9/3/2002 at 3:44 pm #7743highpointersclubParticipant[Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum][By: Matthew DiBiase on September 3 2002 at 3:44 PM]MOUNT ROGERS-VIRGINIA
APRIL 24, 2002
The original plan for my vacation in Southwestern Virginia, was to bag Black Mountain in Kentucky first and hike Mount Rogers afterwards but a sudden change in the weather required me to readjust my plans. A rainstorm was going to take place on the morning of my planned hike whereas the day before (the 24th) would be clear for me. I altered my plans accordingly and, thus, bagged Mount Rogers on a cool, clear (with a few white clouds), crisp Appalachian morning.
I chose the Elk Garden approach to Mount Rogers because I believed that the trail offered a much easier route than the Grayson Highlands trail. Events would prove me correct.
I left Marion, Virginia at 9:00AM and took I-81 to Exit 35 and proceeded south on Whitetop Road (Route 762). After a while 762 became Route 600. I kept on going south until I came to an intersection and wondered which way to go. I made a left turn and came to a scenic overlook.
A middle-aged gentleman was having his morning constitutional when I asked him if I was on the right road to the Elk Garden Trailhead. The man (who didn’t give me his name) cheerfully told me to keep on going on the road I was taking until I reached the bottom of the mountain. Once at the bottom, I would cross a bridge, pass two stores on the left, and make a left turn. Once I made that left turn, the road would take me to the trailhead.
I thanked the man, bade him a fond adieu, and followed his directions. He was right on the money.
It was 9:34AM when I reached the Elk Garden trailhead on Route 600. The trailhead lies at the base of Whitetop Mountain (the second highest mountain in the State of Virginia, of which, more later).
When I entered the parking lot, a pretty, young brunette hiker emerged from the woods and bade me welcome.
She didn’t stay long as she was making her way along the Appalachian Trail. What struck me was that she was wearing short hiking pants despite the fact that it was quite a chilly morning. My hiking outfit was going to be my psychedelic T-shirt covered by a green sweatshirt and my red jacket, blue jeans, my trusty L.L. Bean day-hiker boots along with brown leather gloves. Oddly, enough, I toted a wooden hiking stick as well. For some strange reason there were two hiking sticks made out of tree branches lying below the information board at the parking lot. I decided to take one of them with me. It was the first time I had ever used a hiking stick in my hiking career. I can’t say whether it helped me or not. Personally, I felt more comfortable going without one.
I started hiking at 9:50AM. You go through a gate and follow the white-blazed trail posts into Deep Gap. Deep Gap is an exposed area with low grass and embedded boulders left over from the Ice Ages. Once you cross the Gap you enter a wooded area to the entry stile for the Lewis Forks Wilderness.
Upon entering Lewis Forks I was hiking along the Elk Garden Ridge. The trail (during the morning hours) is cloaked in shadows as it traverses the ridge instead of topping it. I was struck by the bareness of the trees. This hike was unlike my Vermont hike (which had taken place under a triple canopy forest). Here, in Virginia, the morning sun filtered through the naked tree trunks with tendril rays of golden light.
Twenty-five minutes into the hike, I met two male hikers who had spent the night at the Thomas Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. We chatted briefly while I refreshed myself.
I never had problems route finding. The trail was well marked and I never got lost. My main concern was finding the turnoff that separated the Appalachian Trail from the Mount Rogers-Grindstone camp trail.
Luckily for me the turn-off was well signed. Before the turn-off, the Elk Garden Ridge portion of the trail is an earthen path that rises gently to the turn-off. At the turn-off, the trail becomes slightly steeper, more narrow and rocky, and offers various twists and turns that require concentration.
At this point the Appalachian Trail traverses the south face of Mount Rogers. Early after I had made the turnoff I had what I call an existential moment. I had reached a marked turn in the trail that led to a series of switchbacks on the mountain. To the south, through the bare trees, I beheld the Appalachians in their morning splendor. There were pockets of fog in the various hollows and valleys but here, on Rogers, all was clear. I was completely alone but I was not afraid.
All that could be heard were the pursed lip exhalations of the mountain breeze, the occasional squawks of crows, the martial drumbeat of my heart, and the sound of my own lungs breathing in the champagne cool mountain air.
Silence filled and consumed me. I felt like a spec of dust hanging limply amidst the emptiness of space and earth.
And yet, I felt at peace. This was peace amidst the madness and ugliness of the outside world. This was peace that comes when humanity achieves oneness, connectivity, and reciprocity with the sacred living force that inhabits Mount Rogers. The mountain felt alive to me but I did not consider myself an intruder. I felt at home and safe.
Alas! My revels had to end and I continued my hike. After a time I began to wonder when I would find the Mount Rogers spur trail. I was hoping to meet someone on the trail so I could ask them how much further I had to go when I upon this stile that leads you to the Virginia Horse Trail. It was there that I ran into two male hikers relaxing along the trail. They were from North Carolina and they had their pet dog with them. I asked them whether I had overshot the Mount Rogers spur trail. They quickly put me at my ease and told me that I only had a little further to go to reach the spur.
Thus enlightened, I set off with vigor. Very soon afterwards, I left the trees and entered into open ground. Once I did that, I knew I was close because I remembered seeing photographs of the approach to the spur trail that indicated exposed ground.
Once you reach open ground, the views are sensational. The ground falls away at your feet and you see the valleys below. I saw green and brown swatches among the hills and mountains.
Suddenly, I saw the Thomas Shelter in the distance and knew I was almost there.
A few hundred feet more and I got there. I let out a whoop and stopped for a moment to prepare for the final summit approach. The spur trail is signed. At first it’s a narrow path of earth that rises, like a staircase, up the slope of the mountain. The trail is supposedly blue-blazed but when you go up the blue blazes disappear and you have to hike the trail by feel. (When you descend the blue blazes are more visible).
As you go higher the trail becomes enveloped by dense stands of pine trees.
The trail was carpeted with pine needles and all was quiet. The trail curves left and you move along until you come to a rock formation on the left. Once there you have nowhere else to go. You stand at the base of this rock formation and you proceed gingerly up the rock steps, around a corner and, suddenly, it’s there: the summit.
As soon as I saw the giant boulder on my left I knew I had made it because I recognized it in the photos I had seen from other trip reports.
I saw the survey marker, kissed the boulder and said my Trinity of prayers of thanksgiving to God.
I was alone on the summit. After I finished my devotions. I took stock of my situation. It was 11:52AM.
I removed my backpack and began taking still photos of the summit area. My major plan was to videotape myself at the summit. I had packed a camcorder and tripod in my backpack. I forgot one thing, though. There was no film in the camera! I had left the videocassette in the camera bag in my car! I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In the end I laughed. It was so typical of me. I broke down and started laughing like a fool. In the end, I decided that when I was going to do my hike of the Grayson Highlands trail I would go all the way to the summit and broadcast then. Once that was resolved. I relaxed for almost an hour, drinking water, taking notes for this report and eating my Cousin Ruth Anne Labate’s delicious biscotti which she had baked herself (using our grandmother Anna DiBiase’s special recipe).
(Ruth Anne lives in Danville, Virginia, and she visited me at my hotel in Charlottesville where I had stayed on April 21 while on my way to Marion. During her visit, she gave me the biscotti and a bag of Nestle crunch bars-I love Nestle crunch. I eat a bar every day during coffee break at work).
Despite the heavy canopy of pine trees on the mountain, there is a clearing at the summit proper. Sunlight shown through, casting a golden radiance to the area, although the summit boulder remained in shadow.
No one else came up during my stay there. My only companion was a blue jay that hopped around.
It was 12:45PM when I left the summit. Strangely, I met more people on the descent than I did on the ascent. Nine minutes after I cleared the woods on the Mount Rogers Spur trail, I met three adults (one male and two females) coming up towards the summit. They asked me how much further they had to go and I told them they’d be there in nine minutes.
I met more people along the way. A pretty brunette lady who was a dead wringer for the one I saw emerging from the woods at the Elk Garden trailhead earlier that morning. I asked the woman if she was the one. She said no but she said other people had mistaken her for that woman. (I could understand why. They looked so much alike).
When I reached the point where the Virginia Horse trail intersected with the Appalachian Trail, a gentleman met me and asked me how much further it was to the Thomas Shelter. I told him not far and he asked me to take his picture with his camera on the trail, which I did, and he reciprocated for me as well.
I encountered other hikers as well. What impressed me the most was the kindness and cordiality expressed by the various strangers I met along the Appalachian Trail. There is something to be said about the feelings of camaraderie expressed while hiking there or anywhere else. I met nothing but good people. There was a sense of sharing and reciprocity. We were all engaged in this adventure which is the Appalachian Trail. I felt comforted by that. (My thanks to everyone I encountered on the trail).
I made good progress on the descent and had no problems. The sky began to darken a little bit and the air became much cooler. I had doffed my jacket for the latter portion of the ascent but now, on the descent, I put it back on again and my gloves too.
When I reached Deep Gap for the final stretch, I could see my car all alone in the Elk Garden parking lot below.
I let out a whoop and made my way back. It was 2:35PM and all was beautiful in my life. I packed my things, left my hiking stick where I had found it earlier this morning, and took off my hiking gear. Ten minutes later I zoomed off.
I got a two-for-one bargain this day. After my Mount Rogers hike, I decided to drive to the top of Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s second highest peak.
You can reach the access road by taking Route 600 south from the Elk Garden Trailhead parking lot. In a few minutes you see Forest Service Road 89 on the right. Make a right onto the road and you go up a steep gravel road that switchbacks all the way up the mountain. Near the top, the road becomes more exposed and there are few scenic overlooks along the way.
You can’t go to the actual summit of Whitetop Mountain because there are satellite dishes, radio towers, and a communications complex that is fenced off and locked up.
I only took one quick snap of the complex before descending to a scenic overlook a hundred yards down the road.
I set up my video camera and made a brief video of me talking about my hike up Rogers and going up Whitetop but I had to cut it short because it was starting to drizzle and rain.
For the record: Whitetop Mountain is 5590 feet in altitude. It’s the first time I’ve ever bagged the second highest elevation in a State. I hope to bag more during my lifetime.
You will find that the second highest natural elevation of a state is usually very close to the highpoint itself. This is true for Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, to name a few.
In terms of difficulty the Elk Garden approach to Mount Rogers was much easier on me physically than my previous hike up Mount Mansfield in Vermont. Mansfield drained me totally. Rogers did not.
Despite the ease of my hike, Rogers allowed me to achieve some milestones. Rogers is the second time I’ve gone above one mile in altitude. It’s my second personal best in terms of altitude (South Dakota remains my personal best so far). Rogers was also the longest roundtrip hike in my highpointing career (8.6 miles).
It’s my fourth Southern highpoint as well.
Some final thoughts before I end this report. Virginia has always been my home away from home for as long as I can remember. My mother grew up in the small town of Altavista (south of Lynchburg on Route 29). My mother got married at a church in nearby Rustburg and has spent the rest of her years living in Southern New Jersey.
Still, every summer she (along with my brothers and I) would spend a week or two with her parents, Charley and Madge Tate Heavener. Every summer we would travel down Route 29 and pass through towns like Warrenton, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lovingston, Amherst, and Lynchburg. Route 29 was a quiet two-lane blacktop with brick ranch houses lined along the way. Today it is a four-lane highway with the usual franchises lining the road when you enter a town.
Despite these modern day intrusions, Route 29 remains my favorite road. I know all its twists and turns. I recognize all it stores and stops: Clark’s gun shop just outside of Warrenton, the picnic area right near Walton’s Mountain store, the ice cream shop in downtown Lovingston (Lovingston looks like a train erector set village. It is nestled right below this massive hill).
I have traveled far and wide throughout Virginia and have never found an ugly site in the State. It has been (and remains) my hope to, one day, live there.
My thanks are endless for this report. First, my thanks and love go to my maternal grandparents, the late Charley and Madge Heavener, who are buried in Green Hill Cemetery in Altavista. I received my middle name from them. I want to thank my maternal great-grandparents James Merlin Heatherley and Mary Louise Rhodes Heatherley, who are buried in Salem Church Cemetery in Evington. My mother, during her early childhood, lived with her grandparents at a place called Cedar Hill Farm in Evington. The farm had no running water or electricity. My mother, her parents, and grandparents lived as her distant ancestors in North and South Carolina did centuries ago.
My thanks to all the residents of Altavista for always showing good, old Southern hospitality whenever my family and I come to visit.
I want to say ‘Hello” to Roy W. Heatherley, Jr., Jacqueline Preas, Ryan Wells and Brandi Cash. They are my maternal second cousins and they all live in the Rustburg/Concord Virginia area.
I want to thank the Best Western Hotel in Marion, Virginia for letting me use their establishment as my base camp.
My thanks to everyone who gave me directions to wherever I needed to go.
My thanks to the National Park Service employees at the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area HQ located on Route 16 for answering my questions regarding the trails on Mount Rogers. They epitomize professionalism and dedication.
My thanks to Aunt Sarah’s Kitchen in Charlottesville for always fixing me a fantastic breakfast. If you want a great Southern breakfast, eat at Aunt Sarah’s!
My thanks to Lexington Virginia for being such a beautiful town and to Washington & Lee University for being such a lovely college to visit. If I had grown up in Virginia, I would have gone there for my college education.
Lastly, my deepest thanks and love go to my cousin Ruth Anne Labate for being such a near and dear friend to me always for the past six years. Every day she makes a difference in everyone’s life she touches.
God bless you, Toofie!
See you at the High Points!
APRIL 26, 2002
Ordinarily, I am not one for repeating myself but in the case of Mount Rogers I had to make an exception. This was the second time I had revisited a high point in my highpointing career (I had revisited Delaware’s to get a better photographic record of the area in 1997.
Since I had neglected to pack any film for my camcorder two days before. I felt a return visit to the summit was necessary. Also, I had previously planned to hike the Grayson Highlands approach to Mount Rogers anyway therefore the revisit to the summit was a bonus.
For the record the Grayson Highlands State Park trailhead is easier to locate than the Elk Garden trailhead. I never had a problem finding the Massie’s Gap parking lot where the trailhead is located. The drive is pretty level until you get close to the State Park entrance then you start switchbacking and using your climbing gears to get to the entrance.
A special note to highpointers: Due to deficits in the Virginia State budget, the entry fee to Grayson Highlands State Park has increased to $2.00 for cars. The rangers were changing the signs when I arrived. The ranger was apologetic about the increase but I forked over the fee with nary a care in the world.
I got to the trailhead around 9:50AM and didn’t set off until 10:10AM. (This time my camcorder had film in it!)
When taking the trail to Rhododendron Gap, you want the trail marked “AT Spur”. I chose that one and proceeded along. The spur trail starts off in some woods and meanders in a southwesterly direction. After you clear the trees, you get into a region of tundra grass and glacial rocks. Unlike Deep Gap which has sign posts for trail markers, Grayson Highlands uses blue blazes at foot level so you don’t get a chance to watch the scenery because you’re too busy looking at the ground following the blue blazes.
It took me twenty minutes to reach the Appalachian Trail. The Grayson Highlands portion of the Appalachian Trail is much more exposed and rockier than the Elk Garden trail. The first quarter of the journey is moderately difficult. The second quarter before you reach the Lewis Forks portion of the trail is much more difficult and requires greater concentration. The last half in the Lewis Forks Wilderness portion is level walk in the park all the way to the summit.
While hiking to Wilburn Ridge I encountered one of the wild ponies that inhabit the park. It was a mare still wearing her winter fur coat grazing idly along the trail. I stopped and made a brief video of her. I had hoped to see more. (There was one Appaloosa grazing in the bushes near the stile leaving Grayson Highlands State Park and I saw two others grazing on Pine Mountain in the distance during my descent, but I never got another close-up of any of the ponies).
My progress was slower on this trail because I had to watch my footwork going over, through, and around the rocks on the trail.
When I completed the Grayson Highlands portion of the trail, I encountered a pleasant surprise. There is a trail register at the stile when you exit the State Park. I looked through the register for a moment and saw a familiar name: Vasja Kavcic.
Some months ago, Vasja had emailed me at work complimenting me for some of my trip reports. Vasja is a citizen of Slovenia (in the former Yugoslavia). He is married and has a beautiful daughter. He had climbed Mount Whitney in California and was going to be in Washington, D.C. on business. He wanted to bag some more highpoints and wanted my advice on which ones to try for.
I gave him what advice I could and told him about my plans to bag the highpoints of VA and KY. One of us, I forget whom, expressed the hope of a meeting along the trail.
When I saw Vasja’s name on the register. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My spider sense told me that I was going to meet him somewhere on the trail. Armed with that knowledge and expectation I set off for the summit.
Every time a man approached me I asked them if they were Vasja. Meanwhile I was engrossed in the most difficult portion of the hike. At the midway point of the trail, one goes through a maze of rocks and boulders. At one point, one must traverse an exposed rock ledge and then a narrow passageway between two massive rock formations. It was very slow going although not as tough as the hike up Mount Mansfield was. Once I was through, I saw in the distance a tall figure descending down a rocky hill.
As we got closer, I was getting ready to ask him if he were Vasja, but when the figure laid eyes on me, he started smiling and, suddenly, I sensed that it was him. Sure enough, when we got within hailing distance he called out to me, asking if I were Matthew.
I answered yes and we rushed to each other like some scene in a European avant-garde film.
We shook hands and embraced one another. Vasja, up close, is taller than I am and, I believe, is older than I am by a few years. He was wearing hiking boots, a tan fisherman’s hat, and climber’s sunglasses. We both were talking all at once before we settled down. I told him about seeing him on the visitor’s register and he told me that he had a premonition that he would see me on this day because of the bad weather the day before.
Vasja did most of the talking. He is quite voluble and affable. He told me that after his business conference, he was able to bag the high points in Delaware, Pennsylvania (he had a little trouble finding it), Maryland, and West Virginia. (Vasja had done his variation of my hat trick of WV, MD and PA in 1999). He had spent the night at Massie’s Gap parking lot. He had slept in his rental car, a Dodge station wagon and had bagged Mount Rogers after first light. He was descending and had ambitions to bag Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and was asking me whether he should try for Alabama and Mississippi!
I suggested Kentucky since it was only three hours drive away but I also knew that Vasja would need time to get back to D.C. for his flight home on the 29th.
We talked and talked. I told him about my videotape mishap on Wednesday and my bagging Kentucky the day before. I told him how to reach the Kentucky highpoint by car.
We must have talked for about thirty minutes. He took my picture (which you see here) and I snapped his picture as well. It was the first time I had ever met a highpointing penpal on the trail.
Sadly, we both were burning daylight. I had a summit to videotape. Vasja had Kentucky and, possibly, other summits to bag before his return home. We shook hands, embraced again, and bade each other bon chance.
After I had gone over the hill Vasja had ascended, I reached the Lewis Forks Wilderness portion of the Appalachian Trail. Once I entered, the hike became much easier. The trail levels out and you leave the massive rock formations behind and you spend the rest of the hike dodging the rocks embedded in the soil.
One thing I should note: I have never hiked a muddier trail than I did on this day. My boots were covered in mud by the time I reached the summit. The rains from the day before had soaked the trail thoroughly, plus the wintry conditions during the evening and early morning hours had left melting ice on the trail. The result was dark brown mud.
I made quick time of the remaining half of the hike. I passed the Thomas Shelter in good order and quickly found the Mount Rogers Spur trail in fifteen minutes I was at the rock formation, just below the summit. I unpacked my camcorder, got the viewscreen ready and recorded my final steps towards the summit. Interestingly there was still ice on the rock steps going upwards. I had to watch my step as I made my way around the corner. This time I would have company on the summit.
On the summit boulder was a kindly middle-aged gentleman and in the clearing in front of the boulder were a trio of college-age kids (two ladies and a guy) were relaxing.
I never got the names of the quartet. The middle-aged man was doing something rather interesting. Although he bags highpoints, he is not a member of the Highpointers Club, instead, he belongs to a club where the goal is to climb the highpoint of each state, set up a short-wave radio station on the summit, and broadcast to anyone who is listening out there.
That was what he was doing when I summitted. The man had tied a rope between two trees and had attached a wire antenna to the rope. The wire was rigged up to his transmitter. He had just finished his broadcasting when I arrived. As he was taking down his equipment, I was rigging up my camcorder on a tripod to do my filming.
The other three came from different backgrounds. The two young ladies were from the Boston suburbs (Ah! Memories of 1997). The guy was from Cooperstown, New York (Ah! Memories of 1992 and 1996).
They had met up with each other along the Appalachian Trail. The guy had started from Springer Mountain, GA in mid-March and intended to go all the way to Katahdin in Maine. I wasn’t sure whether the ladies intended to do the same thing or not. The dark-haired woman was coping with blisters on her feet.
They, too, broke camp, as I was setting up for my videotaping. By the time I was ready, I was, again, alone on the summit.
My videotaping mostly consisted of me discussing my mishap from two days before, my meeting with Vasja, and meeting the quartet on the summit.
Still, I added an extra element to the recipe. It was April 26 and I was discussing the motto on the Virginia State flag: sic semper tyrannis, i.e. thus always to tyrants. It was what John Wilkes Booth cried out after he had mortally wounded President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. April 26 happened to be the 137th anniversary of when Booth (and his co-conspirator David Herold) was caught in a barn in Bowling Green, Virginia by Union soldiers. Herold gave himself up but Booth, hobbling on crutches and brandishing a carbine, refused to surrender. The soldiers set fire to the barn in the hopes of smoking him out. Booth refused to leave and was shot through the neck by a soldier named Boston Corbett. Booth died soon afterwards.
End of history lesson and end of videotaping. I finished Ruth Anne’s biscotti and wet my whistle before leaving Mount Rogers for the last time. It was close to 2:00PM when I left. On the way down the Mount Rogers spur, I saw two white-tailed deer scampering down the mountain, startled by my approach. I took a long distance snapshot of one of them. (Later I would see two more just before I reached Massie’s Gap parking lot).
Three times I stopped to do some videotaping. I made good time. Surprisingly, I caught up with the two ladies from Boston just before I reached the AT spur trail to Massie’s Gap. The guy had left them far behind.
I got to my car around 3:45 and was very tired. I didn’t leave the parking lot until 4:10PM.
All in all it was a very full day of hiking for me. I felt good. And thus ends the tale of my 14th highpoint.
See you at the high points!
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