April 21. After a relaxing morning at the coffee shop and the outfitters store we headed out of Damascus for the trail. Before leaving I weighed my backpack…40 pounds with water and 6 days of food, and 20 pounds dry weight. Dry weight is my pack without food and water, only my gear. Before leaving home I wanted a pack weight around 18 pounds, now I’d rather have my dry weight around 8 or 10 pounds! That means I’d have to buy all new gear though…so that probably won’t happen on this trip. Meat weighed in at 37 pounds and Flosser at 33. I am still the smallest guy with the heaviest pack…shoot.
We headed up the trail and found some trail magic about a mile in. Nothing like sodas and beer to get us up the hill! The weather forecast called for rain at 4 PM. At 3 PM on the dot the wind moved in and it POURED! We could see the hail hitting the trail in front of us and it rained so hard I could feel the water running down my back in between my rain coat and my backpack. We stopped at the first shelter and the rain had stopped so I took some night time cold medicine and passed out before 7 PM and slept through the night. In Damascus I started feeling like I was catching a cold so I bought some cold medicine. I had some name brand stuff first, but it was $6 and I found some off brand stuff for $1 and though I’d try that. It knocked me out the first night!
April 22. We woke up and started hiking. I left the shelter first and walked on my own and a half mile up the trail I came across 7 or 8 white tail deer. A few of them took off across the trail and stopped and looked at me. As I walked a little further another one on the other side of the trail only 20 or 30 feet in front of me stood up and walked across the trail. It was a great way to start my hike! Later in the day we came across some trail magic with beer and soda in a cold creek!
As we hiked up to Mt Rogers the weather started getting worse and I was walking in front of Meat and I took a step on a rock and my foot slid out from under me…oh great, here we go again. I fell sideways and hit the rock, then I bounced and fell a few more feet lower and landed flat on the dirt. When the dust cleared Meat said “Are you OK?” I wiggled my fingers and toes and they all worked, and said yes. Meat then said “Wait there, let me take a picture!” Then he said “Wait there again, I think Flosser is coming!” Glad he was worried about me! I got lucky with this fall…between the rocks and pony poop I landed in an ideal place. Could have been worse!
We finally made it to the top of Mt Rogers after 7 PM and Flosser found the last spot in the shelter and Meat and I found a place to set up our tents. At 5,430 feet it was freezing cold so we ate quickly and got ready to get in our bags. The 18.6 miles of hiking also made us pretty tired. As soon as we hung our bear bags the snow started falling… Around 10 PM I started hearing the creeking of my rain fly and tent poles from the snow piling up so for the next few hours I woke up several times to hit the fly to get the snow weight off. I wore all of my clothes to bed and even unfolded my emergency blanket and laid it out under my bag on top of my sleeping pad to keep me warm…it was going to be a cold night.
April 23. Snow everywhere! I woke up early and went to get the bear bag down to get our food. I untied Meat’s rope and tried to lower the bags…but they didn’t move. I yanked on it, they didn’t move. The rope was frozen to the tree! I tied a rock to the end of the rope to throw it up over the branch and pull it down the otherside and I got it stuck up there. I went and got my rope and tied a rock to it and got it around the food bags and pulled hard! They broke away and I caught them as they fell. By then most everyone else was waking up and starting to move. Meat had a big snow drift going up his tent door. I checked on Flosser in the shelter to find out that snow had been blowing in the roof line all night and there was as much snow inside as outside! I packed my tent, I mean sheet of ice. The guidelines were frozen in straight lines and my boots were so frozen that I couldn’t change the laces from the day before. Nothing to do but hike on!
The Grayson Highlands is where most AT hikes see lots of wild ponies roaming around. We saw only 1. It was walking up a trail by itself in the snow. Its hair was all matted down with layers of snow and ice and it did not look happy. It sniffed each of us for food and then moved on up the mountain. Walking in the highlands was like being on a frozen tundra with crazy winds and blowing snow. It was a cold hike but later in the day we finally started hiking in lower elevations. We had lunch in a shelter that marked mile 500 so far, pretty good! We got below 4,000 feet and finally got out of the snow. We came to a road crossing and got some great trail magic! A few people were set up with hot cocoa, chili, lasagna, and more! We hiked on in search of the lowest elevation camping we could find. The weather report said that tonight was going to be colder than last night, and we read the temperature in our tents near 20 degrees last night! I have heard that every thousand feet up the temp drops a few degrees, so I wanted to get lower! We also heard a local say that the mountains are warmer because “heat rises”, but I don’t believe him. We found a great spot at 2,979…more than 2,000 feet lower than last night. It was windy and chilly, but at least the wind dried our gear! Another big day, a 19 mile hike through cold and snow!
April 24. All day we hiked in and out of the snow, but not as bad as yesterday. My feet, shin, and knees hurt pretty bad. I feel like 500 miles in and I’m just now falling apart. Coming out of Damascus I felt like I was getting a cold, but I think a few days of hiking in freezing temperatures must have kicked it out of me! My feet and legs do hurt, but I get most of the pain when we stop and rest, so it seems like we should just keep hiking! We made great progress today even passing by a shelter where we could have pizza delivered to us! We wanted to hit town early tomorrow, we heard they have a 16 ounce “Hiker Burger”. We pounded out a 20 mile day and camped on a ridge for the night. This was the third straight day of big miles, we were all ready for a town day!
April 25. It rained all night so we packed up our wet gear. No matter, we were heading to town! About 1 mile in I felt water dripping down my backside…I stopped to check it out and found that my water bladder wasn’t closed all the way and had leaked about a liter of water into my bag. No matter, we were hiking to town! We hiked the 8 miles into town and made it in time to have the 1 pound “Hiker Burger” for lunch. That was big…a lot of meat, but it was good! We checked into the hotel, dried our gear, got our food, did laundry, cleaned up, and relaxed. 75 miles of hiking in 4 days, pretty good! I think we all have our trail legs!