An Epic Day

Saturday, May 27. Starting point: Massey Gap. Ending point: Lost Mountain Shelter. 15.8 miles.

Through a complicated series of events, my easy three day 32 mile hike with my friend Ben turned into a two day 26 mile hike. Still not too bad, but further complicating matters, we had to be back Sunday for dinner – after hiking all day and driving three hours. That meant that day one became a 16 mile hike from Massey Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park to the Lost Mountain Shelter, setting us up for an easy 10 mile day to get back to the car.

We drove up Friday night and stayed at a hotel in Abingdon. Got up at 5am and walked across the parking lot to the Huddle House for breakfast. It was good: friendly service and decent food. We drove to Damascus to meet Lone Wolf for the shuttle to the park, and met him at the public library, which has long term parking for hikers.

We had planned to leave the truck there, but I thought we’d have a good shorter hike parking at Straight Branch, a trailhead for the Creeper Trail and AT. We got there and I drove in to the empty parking area. LW followed us in and asked if I’d seen the “area closed” sign. Er, nope. I was putting all my effort into not missing the turn. Huh. Too late to go back – LW had to be at work early. Not sure what to do, so we left the truck with the hope that the Forest Service would leave a ticket rather than tow it. (Or chain the driveway out.) So I’ve been moderately concerned about the truck every once in a while. The odd thing is that the big “Trailhead Parking” sign is still on the main road, and the closed sign is really not noticeable. Also, no gate. Oh well, we’ll see when we get there.

Had a nice ride with LW. We’ve known each other for years both online and in person. We got to GHSP and were on the trail right at 7:30. The forecast was for rain and thunderstorms,  and as we climbed we moved into the clouds as the wind whistled past at 20 mph.

We climbed up Wilburn Ridge, with me chasing after Ben as fast as I could – he’s got 40 years on me, so I never could keep up. Had a short break at the big rock with a view, then at Thomas Knob Shelter. Headed out around Mt Rogers and got to Elk Garden at 11:30 for lunch. Had a short but pleasant break, then climbed Whitetop in an hour. Got some water in the big spring, then took a nice break at Buzzard Rocks. The next few miles were a 2000 foot descent, which killed my knees and wiped us both out. But at the bottom we were only 2.3 miles from the shelter, so we sucked it up and hiked. Got here by 4:30 and found a nice campsite across the trail from the shelter, which is crowded with thru hikers.

We set up tents, and I went to get water. When I got back we could hear thunder in the distance, so I set up a tarp in case we need it for dinner or breakfast or just hanging out. I’ll leave it up all night – I can still hear thunder and it’s gotten quite dark and chilly.

Ben made dinner. He brought gnocchi and some dried tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic. We looked at the directions and the gnocchi need to be boiled – oops, we only have a frying pan. But we added water in the pan to cover them, let them simmer for ten minutes, and the water thickened into a delicious sauce. It was one of the best backcountry dinners I’ve ever had.

(Later) I thought we’d get away with some sprinkles overnight as I heard the storms passing to the north. Alas. Around 8:30pm we could hear thunder moving in from the southwest. The storms got underway slowly, but soon we had very heavy rain and lightning all around us. It rained heavily for about 4 hours – plenty long enough to keep me from getting enough sleep. My ZPacks tent did okay, though it was raining hard enough that water was splashing up under the fly and getting inside. I blocked it with my sit pad to keep my head dry and just got what sleep I could.