Category Archives: Trip Report

Trip Report – John Muir Trail TN

My wife and I were visiting my dad in-law the other week in Kentucky, and I had the opportunity to throw a pack on and visit the Big South Fork National Recreation Area on the TN and KY border for a couple of nights.

It turned out that Patman (a fellow Trailspace Review Corps member) was able to do the same, and we took the opportunity to meet in person. My wonderful wife shuttled us up the Divide Road so we could walk south on the John Muir Trail, Tennessee style.

The trail was relatively flat as it ran along the plateau above the Cumberland River, so I had a pleasant Friday afternoon walk with great company.  Patman mentioned a meteor shower that weekend so we tried to hunt for the best campsite view, but settled for a nice flat spot with sparse canopy. We didn’t see any meteors that night, but had a good evening of backpacking/gear testing talk and found many similarities in our approach and attitudes toward our favorite pastime.

Saturday started cool in the 50s. A pleasant walk along interesting geology…

And a very pretty section of trail. I was glad we had the chance to meet and also allow Patman to hike sections of trail in his local area that he hadn’t seen before.

The views began to open up quickly down to No Business Creek and the Cumberland River.

Two Trailspacers at the John Muir Overlook.

The overlook itself.

Patman on one of several bridges on the well maintained trail.

No Business Creek.

More interesting geology…it just kept cropping up!

We stopped for a late lunch at the Cumberland River and enjoyed watching a deer and later two backpackers (father and son) cross Stations Camp ford.

And then parted ways as Patman had plans to camp in an open field on the way to his car and meteor watch, while I was planning on an early exit so my wife and I could start the long drive home.  With his multiple trips per month, I am sure he pulled off another ten miles after lunch without me holding him back!

I think Mr. Muir and myself were probably the only two Scottish-Americans on the trail that day, and I enjoyed seeing his profile as I hiked that afternoon.  The fact that he and I moved here from Scotland around the same age has given me a connection that is difficult to explain.

I could include a bunch of rock photos, each one slightly different from the last, but since this is not a geology website (and I am no geologist) I’ll refrain.

Not sure if this is on purpose, as there is a Big Clifty Wilderness a few hours north.

The JMT here may not compare to the High Sierra version, but views of the Cumberland River Gorge were frequent.

After a solid 15 mile day with temperatures in the upper 70’s (but not much climbing), I enjoyed a great campsite (thanks for the advice Patman!) on the rim of the gorge.

View out my bedroom window.

Dusk view…followed by glimpses of a few meteors that morning before…

a beautiful sunrise!

Looking back from the south, maybe with spellcheck?

A sobering memorial along the trail to a child who died in infancy.

Views of the Gorge were frequent and it was constantly filled with rolling fog which I really liked – I stood at several outcrops for a number of minutes despite the time constraint that morning and just watched the fog roll by in silence.

Looking north along the Cumberland River from Angel Falls Overlook…I could only hear the falls that morning.

I love trees rooted in rock.

After my last view from the rim of the gorge, I dropped down through more interesting geologic features.

And some slightly confusing ones…man-made?

Then down to the river itself and a pleasant stroll to the pickup point…this last hour reminded me of the walk back to Lincoln Woods parking lot from the White Mountains trip this summer, just drier and without the railroad ties.

The low water crossing at Leatherwood Ford was out and the reroute took me across the road but gave a nice view of the original crossing.

Overall, a really enjoyable trip with good company. I’ll be back in colder weather as a nice local option when in the area.

Trip Report – Shining Rock Wilderness NC

On what is becoming an annual tradition, I decided to get out of the heat of the late summer around Raleigh and head to high elevation for a few days.  Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC has a series of peaks running between 5 and 6,000 feet which generally means cooler nights and some wind – perfect escape this time of year.

Heading upstream to the highlands!

Although I was heading in late on a Thursday afternoon, I knew it would be crowded at the more popular high elevation access points on the weekend, so decided to climb up from the Big East Fork trail head where I was unlikely to see anyone.  Being only a week after the remnants of Hurricane Irma passed through the area, the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed near Asheville for maintenance, so I had a slight delay and detour getting to Highway 276 and the trail.

No lions and tigers though!

It was late afternoon when I finally had that comfortable feeling of slipping a pack on my back and beginning to walk.  The bear canister requirement and camping area restrictions were still in place but I was prepared (although the pack was a couple pounds heavier than usual).

A stream in spate!

A beautiful and easy climb along the banks of the East Fork Pigeon River was a great start to the trip.  I got a preview of how much rain Irma had dumped here during the first couple of stream crossings – both were knee high or above and roaring downstream.

In addition to the high creek crossings, Irma had left a number of blow downs to negotiate…

The trail is there somewhere…

and also covered the trail in many areas with a carpet of green leaves…

I think folks heading to the western NC mountains next month for leaf watching may be disappointed!

The last part of my afternoon involved a climb up to Grassy Cove Ridge for a camp in the highlands.  This was a relatively steep 1,000 ft climb away from the stream, made worse by my loading up on water at the last stream crossing to allow for a dry camp if needed.  The turn onto the Grassy Cove trail is hard to find – have to cross the stream through a campsite and head up the hill to the right.  However it was not hard for me as a couple of folks were in the campsite – a local guide and a gentleman from my home country of the UK (never got his name but he was from Wolverhampton).  If you need a guide in the mountains, I would check out Wildland Trekking – didn’t get the guide’s name but he seemed like a good guy during our little chat.

This would look great with the rhodos in bloom.

The climb was at a faster pace than I usually go due to encroaching darkness and wanting to set up my relatively new tent in the light for better practice.  I was pretty beat by the top so camped in the first decent spot with a good view after a slight respite along a relatively flat and beautiful section of trail.

Bedroom view…

It turned out to be a great little spot, although next to the trail which I don’t usually like.  Being the quiet side of the wilderness and a Thursday night, I was mercifully left alone.

Mist filled valley in the morning

It took a little while to dial in the pitch of my TarpTent Stratospire 1 on the slight slope (my bed area was flat but the coverage of the SS1 is so large it included a rise in terrain.  Nights like this really help me to get more familiar with the shelter and its nuances.

Theme of the trip…wet and muddy

The next morning I got moving after coffee and grits along what turned out to be the theme of the weekend – a wet and muddy trail.  My boots (although non-Goretex and easily draining) were continually soaked in the up to 4 inches of water standing or flowing over a lot of the trails. While this sounds nasty to some, it thrilled me as my weekend was going to conclude with applying for the TGO Challenge to walk across Scotland next year…no better time to make sure I am happy with continuously wet feet!

Looking north to Tennent Mtn

I followed a trail running south under Tennent Mountain and wrapping around Graveyard Fields and after just one minor dead end, wandering down a false trail when the real one turned on a rock outcrop with a nice view…

Looking south across the BRP

I arrived at the approach road to the Black Balsam parking lot and immediately hopped north along the Art Loeb Trail.  There I finally encountered a few folks and decided to stay on the ALT rather than sidetrack to the top of Black Balsam where I saw quite a few people hanging out.

Instead I continued along the side slope of Balsam until the trail turned up Tennent Mtn, where I stopped briefly to take a few photos and enjoy the scenery, but didn’t dawdle as I was not alone and really wanted to wander in peace and quiet.

Looking north to the Shining Rock

A short hop down the ALT north toward the Shining Rock occupied me until my stomach informed me that snacks would no longer suffice and it was time for lunch!  Since I woke in a heavy dew and the outer tarp of my tent was pretty wet, I decided to lounge in the sun at Ivestor Gap and dry things out.

Quick lunch pitch

The last couple of years I have been bringing fresh stuff for the first 24 hours or so, and enjoyed a wrap with cheese and fresh tomato (along with some bacon bits and hot sauce!).  I helped a group of three young men figure out which peak was Grassy Cove Top…they were looking for an old mine shaft!  I will have to check the papers and see if they struck it rich…I would think helping identify the right peak would be worth a cut!

Dried out, and satisfied, I headed for the Shining Rock with no real itinerary in mind.  After a brief stop for water at a reliable seep, I was approaching the Rock when I began to hear quite a few loud people enjoying a beautiful Friday afternoon.  That was not what I was looking for this afternoon, and I decided to circle back south and do some side trail exploring.  After darting down a mile or so on a side trail toward Daniel Boone scout camp just to check for camping areas, I decided to stay on Ivestor Trail and head for either the top of Black Balsam or a lower gap site with great views.

Clouds closing in on the high ground

As I passed back through Ivestor Gap the balds looked like they were about to be clouded in so I opted for a lower elevation gap on the trail to Birdstand Mtn with great views both north and south.

Shining Rock Ledge

The extra mile of walking was well worth the effort for a beautiful camp with the aforementioned great views of Shining Rock Ledge to the north and Black Balsam and Sams Knob to the south.

Sun rising on Sams Knob

I don’t know if it was more practice or a flatter site, but the SS1 was perfectly pitched first time tonight – very satisfying! I considered not putting up the inner bug net, but there were some seriously large beetles flying around – didn’t worry me but they would wake me up!

A peaceful camp!

I enjoyed Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili and a dram (or so) of Highland Park 12, along with some leftover PIG Mexican Chocolate Mousse – an extravagant meal!  I tried to conserve dishes and clean up by boiling water and hydrating the chili in the bag, but as usual didn’t like it and popped it into the pot for a little simmer to make everything just a little more like home cooked food.

Supposed to be a crescent with halo…

The night was incredible – full stars and a crescent moon.  After midnight the clouds rolled in but stayed high – I am sure Black Balsam and the other balds were low visibility.  The cloud layer sat just above the Shining Rock ledge and with the moisture in the air created a double ringed halo around the crescent moon!  My camera phone couldn’t capture it though…

Saturday morning arrived with another damp tent so I hung around camp letting it dry out a bit (the inner bug nest was dry as a bone).  Then it was back to Ivestor Gap, up the Art Loeb (with a water stop just south), and onto Cold Mountain.

West from the Narrows

The Narrows north of Shining Rock and Stairs Mountain are one of my favorite sections of the Art Loeb Trail – a knife edge ridge with great (although intermittent) views west (above) and east, as well as occasional glimpses of Cold Mountain.

Cold Mtn over the shoulder

On bad weather days this can be a tough hike as there isn’t much shelter and there are a lot of scrambles up and down rock formations on the ridge.  I met one hiker coming the other way – trying to do the entire 30 mile Art Loeb trail in a day!!! I hope he fared well.

It took longer than anticipated to get to Deep Gap at the base of Cold Mountain and I decided to stop for lunch and fully dry the rest of my gear.  After another fresh tomato and cheese wrap or two, and a casual semi-nap, I realized it was later than I thought.  I decided to skip the summit of Cold Mountain (save it for next year!) and get going back to the Rock then head east for an early departure to the car the next day.  A couple more shots along the Narrows…

I watered up south of the Shining Rock again then headed onto the trail to Old Butt Knob, which is the trail that actually passes by the Shining Rock.  I was not in a big rush to get to my last camp so lingered at the Rock for a while fueling up with a snack, grabbing the obligatory photos, soaking in the view, and chatting with a nice couple from Asheville who were doing a day hike loop from the same trail head on 276.

Me on the Rock

The Shining Rock

After the break I hopped east past Old Butt and onto Chestnut Ridge to find a good campsite.  I passed the Asheville couple and then confused them thoroughly by passing back again in the opposite direction…a habit of mine to find a campsite then walk about ten minutes further before turning back around…I really don’t like waking up and hitting the trail only to find a better campsite 5 minutes down the trail!

Last night’s camp

My last camp was a well used site right beside the trail but it was peaceful and allowed an early exit so I could get home with time to spare on Sunday.  No-one passed by until dinner time when a couple with 2 large dogs arrived after the killer climb up from the Hwy 276 parking area and asked if there was a bald nearby…once I told them I had hiked another hour downhill (so their trip would be at least an hour and a half) they smartly turned around – nice to see folks make good decisions rather than push on without water and under prepared.

The views weren’t as good from this site, but I enjoyed a home-made pasta soup dinner and the last of the Mexican Mousse followed by the last of the Highland Park 12 – that’s my favorite daily dram when I can’t decide from which part of Scotland I want my whisky.

The next morning I decided to get a quick start so breakfast was a pre-dawn coffee followed by the last of my snacks (3 mini Snickers bars).

The drop down to the stream and parking area was short – about an hour – but steep (the picture above doesn’t do the drop justice).  However the views kept cropping up most of the way down…

My knees were thankful for my trekking poles and the larger flat trail along Shining Rock Creek was a welcome relief for the last stroll out.

Overall, I had a great trip – got to test my legs with some good climbs and drops, as well as pull 34 miles over a little more than two days hiking, and really test out my wet and muddy trail feet.  Feeling great after that little test I hopped home and promptly threw my hat in the ring for the TGO Challenge to cross Scotland next May.  I hope the November lottery is good to me and I get that chance!

Trip Report – Dolly Sods Wilderness WV

My wife and I had a couple of days free between family events in Pennsylvania.  We decided to take a short overnight backpacking trip in West Virginia, as we wouldn’t have time to do a 16 hour round trip to see the total eclipse.  So it was off to the Dolly Sods Wilderness…

For those not familiar with the area, the Dolly Sods are basically a plateau of rolling hills bisected by a couple of large streams.  Around 4000 ft elevation and relatively undeveloped, the area was once used as a bombing practice range for D-Day…

There are warnings about un-exploded ordinance still present in the area, although from what I understand the last find was in 2014.  It did make me limit the amount of bushwacking and stick to the trail at least for this trip with the missus!  The parking areas were busy with campers and day hikers, but we soon lost most of the people as it was a Monday.  I imagine this area is very busy on weekends.

After starting at the Blackbird Knob Trailhead, we had a short hike in and diverted north on the Red Creek Trail. We set up a luxury shaded lunch area in an open spot with great views to the south so we could enjoy the partial solar eclipse.

My wonderful wife had packed a couple of pairs of eclipse glasses that we bought back in the mid-2000’s.  She never forgets stuff like this – each of the kids and the neighbors were distributed pairs before we left town.  After a relaxing first-day lunch of fresh tomato and cheese in tortillas with hot sauce we chilled out and watched the eclipse develop.

Our lunch tarp was folded back and we enjoyed the first half of the eclipse…no great photos unfortunately as camera equipment is too heavy for my old knees!  This camera phone photo through the eclipse glasses is the best we got…and doesn’t really show the 90% eclipse coverage that was present at the time!

After we reached the maximum partial eclipse, the temps for an August afternoon were a fantastic 70 degrees so we decided to hit the trail again and take advantage of the cool down, and pause every once in a while to check on the back half of the progress of the moon over the sun.

Backtracking to the Blackbird Knob Trail we traversed the wilderness from east to west.  We had a beautiful afternoon walk along rolling hills and across pretty streams…

After a last check on the waning eclipse…

We then descended along the rocky and muddy Big Stonecoal Trail.  The amount of mud reminded me a lot of the White Mountain boggy areas – the Dolly Sods is well named!

Although planning to hike into the evening after the long eclipse/lunch stop, we found a fantastic campsite that couldn’t be passed up…I usually don’t use established camps if I can avoid it but how can you walk past the Camp of Thrones?

The large campsite allowed my wife to test out her first hammock as we have had trouble finding a comfortable tent system for her back issues…a future gear review is in the works.  This also enabled me to continue testing my Tarptent Stratospire 1 that I plan to use as my shelter in the Scottish highlands next year.

Dinner consisted of a couple of Packit Gourmet meals (Texas State Fair Chili for me and Trailside Pinto Bean and Cheese Burrito for my wife) before they expired…both were delicious but I have a bias toward their chili!

A peaceful starry night and relatively cool morning allowed for a nice hike down to the Rocky Point Trail through many of the varied natural communities in the Dolly Sods.  It seemed like we changed communities every time we blinked…the next few photos were taken within 45 minutes of each other…

grassy slow-moving stream valleys,

open bogs,

partially shady evergreen forest,

fern covered pine forest,

scrubby bog areas,

large rocky streams,

and rocky outcrops.

My wife and I really enjoyed the morning hike as it wasn’t too wearing except for sections with small shifting rocks, and the temperatures stayed relatively cool.

After a very steep but short climb up to the Lion’s Head, we arrived at a really great view and lunch spot.  Be sure you wander all the way out to the scenic spot on the rocks – a little hard to find but just use one of the unmarked trails until you get to the edge and then follow it to the open views.

I searched for a while but found no man-made features in the viewscape.  We enjoyed another lunch of our tomato and cheese tortillas.

You are not likely to fall off the edge unless you are silly…this is as close as I was allowed to go to the edge!

but watch your step as the cracks and crevasses between the rocks are deep…

The afternoon hike was much warmer than the previous day and we were wishing for another eclipse to cool it down!  Fortunately the open high country was broken by forest copses and pretty stream valleys to camel up and take breaks.

Due to our family commitments we had to cut our trip to one night, and missed out on the northern section but we really enjoyed this beautiful wilderness.

I’ll be back to further explore this fantastic area and all the trails!

Trip Report – Acadia NP and White Mountains

We are just getting back from a wonderful celebration of our 23rd wedding anniversary and a whirlwind trip through Maine and New Hampshire. It combined the best of everything…a couple of nice bed and breakfasts along with hearty dinners, camping and day hiking in Acadia National Park on the rocky coast of Maine, and backpacking along the legendary trails of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  I’ll break this one into sections so you can scroll to the areas of interest…


The trip started off perfectly on our anniversary…we had a reservation in Camden, Maine (a quaint fishing village) for a night in a bed and breakfast as well as a great dinner at the B&B restaurant.  However, on arriving we found a Scottish pub right across the street.  My wonderful wife immediately cancelled our dinner reservations to allow me to partake of pretty authentic Scottish fare from my homeland at The Drouthy Bear (it means thirsty)!

We enjoyed an excellent Bacon Butty, an above average Sausage Roll, and the best Fish and Chips I have had in several years, washed down with traditional Scottish (Belhaven Wee Heavy) and local Maine beer (unfortunately I forgot which IPA but it was good!). I finished up with a decent dram of Scotch as well.  A perfect evening!

The next day it was off to Acadia National Park for our long awaited visit to this scenic spot.  We have learned over the years to maximize our enjoyment of an area by sacrificing convenience and highlights for quieter spots, so while planning the trip we were immediately drawn to the Schoodic Woods portion of the park and the hike-in campsites there.

The area did not disappoint…from the initial drive when we left everyone else turning right to go into Ellsworth and onto Mount Desert Island (main part of Acadia) and enjoyed a quiet drive up through Winter Harbor to Schoodic Woods.  Make sure to stop in at the JM Gerrish restaurant for some really good food (and great blueberry pie!) before camp!

The campsite we chose was the furthest walk (only about 5 minutes) from the parking area of those available, on a little knob of a hill.  We really enjoyed the peace and quiet, couldn’t see any neighbors, and just occasionally heard someone.  For those planning to hike-in camp here, I would recommend sites 2, 5, and 8.  Site 2 was booked but had a great view of Mt Desert Island, although it was a 10 minute hike up the hill.

After settling in, we went for a tour around the Schoodic peninsula and enjoyed the cold rocky coast and great views.

After dinner at camp we decided to head back to Schoodic Point and enjoyed sunset there with a few other folks.

Our next two days, we had planned to head over to Mt Desert Island by the ferry, and then go to a local wildlife reserve area for quieter hikes, but those plans changed as we settled into Schoodic.

Falling in love with this area and its peace and quiet, we immediately knew we would be coming back here and therefore didn’t feel the need to discover every corner or face the crowds in the main portion of the National Park in the summer, which we heard was pretty busy and would likely lessen our enjoyment.  We look forward to enjoying that in the off-season in the future and opted for a quiet couple of days.

Instead, we thoroughly explored Schoodic peninsula including taking the almost empty shuttle down to Anvil trailhead and hiking back to the camp, through the rocky hills with great views of Mt Desert Island…

and the Maine coast…

from The Anvil and Schoodic Head.  We then dropped into the beautiful woods and found bogs…

more hilltop rock outcrops…

and then more bogs with pitcher plants.

After that, we relaxed at camp for lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring the rocky coast areas and investigating the tidal pools.

This area really reminds me of Scotland and England where I spent my first decade…the life in the pools is dramatic and colorful.

We had a wonderful and relaxing day followed by dinner at The Pickled Wrinkle (decent food and a good beer selection) and still don’t regret skipping the main National Park area and saving it for next time.


Knowing we would be back freed us up to head out to New Hampshire a little earlier and do some last minute equipment shopping in Conway before heading into the White Mountains.  After picking up a couple of supplies and a (discounted) pair of hiking shorts with a mild/hot forecast, we enjoyed another night in a B&B and a hearty dinner and breakfast before heading to the Lincoln Woods trail head.

With her new ULA Ohm pack loaded up, my wife was ready for the trail!

An easy hike along the river on an old rail bed (Lincoln Woods Trail) was followed by a beautiful hike up the Franconia Brook Trail, past ponds and views of the hills we would be climbing. Our route led us to the 13 Falls and its tent site, which was an option for night one.

There were several groups at the campsite already.  As mentioned earlier, we are folks who like peace and quiet, so the idea of camping with a bunch of other hikers was not really ideal.  We gathered up water for the evening and headed up the Twin Brook Trail to look for a campsite off the trail in what looked like some flat areas on the topographic map.

After much searching to get a legal site (below tree line and 200 ft from trail or stream), we settled on a flat area a little elevated from a relatively spongy saddle.  While initially I was worried about the amount of bugs in the area, it turned out to be a nice little site that we left relatively untouched except for the usual dry patch of ground after some overnight rainfall.

We enjoyed a dinner of chicken and dumplings then a good night’s rest knowing that we had already shaved a bit of the next day’s climb from the itinerary.   The bugs weren’t bad and respectfully retired at sunset.

Day two in the Whites found us climbing for an hour to the Galehead Hut…

in time to buy a piece of fresh baked Mocha Cake that fueled my wife for the climb up to South Twin.

The trail lived up to expectations – a straight line rocky hop…

that led to some wonderful views…

Since this was our first experience in the Whites and my wife, while in great shape, was not as used to mountain trails like this, we decided to skip the out and back hike to North Twin and make for the Guyot campsite early enough to get a good spot.  We passed through some more great views on Guyot…

and a pretty fern forest…

before reaching the newly rearranged campsite (the site numbers below don’t match the wooden camp signs and several new platforms seem to have been built).

This turned out to be a great plan as we were the first to arrive as rain started coming down.  As  usual, we chose the tent platform furthest from everyone and holed up there for the next 15 hours as the rain pretty much fell continuously.  We socialized a bit in the cooking area with a late afternoon snack, but generally kept to our private platform while the camp filled up with tired hikers.

The camp host came by and recognized the Trailspace logo on my hat.  I think this bought us instant trail-cred and she OK’d us LNT cooking at the platform in the rainstorm (no crumbs – just boiling water for tea and coffee and a boil in the bag meal) since we had a bear canister along for the wild camp nights.

An evening in a tent in the rain talking and playing cards with your best friend is hard to beat! (No photos of camp as it rained consistently from mid-afternoon to the next morning.)

Our last day, we got a decent start and had a few views on the climb to Mount Bond…

although the mosquito squadrons were out in force well up to the heights…

and the top of Mount Bond was shrouded in mist.  My wife is pretty convinced that I wasn’t the first person to come up with “Bond, Mount Bond” upon reaching the peak, but I am going with that theory until proven otherwise!

I really enjoy walking through the clouds and fog, but we also wanted to take in some views.  Luckily the wind picked up and we got the best of both worlds along the Bondcliff Trail with periods of white out…

followed by breaks with incredible views.  I would put this section of trail up against any other for scenery and pure enjoyment of the terrain.  Walking along Bondcliff with the clouds rolling in and out added to the atmosphere…

and even the valley views were impressive.  I didn’t have the camera out enough for the peak views but we got a good share of those as well.

Bondcliff itself was shrouded most of the time with occasional views of Franconia Ridge, but we had little company as we traversed this incredibly striking rocky terrain.

Then we began to meet the weekend crowds as we descended along Bond Brook down to the valley below.

After a steep (knee aching) drop down Bondcliff to the Wilderness and Lincoln Woods trails, we hiked out with a couple of snack breaks.

The trip totaled 25.5 miles with some decent climbs, and my wonderful better half handled it all and really enjoyed the trip.  We dried out in a hotel in Concord before heading back into the warm south.

Like I said earlier, we will be back in the off-season some time to spend about 5 days in Acadia, and I know I will be back in the shoulder seasons to really explore the White Mountains in more depth, but we couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary celebration!

Trip Report – Back to Mt Rogers, June 2017

Thrilled to be back on the trail!

FINALLY!  See my previous post for the frustration of being kept off the trail…

My work schedule had me in Winston-Salem on a Friday afternoon and the better half had a busy weekend, so I threw the pack in the car and took off for the closest high ground to get out of the early summer heat…Grayson Highlands and Mt Rogers again.

Brier Ridge
AT – The Green Tunnel is coming back!
First pony sightings.

I expected a ton of people at the outset and planned to spend little time on the Appalachian Trail in order to avoid the crowds.  Turned out that it wasn’t really busy at the Elk Garden Trailhead (I am sure Massie Gap was packed!).  I trotted in about 4 miles or so starting with some nice views and then the green tunnel of the AT (a lot different from my last trip here). Around 5:30 I diverted off the AT to Brier Ridge and a wonderful first night campsite…

Brier Ridge Campsite

The new Tarptent Stratospire 1 was a breeze to set up and allowed for wonderful views.  I didn’t bring a ground sheet on this trip so was very careful in campsite selection and despite my adherence to LNT principles I removed a couple of small briers from under the inner tent footprint.I could post the 10 or more photos I took of the Stratospire, but will save most of those for a future gear review.

The  evening was not too warm and I even slipped on a wind shirt while enjoying a wee dram of scotch after a filling pasta dinner (Knorr pasta mix with fresh supplemental ingredients from home).

Slainte mhath!

A great night’s rest in the high country, followed by waking in the pre-dawn to watch the sunrise.  Can’t beat this!

Sunrise over Wilburn Ridge

After a breakfast of instant coffee and Packit Gourmet West Memphis Grits Souffle (delicious!), I packed up camp and took my usual photo of the site to see how little “impression” I left.

Just a trace of camp left

I headed back along Brier Ridge and around the west side of Mt Rogers onto the spur trail down to the Lewis Fork Trail. This is a muddy horse track but a good test to see how fast my new boots would dry out!

Brier Ridge pony
Mt Rogers trail forest
Blooming rhodos on Pine Mountain
Reaching the crest again

I took the high route (there are two choices on the Lewis Fork Trail as it does a big U) to avoid the killer climb of Cliffside Trail since I hadn’t been out in a while. I quickly found myself back on top of Pine Mountain…one of my favorite areas. After watering up at the reliable spring near the Crest Trail, I headed east and found a shady spot with a good view south to Stone Mtn for a lunch break.

Pine Mtn looking southwest
More rhodos and views

After lunch, I had no real plan so headed through Scales, which had a large group of campers and some backpackers resting up, and up onto Stone Mtn. My planned campsite that night was going to be near the Bear Pen Trail with a view back to Wilburn Ridge, but I got there really quickly and decided to hoof it along the rest of the trails in the area and spiral back toward camp. I have done much off trail diversion in this area, so kept it easy on the AT, Scales, and Bear Pen trails just to add some miles and see if I cold find water down slope of the campsite.

AT and ponies on Stone Mtn
Flame azaleas on Stone Mtn

The campsite I had picked out on a previous trip lived up to my expectations…a nice flat area for the Stratospire and a great view of Wilburn Ridge and sunset. The only down side was unexpected heat…it got to over 90 in the tent that afternoon. I addressed that by sitting in the shade of the rocks where it was about 70 and watching a few of the ponies grazing for a couple of hours. Very peaceful!

Bear Pen Trail camp looking at Wilburn Ridge

Camp at sunset

I lugged a couple of liters of water up from a spring near the Bear Pen Trail -more than enough for dinner and breakfast. Dinner was my new staple on trips….Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili!

Texas State Fair Chili with toppings!
TSFC – it tastes even better than it looks!

In my opinion, there isn’t a better way to a spend a couple of hours than sitting on a rock in the wilderness and watching the sunset while sipping on single malt whisky. This trip it was Lagavulin 16 to celebrate getting over my health issues and back on the trail!

Selfie with the Stratospire I

After a very restful night I packed up camp and headed back over Stone Mtn and along the Pine Mtn Trail. The rhododendron were in full bloom all weekend along with the flame azaleas.

Post camp photo
Grayson longhorn
Pine Mtn rhodo tunnel

Overall it was a fantastic trip…I put 26 miles under my belt from Friday at 4 to Sunday at 12. This gives me confidence that my back and leg are doing well and future fun is ready to be had!

I’ll leave you with a few more photos…

Looking south from AT near Thomas Knob Shelter
Cloud shadows!
A look back at Wilburn Ridge and Rhododendron Gap
Trees and rocks along the slope of Mt Rogers
Still feeling good after 26 miles
Crest trail and Whitetop in the distance
View after view!
More cloud shadows!
A last short walk to Elk Garden

Trip Report from Grayson Highlands on a cold February weekend (finally)!

I just posted a new trip report from last weekend’s excursion to Grayson Highlands in VA and adjacent wilderness areas.  Highlights include:

  • Cold and windy weather with lows near 10 and wind chills to -15
  • Beautiful views and clouds rolling through
  • A lost boy scout
  • An off-trail excursion through thickets and bogs
  • Horses, and more horses


ULA Ohm 2.0 Review & Uwharrie National Recreational Trail Report

I just posted a review on Trailspace (and updated my Gear Review page) of the ULA Ohm 2.0 after a year of solid testing.  I really appreciate this pack for its light weight, versatility, and ease of access that it provides.  Only downside is the typical sweaty back syndrome common to many packs.  Highly recommend the Ohm and it has taken its place as my number one pack on trips up to 5+ days.

Another update can be found on my Trip Report page – a description and bunch of photos of a wet weekend trip along half of the Uwharrie National Recreational Trail.

Here ends January 2017, and looking forward to some winter hiking in February after a mild start to the year!