique landscape and great broad views of the surrounding mountains, but I was able to see the wild ponies and some interesting rock formations/outcroppings, including the “Fatman Squeeze.”

Because the climbs and the tail conditions put me behind schedule, Randy started hiking south to meet me. The positive aspect of this was that Randy had a chance to see the Grayson Highlands, not only for the first time, but on a great viewing day. After an hour together in the Highlands we made our way a few more miles to Wise shelter for the night. After a chilly night that dropped down near freezing, Randy and I had a  near perfect hiking day that included some meadows, mountain streams, Rhododendron tunnels and hardwood forests. Due to difficulty finding a good campsite we had to do over 20 miles so we could reach the shelter area to tent. Our second full day was a warmer day, but pleasant with bright blue skies. We recalled old times and caught up on our families activities and accomplishments. We finished a relatively easy hiking day at the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center. Randy’s daughter picked him up and they drove me in town for resupply. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall back into a good friendship.

It was special for me to have Randy visit. In addition to our time in Maine, we took backpacking trips to the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, and Baxter State Park (and Katahdin). [Those familiar with this blog may recall “The Decision To Go,” LINK HERE and our father-daughter trip to Maine and up Mt. Katahdin.] Randy played a big role in helping me develop a
passion for canoeing, backpacking, hiking and the outdoors. Inevitably, this thru-hike is the ultimate expression of that passion and material to the underlying theme of “Returning to Katahdin.”

After a brief overnight stay in Marion, I hiked north from the Visitors Center on a beautiful, if a little warm, day. Maybe spring had finally arrived, I thought, having enjoyed four pleasant days in a row. When Randy left, I had completed 533 miles. This day hiking north from Marion, which I did with a number of fellow thru- hikers, caused us to reach the quarter way mark – we had finished 25% of the Trail, which we celebrated at an iconic restaurant right on the trail – just 1650 miles to go! We further celebrated our accomplishments with a short hiking day to a fantastic hostel – The Quarter Way Inn, where we enjoyed showers, laundry, cold drinks, snacks and perhaps the best breakfast on the Trail.

Day 45 – 4/9

Damascus (Old Mill – hotel) / Mile 469.9

Lost Mountain shelter / Mile 486.1

After sending a food box off to Marion, I left Old Mill and headed down Main Street in Damascus and out of town. Scars had left to get breakfast at MoJo’s. Last stop before departing was at Subway to buy a sandwich for lunch. Wobbly headed for Creeper Trail and I headed down Rt 58 and white blazes.

The day’s walk was uneventful and bordered on boring. Three climbs and three descents. The weather was cold and grey with 95% humidity. Some of the views of Laurel Creek and the Virginia Creeper Trail were interesting. Scars, Play by Play, Pit Boss and I had fun eating our Subway together. Tented with Scars behind the shelter which was occupied by Professor,
Donut, Sleeves, Play by Play, and Pit Boss.

Day 46 – 4/10

Lost Mountain shelter / Mile 486.1

Wise shelter / Mile 503.6

A beautiful sunrise helped start a big day for me – I was climbing both Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers, seeing the famous Grayson Highlands, and meeting my old college friend, Randy Storm. The night had been so cold I couldn’t sleep without my balaclava.

After a hour of flat or modest descent, the day’s climb of 2,000 feet began. The ascent was reasonable but long as the sun tried to clear the morning sky. It was cold and windy. Eventually I came to an uphill grassy clearing that reminded me of the introduction to Big Bald. The view up to Buzzard Rock and beyond to Whitetop was exhilarating with the frosted grass and
trees, strong cross winds, and the blue sky fighting to breakthrough. Shortly. Thereafter I was following Play by Play and Pit Boss straight down 1.6. They expected trail magic from Grumpy and Gucci Girl. They finally showed after we finished lunch. I was getting cold so it did not make sense to hang out. I got a Snickers bar and headed out to climb Mt. Rogers. The weather was improving – the sky was clearing. I was excited as I made the relatively easy climb because it also meant I’d be entering the Grayson Highlands – one of the universally loved spots on the AT.

Day 47 – 4/11

Wise Shelter / Mile 503.6

Trimpi shelter / Mile 523.7

Due to cold, Randy and I got packed up and started hiking by 7:30 without cooking any breakfast. A few wild ponies wandered our site. Professor and Sleeves beat us to the trail.

We enjoyed some nice hiking through open meadows in the bright early morning. We walked through The Scales and then stopped for a hot breakfast at Old Orchard shelter after seven miles.

The midday and early afternoon hiking was not particularly notable, but the weather was perfect as we typically followed the tops of ridges. We found a great lunch spot near a mountain stream near Hurricane Mtn shelter. The rest of the afternoon we searched for a good campsite, however, there were none that were obvious, even sites mentioned on the guides. As a result we hiked a 20-mile day all the way to Trimpi shelter and tented there with Donut, Pit Boss, Play by Play and Professor.

Day 48 – 4/12

Trimpi Shelter / Mile 523.7

Mt. Rogers Visitors Center / Mile 533.7

Randy and I got up and cooked breakfast (it was a most pleasant morning), packed and headed out by 8:15.
The morning had some modest climbs, but generally it was an easier day.

The day warmed and we were warm during the uphill portions. Overall though it was a magnificent weather day and the hiking was fun even if there were not any notable views or points of interest.

We found a spot by a mountain stream and enjoyed our lunch break. Almost immediately after lunch we entered a Rhododendrum tunnel and followed an old forest company road the last two miles to the Visitors Center, where Randy’s daughter Maggie (med student at VA Tech) was to meet us.

Just before the Visitors Center we stopped by the famous Partnership shelter – pizza is delivered nearby so those staying enjoy this AT tradition. We were early so we enjoyed relaxing in the sun. A scale inside the Visitors Center suggested I had lost 34 pounds so far. Maggie arrived on time, took me into Marion for canister fuel and dropped me at the Econo Lodge,
where we said goodbye. It was amazing how easy it was to fall back on almost 40 years of friendship and enjoy the two plus days together.

Day 49 – 4/13

Mt. Rogers Visitors Center / Mile 533.7

Davis Hollow campsite / Mile 547.2

After a short walk to Walmart from my motel I picked up the Marion Transit back to the Trail at the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center. I was hiking by 9:00 am and hiked all morning and had great conversation with The Kid and Soulshine (couple from New Brunswick, Canada).

After a couple of challenging climbs we settled into a long descent towards Atkins, Virginia and I-81. Before finishing the day we visited the historic Lindamood School, where we hung out with Donut, Pit Boss and Play by
Play and enjoyed trail magic left by a local church.  We all then hiked to Atkins and The Barn restaurant to celebrate
completing 25% of the AT. After a two-mile hike north of I-81 we found a good campsite at Davis Hollow with a good water source. Donut and Play by Play hiked back to Atkins to bring another round of celebratory drinks, which we named the “Quarter Way Challenge.”

Day 50 – 4/14

Davis Hollow campsite / Mile 547.2

VA Rt. #610 (Quarter Way Inn – hostel) / Mile 555.2

After a night of tenting with Donut, Pit Boss and Play by Play (we slept without using rainflys – and enjoyed a star-filled sky), I left with Pit Boss and Play by Play. We had decided to do a short day into the Quarter Way Inn. The morning was beautiful. I had a chance to call and talk with Cheryl, but otherwise the day was uneventful. Moderate hiking with a series of ups and downs as we followed a ridge.

Late morning we sweated a lot on the ascents as the temperature rose. It was also the first time any bugs were a nuisance, but evidence of spring was very apparent by new wildflowers. After a couple of climbs and descents we made our way through a meadow and to a road. A .8 mile road walk brought us to the hostel, which is excellent in all respects except
no wifi. Also at the hostel are Texas and Stumbles (a couple hiking SOBO).


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Last modified: April 18, 2018

6 Responses to :
Week #8 Back in Virginia and Guest Hiker #2

  1. Pony says:

    Keep on rollin’, RTK.

    I’d love to hear how the fundraising is going sometime, if you happen to know.

    1. rtkchallenge_w2dqin says:

      Thanks Clay. We’re working on a fundraising update for podcast and for blog.

  2. Jim Halloran says:

    HI Bruce:

    Thanks for sharing some feedback to let us know how you are doing. Glad to hear that things are going well and that some warmer weather will be coming soon although I imagine that has its pros and cons depending on whether you are sleeping or hiking.

    Have a good week and keep up the fantastic journey.

    Jim H

  3. Diane says:

    Doing great! Ahhh Mt Rogers, where we had a great spring break hiking trip with “the group”. Good memories. I wonder if your head is flooded with them.
    Let me know a few days before you get to Reeds Gap. I might ask my mom to do some trail magic for you!

    1. rtkchallenge_w2dqin says:

      I definitely was recalling that trip as I hiked around Mt. Rogers, etc. I hope all is well with you and your family.

  4. Hugh Redd says:

    Good to have you back in Virginia. I wish we had warmer temperatures and calmer air to offer you. Be safe.

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