VIRGINIA CREEPER

AT Day 032: Tuesday May 9, 2023

Mile 470.5 +  19 miles /30.6  km

Total Distance Hiked: 489.5 miles /  787.5 km

Dancing Bear Inn, Damascus, Virginia  – US Route 58 – Laurel Creek Bridge  – Grassy Ridge Rd/VA 859 – Lost Mountain Shelter – US 58 – Beech Mt Rd – Camp 

A: 4695 ft /1432 m   D:2995 ft/ 913 m

The sound of rain falling was our wakeup alarm this morning. It took me a minute to fully wake and realise that we are in a comfortable bed with a roof over our heads. Phew!. I checked the weather and the rain is predicted to ease around 9 am when we were planning to leave anyhow so that was a relief.  It promises to be a warm but somewhat rainy day in Damascus today. We are hoping that by heading north we will be walking out of the rainy spell. 

It was nice to stay in bed while the morning fully broke and the rain eased. We were too full of breakfast snacks to consider a breakfast burrito on our way out of town especially as we have a climb, but it was tempting. There was a break in the rain and we got out about 9am, our  packs groaning with four days of food. 

This upcoming section of trail is through the Grayson Highlands, near Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s two highest mountains. Especially looking forward to seeing the wild ponies in the highlands. 

As we headed out we did not see any other hikers leaving. The main street looked deserted. The Guru and Jurger, with whom we had dinner last night, had left earlier.  About a mile into the climb we noticed a hiker infront of us. He was carrying a full pack and a shopping bag with what looked like takeaway food containers.  He looked back, saw us and then made a very loud vroom..  vroom……   sound and started running up the trail. Very strange, we thought. He very quickly disappeared. However we did pass him at a water stop a few miles further along. We realised while he attempted to be friendly his social skills were somewhat limited. Very brave to be out here when you don’t fit the conventional behaviour expectations. 

Even though the trail undulated above the very flat Virginia Creeper Trail down below it was not overly arduous hiking. The Virginia Creeper Trail is a disused rail line which has been converted to a bike and hiking trail. A few AT hikers take this alternative in this section of the AT, as it is flat compared to the official route. I was tempted but Hammer wouldn’t have a bar of it.  

The rain came and went in brief bursts  but the high humidity was a constant. Hammer looked up and observed that even in this grey sky morning the green colour of the new leaf  growth was still quite magnificent.  The trail was lined by  flowering rhododendron and dense bushes of blueberries just beginning to flower. And with  mostly nice soft trail underfoot,what’s not to love. Apart from the grey sky everything felt super nice.  Resting in town yesterday did wonders for my energy levels this morning. Hammer on the hand, is an endurance machine. Mostly in low gear, but he just grinds on.

Around 1pm we stopped for lunch having seen no other hikers apart from that one slightly odd young gun. Half way through lunch the skies began to turn a dark shade of grey, the wind picked up a little. Fearing a downpour we rushed to finish eating and pack up. But happily no rain arrived as we hiked on, following Whitetop Laurel Creek.  The clouds slowly cleared and we had magnificent blue skies and a lovely breeze. Particularly lovely as we had joined the flat Virginia Creeper Trail for about a mile. 

It felt like a very short mile as it was over very quickly. For this short while it was nice to hike side by side and along a swiftly flowing creek on an increasing nice afternoon. 

At one point I looked above and there was nothing but ablue sky above. The afternoon hiking was rather delightful. Around 5 pm  we went past the Lost Mountain Shelter. There were a few tents already set up and a small group sitting at the table cooking dinner by the shelter.  We had thoughts of staying here as the shelter had a bear box, but our new mantra is to make miles while the weather is good and the legs are fresh.  So we hiked on for another couple of miles coming across a well established campsite. It looked like a perfect spot to stop for the day.  

As soon as we got the tent up and got horizontal I realised that my feet were a little bit smashed. Hammer felt fine and recons he could possibly have gone on for another couple of miles.