Adventures in the Southern Appalachians & Beyond!  






January 3rd & 4th, 2009 - We started the New Year off right with a wonderful backpacking loop in the Grayson Highlands.  My friend Jimmy Humston joined Shannon and I on this trip.


We parked our car in the Grayson Highlands State Park and began on the 0.8 mile Appalachian Spur Trail, which climbed up to the lower sections of Wilburn Ridge.  From there we set out north on the A.T. in some foggy conditions, but it cleared up nice by the time we reached Little Wilson Creek.   


003.jpg (129504 bytes)


012.jpg (236419 bytes)

Shannon Early in the Trip

  We First Ran into Wild Ponies Near Little Wilson Creek 
016.jpg (243183 bytes)   018.jpg (215002 bytes)
Jimmy Named This One, "Rock Star Pony"    Jimmy & Shannon at Little Wilson Creek 

After our descent to Little Wilson Creek, we stopped for lunch in a grassy field.  Shannon fixed us ham & cheese sandwiches, which gave us plenty of energy for our climb up Stone Mountain.  It was very windy on Stone, but the clear weather gave us nice views toward Wilburn Ridge, where we would be the following day.    

023.jpg (103428 bytes)   025.jpg (180878 bytes)
Jimmy Checking Out the Views on Stone Mtn.   Shannon on Stone Mountain
027.jpg (153233 bytes)   028.jpg (104341 bytes)
Hiking on Muddy Trails   Looking at Wilburn Ridge from Stone Mtn.
We then descended down Stone Mountain into "The Scales", and even though it was still early we decided to call it a day and set up camp.  We found a nice water source, and felt we might need the roof-covered porch on the Scales outhouse for getting packed back up in the morning with the heavy rains in the forecast.    
029.jpg (141394 bytes)   031.jpg (175819 bytes)

Shannon Setting Up for the Night

  Jimmy Putting Up His Tent
034.jpg (176317 bytes)   039.jpg (219866 bytes)
Looking Toward Virginia Mountains Through the Fence    Enjoying the Mild Weather
042.jpg (187265 bytes)   3877.jpg (38112 bytes)
Jimmy Made Us Some Coffee    Bill and Shannon Keeping Warm Around the Fire 

We set up our tents and got a good fire going to keep us warm.  Jimmy fixed us coffee, and Shannon and I had a great dinner of cheesy noodles.  We set around the fire and talked until 10:00 or so before going to bed.  


This completed a 5.4 mile day.


It did rain hard throughout the night, but we stayed warm.  The rain continued until about 9:00 a.m. so we stayed in our tents a little later than we wanted, but it cleared up soon after.  By the time we were packed up and back on the trail, the weather was great again.  

4160.jpg (34453 bytes)   4440.jpg (99571 bytes)
Bill Drying Out After a Rainy Night  

Checking the Map Near the Pine Mountain Trail

045.jpg (93344 bytes)   5973.jpg (78562 bytes)
Nice Views from the Pine Mountain Trail   Possum With Mt. Rogers in the Background

After leaving The Scales we made our climb up Pine Mountain.  Soon we reached the junction of the The Pine Mountain Trail, which is where we left the A.T.  We then hiked 1.9 miles on this trail that was at one time the old Appalachian Trail.  I really enjoyed the diversity of this part of the hike...  the Pine Mountain Trail began in a pretty evergreen forest, then opened up into a grassy ridgeline with wonderful views and rock outcroppings.  We then climbed though tunnels of Rhododendrons, and finally had some interesting rock scrambles before eventually making it to Rhododendron Gap, and re-joining the A.T.        

047.jpg (138987 bytes)   052.jpg (147327 bytes)
Jimmy on a Big Outcrop on the Pine Mtn. Trail   Vistas of the Southwest VA Mountains
6928.jpg (40038 bytes)   7868.jpg (90643 bytes)
A Mile High!  

Jimmy, Shannon, and Bill Make the Climb to Rhododendron Gap 


Once at Rhododendron Gap we climbed the big rock for some great views of the entire Grayson Highlands.  We also stopped for a little lunch before getting back on the A.T. (still heading north).

058.jpg (113574 bytes)   063.jpg (107318 bytes)
Jimmy Atop the Rock at Rhododendron Gap   Vista from Rhodo Gap
071.jpg (215385 bytes)   072.jpg (118850 bytes)
Shannon Scrambling Up Some Steep Rocks   Views from Wilburn Ridge

We then worked our way across Wilburn Ridge, and took our time enjoying the scenery.  We also ran into some more wild ponies on the top of the ridge.      

074.jpg (147362 bytes)   082.jpg (189470 bytes)

Jimmy Looks Like He Could be on the Next Cover of Backpacker Magazine


Jimmy Gets in Some Pony Pettin'



086.jpg (114585 bytes)   089.jpg (175368 bytes)
Navigating Through "Fatman Squeeze"    Shannon in the Squeeze

We navigated the "Fatman Squeeze", and then made our steep descent down Wilburn Ridge.  The views once again were fantastic.  Eventually we were back inside the State Park at Massie Gap, and found the A.T. Spur Trail that we came up yesterday, completing our loop.   

090.jpg (204928 bytes)   096.jpg (117979 bytes)
Climbing Down Rock Staircases   Great Vistas Near Grandview Peak
094.jpg (177831 bytes)   097.jpg (163132 bytes)
Coming Down Off Wilburn Ridge    Shannon Near the End of the Trip 
panorama.jpg (86854 bytes)
Panorama Taken on Wilburn Ridge

We hiked 6.6 miles the second day, giving us a total trip of 12.0 miles.   If you can't get a shuttle for a straight-thru trip, I would highly recommend this loop that we took.  It was very enjoyable.  Thanks to Jimmy for many of the photos above!   


Total Miles Hiked:  12.0

Getting There:  


Driving - From I-81 in Virginia, take exit 19 and go toward Damascus via US-58.  Continue on US-58 through the town of Damascus and across the mountain.  The entrance to the State Park is on your left.  I'm not sure of the mileage from exit 19 to the park, but I'm guessing its approximately 35-40 miles.  


Trails - To make the loop like we did...

Once inside the State Park, we parked our car at the "backpackers overnight parking".  The Appalachian Spur Trail is designated with a sign and is blue-blazed.  After 0.8 mile you'll reach the white-blazed A.T.  Turn right on the A.T. (which is going north).  After 4.6 miles you'll reach "The Scales" where we camped.  Continue north on the A.T. and in another 1.4 miles you'll reach the junction of the Pine Mountain Trail.  Take a left on this trail, which is blue-blazed, and continue for 1.9 miles to the junction at Rhododendron Gap.  Get back on the A.T. here heading north (there's a sign that points the way).  In another 2.5 miles you'll see the A.T. Spur Trail on your right.  Return on that to your car.  



Copyright 2007  All Right Reserved.  All Images, Logos, and Photos are the property of or Bill Fuller Photography