Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventures at Mount Rogers

Yesterday morning as Andrew and I were getting ready for church, I asked Andrew if he wanted to do anything that afternoon since it was supposed to be a nice day out. I had in mind maybe a short hike or playing tennis or something. As we always do, we went back and forth about what we wanted to do for a little bit (we can be a little indecisive sometimes). Then, Andrew expressed interest about going to Mount Rogers because he had always wanted to do it. I knew we wouldn't be able to do that after church since it gets dark so early now and I knew that it was a good distance away (almost in NC), so we decided to be spontaneous and skipped church to go on an adventure to Mount Rogers. After a very brief bit of researching on the internet, we were on our way.

Here's a little information about Mount Rogers. It is the highest point in the state of Virginia, with an elevation of 5,729 feet above sea level. Mt. Rogers is also the highest peak east of South Dakota without road access to the summit. It is in Grayson and Smith Counties in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Jefferson National Forrest. The summit can be accessed from Grayson Highlands State Park by following the Appalachian Trail south for 3.5 miles then taking another .5 mile spur trail to the summit. To get to Grayson Highlands State Park from Roanoke, you go almost 100 miles south on I81 to exit 50. Then you take Highway 16 to Highway 58 until you get there (both are pretty windy roads). It took us about 2.5 hours to get there (137 miles total).

Let me just put this out there...we both went into this thinking that it was a 4 mile round trip hike, not just 4 miles one way. I don't know how we both managed to misunderstand the descriptions we read online, but we did. It wasn't until I started hiking that I realized this. I think Andrew came to this realization a little earlier but didn't say anything because he knew I would have started complaining or made us turn around.

We arrived at the park a little after noon and I think we started hiking sometime between 12:45 and 1:00. One thing we were excited about was that there are wild ponies roaming around the park. I think we would have been pretty disappointed if we didn't see any ponies, but thankfully we saw some very soon after we started hiking. They were so sweet and very friendly! They came right up to us and let us pet them.

They were so pretty!

Andrew with the pony

The pony was trying to eat my strap, thus my expression

I know what I want for Christmas!

They were very friendly!

Me with the ponies again

Andrew with a baby pony. So cute!

Okay, so we may have spent a little too much time playing with the ponies. It was time to continue on our journey to the summit. After all, we had only been hiking for about .2 miles. As we continued our hike we were so blessed by the absolutely stunning scenery and the amazing views. As soon as we got onto the Appalachian Trail section of the hike, we were stopped by another hiker who asked us if we knew the score of some football game. Unfortunately we didn't. The man then continued and asked us where we were from and if we had ever hiked here before. We replied by saying we were from Roanoke; he was from Charlotte. We told him we'd never hiked there before, to which he responded by asking us, in a very hesitant tone, if we were going all the way to the top today. We said we were and he glanced at his watch and told us we'd better get moving. Then he asked if we had flashlights. At this point I'm thinking, Oh, great...we're never going to make it back by sunset. After we'd walked a bit away from the man, Andrew and I voiced our doubts and concerns about making it back before it got dark. Thankfully we had packed flashlights and matches, just in case. However, we really didn't want to have to use them. Needless to say, from then on we definitely picked up the pace, only stopping for needed water breaks and to take a few pictures. I kept looking at my watch and trying to calculate how much longer it would take us to get to the top. I told Andrew that if we weren't to the top by 3 pm then we would have to turn around in order to make it back by dark (even though I knew he would have made us keep going - I would have been thankful for that later...). Here are some pictures from on the way up.

From what we had read online, the hike itself is actually prettier than the summit because the summit is covered by dense fir trees. That could not have been closer to the truth. Toward the end of our hike up we knew we were almost there because we entered this dense, dark, cold, and somewhat creepy, enchanted forest. Once we got to what seemed like the highest spot we found a USGS marker. Come to find out later, this wasn't actually the center marker, but we were there (I think we walked right past the middle one). Anyways, we were pooped so we sat down and ate our apples and Cliff Bars. Just for the record, we made it there at 2:50 - plenty of time to spare!

It was at this time that I started not to feel well. I had a headache and kind of felt like I was going to be sick. It was probably a combination of overexerting myself on the way up, dehydration, worrying about getting back before dark, and just a general unpreparedness for an 8+ mile hike. Andrew also had a headache, but at least he didn't feel nausated like me. So, after a very short break, we knew we still had another 4 miles to go. Knowing that I had a pounding headache, Andrew was such a great encourager the whole time and kept pushing us to keep going. I definitely couldn't have done it without him. We stopped a bit more frequently on the way down for water breaks and to take some more pictures since we felt a little rushed on the way up.

One thing is for sure, there is no possible way to capture the beauty of it all with a single camera shot. So, we took this little video of the stunning views.

Thankfully, the hike down went by fairly quickly and wasn't too bad. We were back to the ponies before we knew it, and that meant the car was right around the corner. We made it back just before it got dark and we got to see a beautiful sunset.

So, that was our wonderful adventure at Mount Rogers. Maybe next time we'll know to plan a little more in advance and get an earlier start! The drive home was not so much fun for either of us as my headache had turned into a migraine and Andrew could only see out of one eye because he was having difficulties with his contacts. But, we made it back in one piece! Today I'm a little sore and tired and I know Andrew is too. But was it worth it? Definitely!

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