Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Road goes ever on and on

J. and I went back to Mount Rogers this past weekend. We can't stop returning to that gorgeous place. It has rhododendron, balds, a trail always rounding a bend, even ponies--what more can you ask for?

We pulled into Damascus, Virginia late Friday night and had a hard time finding the Hiker's Inn, even though Main Street is not that long. The room was cozy, and the bed was charmed for deep slumber. I thought of it often while laying on the wooden floor of the shelters.

Saturday morning, Damascus Dave shuttled us up to the Fox Creek trailhead where we began our ascent up the side of Mount Rogers. During the 40 minute shuttle, he told us that he had retired from Mt. Rogers Outfitters and spent most of his time in a cabin on Whitetop Mountain, where he has no electricity or running water. Would you spend your retirement like that? He also has an awesome thick, white beard. I told Jon he will grow one like that when he is older.

Saturday was a great day for hiking: sunny and clear. We went to Rhododendron Gap and saw some ponies. Two of them were following the trail, scouting out the next good spot for grass. When one of them heard Jon unzipping his camera bag, he darted up in a flash, begging for treats. When he saw that we didn't have anything, he resorted to licking my arm. I guess my salty sweat tasted good.

We got to Thomas Knob Shelter, which is near the top of Mount Rogers, in good time. We spent time on the rock outcroppings in the back watching a thunderstorm roll in.

Sunday morning we awoke within a cloud: wind shuttled mist back and forth in front of the shelter. It was a portent of the day to come: rain. It started out as misty rain, then transformed into a steady onslaught of water that soaked every inch of us to the bone. J. said it was the third wettest hiking day he has ever had--remember that he's hiked 500 miles of the AT, not to mention all the other hiking trips he's done. We arrived at Lost Mountain Shelter, where we met a 71 year old lady who was planning to hike the entire AT (a little late for that, but no mind). She was a tiny slip of a thing, dwarfed by her backpack, but cheerful nonetheless.

Monday morning, I had the joyous experience of putting on wet socks and shoes. The first few seconds of pulling on a wet, cold sock, then sliding your recoiling foot into a shoe heavy with water and mud, are always memorable. After a few seconds, sock and shoe warm up to the temperature of your foot and you're left instead with the oddly pleasant sensation of a foot bath.

We saw lots of Indian Pipes, or monotropa uniflora, a very rare type of plant that does not produce chlorophyll. It pokes up through the duff like skeletal fingers. It may not be much fun hiking in the rain, but it certainly brings out a host of odd organisms that you wouldn't see on a beautiful day. We saw lots of mushrooms, including the stereotypical kind associated with hippies, and adorning plenty of retro kitchen linens: the squat, pleasantly plump 'shroom with a red cap.

As the trail started following a creek in its descent, we came across very fresh bear tracks. The bear had followed the trail for quite a ways, so we were able to pretend that we were trackers and guess what it was after. As you can see from the picture, it was quite a sizable bear. It was probably growing fat and happy from all the wild blueberries and blackberries along the trail (as were we).

We reached the Virginia Creeper trail and joined the line of cyclists making their way back to Damascus. With all the recent rain, the Creeper was a chortling, fast running creek with plenty of waterfalls to admire.When we stopped to stretch, I pulled out my short sleeve shirt to change into, only to find that the Lost Mountain Shelter mouse* had raided it for its nest. The back was riddled with several holes. I had hung it up to dry after rainy Sunday, and that made it fair game. It was time to retire that shirt anyways. Hiking is hard on clothes.

And there you have it, a typical hiking adventure for us. Here's more pictures from this trip.

*Shelter mice are a legend unto themselves on the AT. No one worries about bears or serial killers or feral dogs along the trail: it's the mice! Why? Because they will do anything they can to get your food, and if you're a hiker who needs her calories, that's a pretty serious threat. All the trail registers we read included warnings about the mice, and exclamations at what they were capable of. The register at Thomas Knob Shelter (top left) warned us about the "acrobatic and kung fu mice." One of the things hikers use to deter mice is hang their packs on anti-mice devices, usually constructed of a can, string, and a stick. See the picture to the right for an example. It works...sometimes.

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