Friday, October 19, 2012

Insalata - Hiking in Virginia's High Country

October 11, 2012.
After we finished the "antipasti course" of our Mount Rogers hike, the Cabin Creek Trail, it was time to move on to the insalata (salad) course - a hike along the scenic ridges and balds of Virginia's high country on the way to Mount Rogers.  Our goal was to get near the Thomas Knob shelter on the Appalachian Trail, where we heard we could find a reliable spring.  So up we went. The topo map below shows the route in blue - straight up the Appalachian Spur Trail to the AT itself, where we headed north towards the shelter and our camping spot, indicated with a red star.

The elevation profile shows a lot of climbing for the first two miles, and then some level walking and ups and downs for the last two miles until we got to the shelter.

At the start of the hike, we can't say we were not warned.  However, we did not have extreme weather, other than it was very windy late in the day, and even more so all night.  And of course, camping out at about 5,400 feet, the temperature dropped a long way - into the 30's - at night.
Just a little ways up the trail, we ran into two little wild ponies, a roan and a pinto.  We had been hoping to see some of these animals on our hike, and it was pretty cool to see some so early in the trip.
 I stood still and the roan approached me, probably hoping for a handout, but feeding them is against the rules. Even so, the two of us hung out for a few minutes (the pony is the cute one).
 They have kind of wooly coats to survive the harsh winters there.  Later that night, trying to get warm in my mid-weight sleeping bag, I thought of these ponies and how difficult it must be to survive here.
The panoramic views for most of this day were amazing.  Every time we thought that they could get no better, they did.  I could have posted many more photos, but these are representative.  Click on the photos, especially the panoramas, to get a better feel for the views.
 Hawkeye climbed this rocky promentory, and I followed him a minute later.  It felt good to get out of the packs.
 Here is the view from those rocks.  It was worth the climb.
 As we got higher and higher, there were less trees and the country became very open.  Unlike New England, there is not a true tree line here.
 We are close to 5,000 feet at this point.
 Yours truly, posing for a shot in the high country.
 Can you see the three horsemen / horsewomen in the middle of the shot?  We saw people riding horses a number of times on this trip.  It is popular with riders.
 More panoramic views.  Near this point, we ran into a group of six young women and one man hiking together.  They were heading the same way we were - to the Thomas Knob Shelter, or southbound on the Appalachian Trail.  However, at that point, the southbound AT headed north, and the northbound AT headed south.  We could not convince them that they were heading the wrong way, and they headed northbound on the trail.  About two hours after we made camp, we saw them straggle by.
 I think this passage is called "Fat Man Squeeze."  Not politically correct, but very descriptive. It was very tough getting through this cave with a pack on.
 Mount Rogers is the tree covered mountain in the distance.  It is Virginia's highest point.  A few hours later, I would be standing up there.  We climbed on these rocks, which had great views....
 ...such as this:
 And this view, of Mount Rogers in the distance.
 Now and then on this part of the hike, we hit a forested area, decked out in autumn regalia.
And then, it was back to the open views quickly enough.

 This is very close to where we camped for the night.  We passed several great campsites, and shortly afterwards, came on to the shelter.  Hawkeye returned to a campsite we liked while I searched for the spring, which was about 150 meters behind the shelter and down a steep, rocky slope.  He returned and we collected water for the night, then set up our tents.  By 5PM, we were all set up, and it was time for me to go on a little adventure - and on to the Zuppa (soup) course of my trip: a hike up Mount Rogers.
 These were the views a few feet from our campsite.

Here is our tent site for the first night.  My little tent is in the foreground.  It was open and windy but there was some shelter provided by the trees.  The stars at night were amazing!


  1. Mt. Rogers is one of my favorite places. I have been there 4 times now, and your insalata is my favorite course. I love the openness, the ponies, and climbing over the rocky balds like they are part some playground, a really beautiful playground.

  2. Hey Les! You were one of the people who recommended that I go. It had been too long. I loved it and had the best time! The great weather helped - any camping trip is better if it is not 45 degrees and pouring rain. It is really beautiful there. I am with you - the "salad" was the best course of this hiking feast! Art