The rhododendrons (photo is in opposite direction of Mt. Rogers). Photograph courtesy of Douglas Ogle (firstname.lastname@example.org). This photo is on the cover of the Marion phone book.
I wrote on this page that I missed the chance for a cute caption about "Wilbur" because I missed the Wilbur Ridge ponies. Mike Heffer (email@example.com) sent this from his trip the same weekend.
Grayson Highlands State Park
Mount Rogers, Virginia, 5,729 feet
It was the first highpoint I totally navigated via computer generated instructions for the 600 mile drive from New York City. I even entered in my known GPS coordinates. It worked amazingly -- directing me to within 3/4 mile of the summit (and that was because I did not have coordinates beyond the minutes -- an oversight which is remedied by more precise coordinates by looking on the ESRI link on this page).
But you don't need a GPS and computer to find Mt. Rogers. It's very well marked. We took Route 11 at Exit 45 off I-81 at Marion. The town prizes its gateway status to the mountain. Its phone book had a cover with Douglas Ogle's rhododendron photograph that appears on this page! And the town's other claim to fame is that is the home of the Mountain Dew soft drink!
We followed the curvey route to U.S. 58 and then on to Grayson Highlands State Park. At Massie Gap (the first major stop in the Park) we looked across a grassy meadow to a stile over a fence and we were in for immediate gratification. Signs noted it was 4 miles to the summit (park officials say you should allow for a 5-hour roundtrip -- an estimate which seems quite accurate).
The signs also warn against molesting the wild "Wilburn Ridge" ponies which run wild on the mountain and keep the vegetation down. These ponies seem to have left their droppings at every conceivable open space. I was disappointed I didn't see them as I had envisioned putting a cute picture on the page with a caption about "looking for Wilbur."
The hike from Massie Gap starts at 4,800 feet and within 1/5 of a mile we were high on a ridge with unobstructed views. In June, those views are accented by a river of purple rhododendron. The flaming fall colors unfolded beneath us and distant mountains rose up through the clouds.
This hike is one of the most beautiful in the Eastern U.S. But, there's a downside -- everybody knows it! The trail system is the most heavily used National Forest trails in the Southeast according to the NFS. We hit a steady stream of hikers on Columbus Day holiday. For the most part the trails were relatively clean but we did encounter one camp site at Rhodendron Pass where a unattended burning log surrounded by trash (with the added insult of this being just inside the Lewis Fork Wilderness).
Initially we did encounter minor problems breathing but we quickly acclimated. Although it was 36 degress when we left Marion, we switched to shorts and T-shirts at the first mile point (where you cross a stile to leave Grayson Highlands and enter Jefferson National Forest and the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area).
It seemed like every turn and granite outcropping offered picturesque possibilities. The trail was rocky enough to underscore our foolishness of not having the ankle support of good hiking boots.
Mount Rogers summit itself did not reveal itself until about half way into the peak. It's a summit that gets little respect. The trail is so open and panoramic until you decide to turn into the woods on the mile-long Mt. Rogers spur trail off the Appalachian Trail. "You're wasting your time," said a couple hikers coming up from Elk Garden (if you have a car shuttle you can make an 8 mile hike between Massie Gap and Elk Garden).
Mt. Rogers had a gentle slope and was covered with dying red spruce (there is a great debate on the cause -- the official line is that is an introduced beetle that has also run amuck on the North Carolina and Tennesse highpoints but many people swear acid rain is the culprit).
A more intriguing summit with steeper sides and a clear summit is Whitetop about a mile due west of Rogers. The USGS map for the area is Whitetop.
In any event, the summit lived up to its billing. You couldn't see anything because of the trees. The summit sign had disappeared and a couple of peak baggers were dining on the rocks. The Magellan 12 GPS I brought showed an elevation of 5,400 feet (testimony to the government's sabotaging GPS for commercial purposes).
The height and the dampness was enough to irritate the ears of my hiking companion, Michael Dickerson, so that we set out for sunnier climes -- the log lean to shelter in a meadow about a half mile from the summit. Signs prohibit fires here. I was most impressed at seeing my first "solar powered" toliet here. I still can't figure out what it does. But for a high tech trip, it was a perfect touch (I was subsequently told that it used to power the fan).
From Massie Gap we drove 100 miles in 3 hours to the summit of Kentucky's Black Mountain.
Kathy Bilton wrote the initial commentary. Below are her comments.
This 5729' mountain was named to honor Dr. William Barton Rogers, a professor at the University of Virginia and Virginia's first state geologist. At the time, Virginia included both West Virginia and Virginia. Dr. Rogers and his brother studied the formation, structure, and natural resources of the Appalachian Mountain Ranges. Previously, Mt. Rogers had been called Balsam Mountain.
While the U.S.G.S. gives the altitude as 5729', the National Geodetic Survey says the altitude could vary, and gives it as 1740.6m.(5711'). There are three triangulation benchmarks on the mountain, and the one everyone stops on isn't the highest one, so people rarely photograph the highest point!
The Appalachian Trail passes within half a mile of the summit of Mount Rogers. It can be reached from the A.T. by a blue-blazed trail. You won't get any views from the actual summit though, as it is covered by Fraser Fir, known locally as "balsam," and Red Spruce. However, there are plenty of open meadow areas and other places fairly close to the summit where your view-thirst can be quenched.
Mount Rogers is in the Jefferson National Forest within a 154,000 acre area called the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. There are several campgrounds located within the area, some seasonal and some open year round. There are plenty of hiking trails as well as fishing streams in the area. Using the Iron Mountain Trail (which was formerly the A.T. before a 1972 relocation) and the A.T., one can have a nice circuit hike of nearly 57 miles.
Just south of Mount Rogers is the town of Damascus which has a reputation of being very friendly to hikers, and is known by some as "Trailtown, U.S.A." Every year around the middle of May, it hosts "Trail Days," timed to coincide with the passing through town of folks out hiking the A.T. (Those that have already passed it will often head back for the celebration, while some that haven't yet gotten that far north may skip ahead and then do the portion of the trail they skipped after Trail Days.)
For further information, contact:
Marion, VA 25354