Kurt's Hike: Sept. 16, 2012
We saw a few wild ponies along the Appalachian Trail, and soon after that we saw this sign, about which Gail said, "I sure hope the ponies can read!"
September 16, 2012:
We hadn't undertaken such an ambitious hike – in combination of drive-to and distance walked – perhaps since we were finishing up the Virginia miles of the Appalachian Trail back in the summer of 2008 – at the same area we visited this day.
The 9:30 departure was at least an hour earlier than usual. The two-and-a-half-hour drive far longer than what we've driven of late.
But hey, it was the Grayson Highlands we were headed for! Rhododendron Gap! The high-country meadows of Pine Mountain! Big vistas! Threats of high-elevation showers all day!
We'd visited The Scales before, but only as part of a walk. On this day, we made the nearly four-mile drive up most of FR 613 – using every bit of half an hour to make our way over the rocks and ruts to the green gate about .2 from the Scales area (learning once we got there that we could have driven all the way).
One nifty part of this loop is that 613 has done most of the climbing, and so you start out near the top of 5,525-foot Pine Mountain, the third highest in Virginia. The Appalachian Trail climbs slightly then drops into a highland meadow where the Pine Mountain Trail heads left toward Rhododendron Gap.
We stopped for lunch on a rock overlooking Rhododendron Gap, and experienced our only drops of the day, in the form of some minor sprinkles that broke out no rain gear but did see The Day Hiker wrap herself in the picnic blanket.
The rest of the hike is equally easy and beautiful, as the AT roams along the ridge before dipping toward Wilson Creek, soon after which you do have to climb back – a pretty steady ascent over 1.3 miles – to the starting point at The Scales.
The dog with the operated-on leg did just fine on her first near-10 hike since being back on the trail. The Day Hiker, once again, not so much, with a lot of barking and whining about distance and time.
And why did we do this hike?
Well,we were scouting for . . .
September 22, 2012: where The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All was replaced as my hiking companion by . . .
Pretty much the whole famdamily. But just the male side, as it was son Carl's bachelor party, in the form of not a day hike, but an overnight hike, for six men and three boys.
And of course since it was all guys, no one had a camera.
But if we had had one, we would have taken pictures of . . .
Aden, 9, working Adam 12 hours non-stop for that cool sleeping pad hanging off the bottom of Adam's pack, and actually succeeding in taking it on into his tent.
Tyler, 5, down to his last half-ounce of energy along the trail, taking off in a sprint up to the top of the biggest rock in the whole wide world.
Eric firing up hot meals twice, and with such culinary perfection that he actually rejected one red-wine-sauce dish.
Aden, Matthew and Tyler flinging their glow sticks right up next to the countless stars, with landings maybe 50 feet back in the woods as the campfire spectators go nuts.
Carl making sure everybody noticed every brook, every tree shorter than five feet or bigger around than five feet, every knob-with-trees in the middle of a bald, every cool turn in the trail and every view of Haw Orchard Mountain.
Matthew, 9, as the only grown-up on the trip, keeping a steady eye on firewood supplies, glove distribution and water stocks.
Kurt secretly pouting a little because he, Aden and Matthew didn't quite make it to the top of Mt. Rogers on their side trip, so he could add the time to his stupid activity minutes for the day.
Matthew's first privy experience imparting that important ESP lesson (every sheet's precious), and a new meaning for Trail Magic.
Eric's taut-pitched tarp in a perfect inverted V there on the hillside, and Eric asleep in his bag six feet out from under the tarp, slud down the hillside.
Ben amblin' along the second-day trail with a 60-pound pack on his back, Tyler's pack hanging off of one shoulder, Tyler's hand in his and Tyler's voice pleading for some shoulders.
David keeping the same bemused, kindly half smile whether Carl busted out cheese-and-pepperoni or Eric poured half a green Nalgene of Dave's red wine into the Schlop before realizing it wasn't water.
Kurt handling fairly well the peril of having to walk by some cows all by himself.
Eric and Aden powering up The Scales Trail under full packs to the end like . . . well, like father and son.
Dave giving the Tacoma a pretty good Virginia mountain workout tailgaitin' Ben up and down The Rocks of FR 613.
Carl not complaining at all that the strippers never showed. OK, Kurt not complaining.
FR 613, Appalachian Trail, Pine Mountain Trail, Scales Trail, Highlands Horse Trail loop. About 10 miles.
How to get there: From Exit 47 of I-81, south on Va. 16 to right on Va. 603 to FR 613; then up rocky road to parking area at The Scales.