Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trail Recap 6 of 27: Damascus to Groseclose, VA

Mural of Mt. Rogers in Damascus

Damascus vicinity to near Groseclose: ~87 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Where's the snow?  Normally, according to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center staff, the mountain is deep in snow from December 1st to March 31st.  But as I hiked through this beautiful open highland area on Feb. 2-4 there was not a single patch of snow to be found.

People:  very few and far between.  There was Ted, 'living' in the Trimpi shelter, far from his New England home, drivers license suspended, awaiting a DUI court date.  There was Shortstop, who planned to hike a significant section up north in the spring (saw journal entries up there but never met him again).  And there was Cody Coyote, a young kid who seems to have done a large piece of the trail this year.  I met him near the Nick Grindstaff Memorial on a snowy foggy morning and, like Shortstop, I noted his journal entries in New England frequently, but never again saw him in person.  His motto, which ended nearly all his entries, was 'Turning my mistakes into gold."  Would have loved to hear more of the story.

Supply and overnight:  Marion, VA, KFC AYCE and Wal-Mart parking lot.  In Damascus I used the long term hiker lot beside the new library and the Food City out east of town.

Worst Memory:  Due to some sort of bureaucratic tangle, the footbridge over Feathercamp Branch, not far north of Damascus, was torn down but no alternative stream crossing had been provided, forcing a ford through twenty feet of knee deep water with the temperature of air and water barely above freezing.  Have you ever plunged into icewater?  It's surprising how quickly the sensation of cold turns into a sensation of intense pain, and how slowly it goes away.  And, of course, I had to endure this twice.

Best Day Hike:  Grayson Highlands/Mt. Rogers area.  There are sixteen miles of memorable trail - open, high country walks with grand vistas - to choose from between Pine Mountain summit and Buzzard Rock south of Whitecap Mountain.  Park at Elk Garden in the huge free lot and go either way, or park at the trailhead in Grayson Highlands State Park ($2) and do any number of excellent loops.  For me the absolute epicenter of this special area was getting up close and personal with the gentle ponies in the open meadows near Thomas Knob Shelter.  They seem to be tamer there than those in other areas.

In the Damascus vicinity there are some excellent loop hikes involving the AT and the Virginia Creeper Trail north of town.

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