This is a trip report for a backpacking trip that started on Friday 3/25/11 and ended Sunday 3/27. The trip started and ended at Massie Gap overnight parking in Grayson Highlands State Park. Two of us were out there for the whole weekend and we were joined by one other guy for Saturday night. We are in decent shape and in out late 20's and early 30's.
We got a late start leaving Charlotte and got parked and on the trail at about 7:40 Friday night. We started on the AT Spur Trail and then went Northbound on the AT to Wise shelter. The guy with me was out for his first ever backpacking trip and to get his feet wet we ended up night hiking the last 30 minutes or so and then he had to set up his hammock for the first time in the dark. We arrived at Wise shelter around 8:30. The hike is a little uphill but nothing too strenuous and no major creek crossings without bridges. If you are hiking this section of the AT there is plenty of water.
There were 5 people in wise shelter including 2 thru hikers. The shelter is one story and has a picnic table and fire pit just in front of it. We set up in an established site behind the shelter a little ways. There are other sites just past the shelter as well and there was a large group camped down there. I use a claytor hammock with a cinch buckle suspension system and got my hammock up pretty quick and then assisted my buddy to get his brand new hennessy backpacker asym hung for the very first time. He went to rei and bought this hammock without knowing much about it and I have directed him here to learn more as he goes. I was impressed with how light it was (much lighter than my claytor) and was interested to check out the bottom entry. Very cool hammock overall. This area has several nice places to hang a hammock and even more places for tents.
After we got set up snow flurries started and we turned in not long after. Temps were somewhere in the mid 30's and we both stayed comfortable all night. There was no accumulation and i think the flurries only lasted a few minutes. We were up the next morning just after 7 and the skeptical shelter sleepers came over to check out our hammocks. None of them thought we would seriously make it all night in a hammock in the snow. I bet them I was far more comfortable than they were sleeping on a wooden platform.
We started back North on the AT around 830. The trail starts in a wooded area and climbs gently after a few creek crossings. We did not see many hikers all day. The weather was very very foggy with rain showers and I doubt the temp was much over 40 all day. The trail emerges from the woods onto a bald and continues over it for a few miles. We had no views but they are spectacular if you are up there on a clearer weekend. I enjoyed the different weather, sometimes the gray fog can be fun to hike in. We didn't see any people until we got to a trial intersection with a horse pen. We didn't stop but continued hiking.
At this point the trail goes back into the woods. We continued on the AT until we reached Pine Mountain Trail and then headed south to link back up with the AT at Rhododendron Gap. We stopped for lunch (I stick with my staple of tuna on a tortilla) at 12:15. Had a large group from Radford University pass us while we were eating.
When you enter the woods there are plenty of places to camp with a hammock but once on the Pine Mountain Trail there are very few places to hang but plenty of places to tent camp on the bald.
We reached Rhododendron Gap and then headed South on the AT toward Thomas Knob Shelter. The trail here is very rocky and until you get to the shelter there are not many places to hang from. We reached the shelter around 2. I had planned a bigger loop but with a first timer with me and another first timer meeting us at the shelter I decided to shorten the hike and make sure we got there before the other guy that was meeting us. The rain was also supposed to pick up in the afternoon.
Thomas Knob Shelter is a 2 story shelter with a picnic table and water pretty close by. It is very very rocky all around it. We actually had a hard time finding a site to hang from, there are plenty of trees just off the trail but there are so many dead hemlocks we struggled to find a site that allowed us the wind shelter we were looking for and still not have to hang from dead trees. I ended up hanging from one live hardwood tree and one thick but dead hemlock after much inspection. The tree seemed very sturdy and did not move in the wind or when i pushed it and pulled it. Our site was a good ways off the AT on a pony trail that offered shelter from the wind on the bald.
We went back to the shelter to sit and wait for our 3rd person and in the process met 3 more thru hikers and saw our first (and only) pony. Just before 6 a section hiker showed up and was the only person to use the shelter that night. There were plenty of others camped north of the shelter. Our other hiker made it as well. We cooked dinner at the shelter and then retired to our campsite as the rain started.
I think it was colder Sat night than Friday and I stayed warm again, so did my friend in the Hennessy. He had a better night as he got the hang of sleeping on a pad in a hammock and enjoyed putting up his hammock in the daylight and having the chance to mess around with it. My friend in the tent did not bring a sleeping pad and he informed us the next morning that he froze and it was the most miserable night of his life, but he made it.
We backtracked on the AT going Southbound and then headed back for Massie Gap. We made it to the car at 10:45 and left the shelter at 8:45. The trail is very rocky here and the hiking is mostly on the bald. Not many places to hang. Normally this part of the hike is gorgeous with big views and tons of ponies but today there were no ponies to be found and visibility was very low as we were in the fog again and it rained off and on the entire hike. There are no places to speak of to hang a hammock on this section of trail.
Overall a successful hike, I had a great time as always just being outdoors. The weather could have been much worse and why buy good rain gear and warm clothes if you never get to use them. I know that Mt. Rogers is pretty well chronicled on this site but hopefully this helps someone out with a trip plan. If you are looking for a pretty hike that is not too uphill or downhill and don't mind some rocks then I highly recommend this trip. It is great for first timers or children b/c the hiking is not too strenuous and is littered with great views and interactions with wild ponies, great for short attention spans. I love hiking up here regardless of the weather and its worth the drive if you've never been here.
I will post some pictures either tonight or in the next few days. Happy hiking.