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.