AT Day 033: Wednesday May 10, 2023

Mile 489.5 + 21  miles / 33.6 km

Total Distance Hiked: 510.5 miles / 821.5 km

Camp  – Beech Mountain – Buzzard Rock – Whitetop Mt – Elk Garden/VA 600 – Hilltop Meadow – Lewis Fork Wilderness – Deep Gap  – Mount Rodgers – Thomas Knobb Shelter – Greyson Highlands –  Wise Shelter – Big Wilson Creek – Little Wilson Wilderness – Scales Campground – Old Orchard Shelter

A: 4280 ft /1305 m   D:3830 ft/ 1168 m

It is begining to feel like we have left the cold weather behind. It was a warm and a perfectly still and silent night. We were camped alone until late last night when another hiker arrived and camped nearby. 

We met him when we were leaving this morning. His name is Mac and he said he tried to camp far enough away from us so that his snoring would not bother us. He was probably in his 70s, a Vietnam war veteran and a recently retired deputy sheriff from California. He had very strong opinions about a whole range of issues which he expressed in the 10 minutes we spoke to him while he was having breakfast and we were leaving our campsite.  A nice enough guy we would be very happy to chat and camp with again. 

We had a one mile climb up towards Beech Mountain which the trail winds around. The trail then continues around Whitetop Mountain which is one of the highest peaks in Virginia. It was an absolutely glorious morning.  Fringe Phacelia were lining the trail as far as we could see. This was a denser flowering aggregation then what we saw in the Great Smoky Mountains NP. It was an absolutely magnificent morning for hiking.  Cool not cold, the sun was out we were walking through hillside covered in the most gorgeous flowers. It just could not get any better. I stopped so many times to try and capture the emotions of this landscape. But each photo I took could not do it justice.

It was almost 10:30 when we reached Elk Garden/ Virginia Road 600.  We crossed the road after depositing our rubbish in the trash can, what a bonus.  From the road we started to climb through a big meadow with grazing cows. There were so many cow patties that for a minute we thought we were back on the CDT.  Lots of young calves out grazing which looked so cute. When I see them like this with their mums  I can’t believe that we actually eat them. They did not seem to be bothered by us passing.

From the cow  pasture we reached the top of a mountain and entered  absolutely the most magnificent patch of the Fringed Phacelia humming with bees.  There was so many bees everywhere it was just delightful to walk through. People often say that the AT is no walk in the park. While that is mostly true,  this morning was definitely a walk in the park. 

After such a wonderful start to the day, we were excitedly  anticipating the four mile approach to the highest peak in Virginia,  Mount Rogers and then onto the Grayson Highlands.   Being a Wednesday we didn’t expect that there would be too many day visitors.

The approach to Mt Rogers was on quite a rocky trail and the trail stayed rocky pretty much the rest of the day. This slowed us up somewhat which we did not mind as there was so much near and far to distract our attention. The trail does not go over the summit of Mt Rodgers but offers a one mile round trip detour. The mountain top looked wooded and underwhelming in shape and scale so we did not take the detour, saving our time for the upcoming highlands. 

Hiking over the Grayson Highlands was quite spectacular. So many magnificent campsites with fantastic views of distant vistas and of course the wild ponies. We started seeing groups of ponies near the Thomas Knobb Shelter and for the next couple of hours. These are wild ponies that are being encouraged to stay in the area as they keep down the briers  and other weeds. The pony fouls were so adorable. We spent quite some time just watching them grazing and interacting with each other. They appeared quite tame and approachable.   

Given the beauty of this area we probably could have timed our day a bit better so we could have camped here in the high country. 

Instead we hiked through the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness taking the long descent down towards Old Orchard Shelter at the end of the day. It’s only the third shelter we’ve camped near. 

And as darkness descended and hiker midnight approached, the wind had increased and it  was cooling down fast.  The shelter fire died down and silence descended on the camp. The day has been so unexpectedly visually rich and rewarding. As I was falling asleep so many images were dancing through my mind. I wanted to go back and redo the day in slow motion.