Mt Rogers, 5,729 feet, the highest peak in Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers, and I love high peaks and ridges! High mountains can "make their own weather", and Mt Rogers’ situation and terrain make it’s weather among the most unpredictable in the southeast (IMO). Mt Rogers can quickly test your weather preparedness, while offering "outs" should things go poorly. If you have to "bail", you have not "failed" your weather test, you have learned from it. Mother nature can be quite the taskmaster.
We generally "stage" from Grayson Highlands State Park. In-season, hot showers are available in the campground - that’s always a BIG plus! Out-of-season, it may be your best escape route! This particular BP (back-pack) trip was with my BP pal, "Jud". Jud’s formerly USMC (once a marine, always a marine), and a trekker. We have converted Jud from military gear to civilian gear, and he wanted to do a winter BP trip.
We set out from the parking lot on Rhododendron Trail. Don’t let this first hill get you down. In-season, we stop halfway up for what I call "apple berries", a tree fruit the size of a berry that tastes like apple. You’ll have to ask Jud what they are. Jud packs an "Edible Wild Foods" handbook and is constantly identifying and trying nature’s bounty. I’ve never seen anybody eat so much wild stuff! Up top, we join the AT. To the east is a lot of fun to explore. We’re continuing WNW, thru Grayson Highlands, to the Mt Rogers National Recreation Area. You know when you get there, ‘cause you have to walk a staircase over a fence boundary. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the famous Grayson Highlands "wild" ponies.
En-route (beat feet)
East-side, West-side, Over-the-top
Generally speaking, a BP trip is either a "loop", "out & back", or combination. Seems most folks prefer a loop, so as not to backtrack. Mt Rogers fills the bill wonderfully. Wilburn Ridge can be negotiated on the east side, the west side, or over the top. I highly recommend you try ‘em all! Granted, most overnight folks tend to congregate around the most accessible water supply. But, with a little exploring, and the next tip, you can camp away from the, sometime, madding crowd.
Finding Water - 101
Yes, there is a trail shelter just before the base of Mt Rogers. It even has an outhouse! But, we have found several isolated campsites we prefer. The problem, as usual, is water. We set up camp, grabbed fanny packs, water bags & pumps, and began the search.
Jud has this "thing" about water - he can never have enough. (It’s a holdover from his USMC days.) Jud has the uncanny ability to "find’ water. On this trip, he showed me how.
If you notice, animal paths generally run either "on grade" or up/down hill. We’re looking for the "downhill" path. It won’t necessarily be very big (small animals), and will probably go thru (under) undergrowth. You will likely have to basically crawl down it. But guess where it is leading more often than not - water! [Lisa, I know you’re laughing (with me) at the sight of my big rear crawling down that path, God rest your soul, I miss ya girl.]
Excuse me, sir, YOU’RE ON FIRE !
After a leisurely dinner and clean up, it was coming on dusk, that peculiar time of day when "color" fades to shades of gray. We took our ensolite pads on top of a knob to await nightfall with full moon rising in a clear sky. Across the swag, maybe 90 yards as the crow flies, two guys had just set up camp and were squatting down to fire up their stoves. We watched as one of the guys was struggling to light his stove. Suddenly, I saw flame consume his left hand (remember, it’s cold, we’re wearing gloves and bundled up). As the flame continued to his elbow, he continued messing with his stove. Jud and I looked at each other, as if to say, "you reckon he doesn’t realize he’s on fire?". We looked back across the valley, and the guy’s left arm is "fully involved", flames starting to leap up the side of his head. We were standing now, just before shouting, when the fellow realizes his dilemma. His reaction reminds me of the movie, "Nothing to Lose", where Tim Robbins does his "hot foot" rendition to ScatMan! In these seconds that seemed like minutes, Jud and I formulated how we could treat this injury, and, if necessary, help these guys walk-out in the dark. With any luck, and an advance runner (fast walker), we figured EMS would get to the trailhead about the same time the patient did. [such consideration may draw criticism - a rule of thumb being against traveling at night or splitting up - and Christopher Tate’s (Wilderness Safety Council) first rule, "Never create a second victim". But, under the particular circumstances, Jud and I were comfortable with walking out, if necessary]. Across the way, things settled down, and they simply continued preparing their meals like nothing had happened! This was one of the dangdest things I have ever seen !
So you won’t think I’ve set you up, the summit is a bit of a disappointment - you can’t see diddly. You’re smack in the middle of dense trees. But, you made it. See if you can find the Geological Survey "recoverable marker"!
It’s a small world
On the drive home, we stopped at our usual place in Sparta to eat. While we’re sitting there, Jud says, "its him". I turn and look - guess who - Fire Man! Jud strikes up conversation, inquiring, "weren’t you guys on Wilburn Ridge?" They were. Jud continues, "you the guy who’s arm caught fire?" The fellow grins and replies affirmatively. We revealed we were the two across the way, and glad to see there was no damage. The fellow told us he never saw the flame, but finally smelled his clothing burning. He apparently sloshed some fuel on himself in a hurry to fix dinner.
This just in ….. ==================================================================
The Charlotte Observer Monday, January 24, 2005
Rescued Scouts Returning Home
The last members … are expected to return home this afternoon.
Four scouts and two adults … treated for minor frostbite …
A group of 28 scouts and 15 adults … (at) Grayson Highlands State Park … overnight rain froze their gear.
Rescuers spent several hours bringing down the rest of the group.
Winston-Salem Journal Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Scout Troop Rescued After Snowstorm
Eleven … taken to hospital …six admitted…most were treated for frostbite, hypothermia, and dehydration. Three rescuers were also treated.
Temperatures … below zero, wind chill about 30 below zero … knee-deep snow.
Mother nature can be quite the taskmaster.
Lord, thank you for a safe trip.
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