It had been months since I'd backpacked, and I knew Joel had a trip to Mount Rogers planned last weekend. The forecast looked great, so I decided to join Joel on his trip.
I rode with Joel from Yadkinville. From there we drove up to Grayson Highlands State Park. We parked at Massie Gap, where we found several other cars a couple of groups of backpackers.
We started from Massie Gap and waded out into the snow. It was only ankle deep, and it was a beautiful day. I was looking forward to the hike up Wilburn Ridge to Rhododendron Gap.
We reached the top of the first hill overlooking Massie Gap. We wandered off the trail, which was quickly apparent, since we found ourselves in drifts of snow crotch deep. We found our way back to the trail, where it was a little easier to make progress. The wind had really picked up though, which only added to the challenge.
We reached the AT, and headed towards Wilburn Ridge. Here we found a whole herd of "wild" ponies. They were pawing at the snow, trying to expose some grass. We continued on, and reached a nice grove of fir trees at the park boundary. We stopped for lunch in a sheltered spot, and were soon joined by a group of boy scouts that began to set up camp.
After lunch we left the boy scouts and headed into the arctic zone. Once we left the protection of the trees we were exposed to the full fury of the wind. It was brutal, with enough blowing snow to make it seem like a blizzard, despite the blue skies. We lost the trail thanks to the blowing snow, and once again found ourselves waist-deep in snow. It was at this point that Joel decided he'd had enough. He said that he was freezing to death, and wanted to head back.
I was disappointed. Conditions were brutal, but we were already halfway there. I didn't want to push him to continue though. We headed back to the woods, where we discussed our options. After considerable debate, we decided to drive back to Stone Mountain State Park and camp there.
We drove to the park and headed to the Widows Creek Trailhead. We filled out the permit, and paid the $8 fee, which is absurd. For $8 you get nothing more than a place to pitch a tent. I guess that's what you get from a state that can't even agree on a budget.
We hiked up the Widow's Creek trail and crossed the creek 3 times on rocks. There was snow here too, but it wasn't waist deep. Even better, there wasn't a hint of wind. We stopped at the first campsite, which we reached an hour before dark. It was a pretty spot in the woods along Widows Creek. I enjoyed a spaghetti dinner, but wished we'd had a fire. It was a cold night, and it chased us to bed by 9pm.
We got up late the next morning. By late I mean 9AM. I think that's probably an all-time backpacking record for me. It was still below freezing at that point, but hot chocolate and oatmeal helped. After breakfast, we walked up Widows Creek, passing a small waterfall along the way. We turned around at the last campsite, which is situated in a nice glade.
We returned and broke camp. We headed back to the car, but decided to do one more hike before returning home. We drove to the main parking area, and hiked up to Wolf Rock. The climb took an hour as it led through snowy forest. We reached the bare granite face of Wolf Rock and weren't disappointed. It's a huge granite face, which rivals that of better-known Stone Mountain. Nobody goes to Wolf Rock though, and we had it all to ourselves. I spent a half-hour exploring the landscape, taking care to avoid the patches of ice along the cliffs.
We left Wolf Rock and passed an old farm. One building still remains, along with a chimney. From there we hiked out onto Cedar Rock, which is another impressive granite face. From here we had a great view of Stone Mountain. Although it was mid-day, a full moon hung over the dome.
We descended through the woods, and reached the base of Stone Mountain. From there we hiked back through the woods, and passed a single hiker - the only one we'd seen all day. We returned to the car by mid afternoon. From there it was on to Basin Creek for a late lunch and the chance to enjoy the fire we had missed the night before.
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