A Hike… To the Top of Virginia – Mount Rogers

The idea to hike Mount Roger started in January. At 5,729 feet (1,746 m) above mean sea level, it is the highest point in Virginia.

We arrived at the parking area around 10am on Saturday. The weather not what we would consider ideal for a weekend getaway. The fog was thick and the air very damp. All of the trees were heavy with the water droplets’ weight hanging from their leaves and twigs. The kids were a little less than excited due to the lack of sunshine. But, I assured them that this would be a great trip! We grabbed our bags and started on the trail.

Hiking in the fog, rain and wind, on Mount Rogers in the Grayson Highlands of Virginia

We didn’t get 300 feet away from the car, and Lexie said she forgot her water bottles. Yes, this was a little frustrating, but we were only a short distance from the car, and she would definitely need them, as we all carried enough water only for ourselves. As I told Lexie to go back to the car and get her water bottles, I noticed a privy nearby and had some business to take care of. Jamie took Lillian ahead and agreed to wait for Lexie and me at the clearing in the trees a few hundred feet ahead.

I finished my nature call and walked up the trail to meet Jamie and the kids. Jamie was there. Lillian was there. Where was Lexie? Maybe she was having a hard time finding her water bottles at the car? I walked back to the car while Jamie and Lillian waited to see if Lexie would walk by or otherwise show her face. When I got to the car, it was locked up and I found no evidence of Lexie. Where would she have gone? She knew what trail we walked up. Now I started to get an uneasy feeling as to where my child would have walked off to.

I checked a spur trail near the parking lot – no luck. With some pep in my step, I walked back to Jamie and Lillian to see if they had seen Lexie. They hadn’t. Now we had to make some decisions. Split up and find her?

We pondered for a few minutes to think like Lexie would have done. Lexie didn’t know to look for Jamie because she had already started towards the car when Jamie and I spoke. And from where Jamie and Lillian were waiting, there was a blind spot where Lexie could have walked by and not seen them. Now we decide that I should start up the mountain to see if Lexie walked by and started up without us.

I start the trek up the mountain and realize that Lexie has a solid 30-minute head start on me by this time. As I pass other hikers, I’m asking them if they have seen a red-headed child – about yay tall (holding my hand about yay high). I’m getting a lot of no and nope’s. This isn’t making me feel any better.

About a half a mile up the trail, I see a couple of day hikers are coming down the mountain. I ask them about the red-haired child about yay tall, and they said that they did, in fact, see a child about yay tall a few hundred feet ahead sitting on a large boulder. I was elated. There is still a possibility that the child they saw wasn’t actually my child, but I ran as fast as my tired legs would take me.

There she was. Calm and as chill as a cucumber – sitting on a field rock. Wow, was I glad to see her! I gave her a big ‘ol hug, and we gave each other a joyful and joking hard time for losing each other. Once I explained what happened and understood her story, it became clear that she did indeed walk right past Jamie and Lillian in the blind spot that was created by some pine trees. Not knowing where we were, she walked right up the mountain!

We walked down the mountain and joined Jamie and Lillian. They were super excited that we were all back together and we could continue our trip to the top of Virginia!

We hiked on. Through the pony-resistant gates. Past the “Lexie Rock.” Up the trail. One thing that is very unique to Mount Rogers are the ponies! Wild ponies are all over the mountain. They mostly ignored people, but on occasion, one would be very friendly and try to make friends with us.

One of the wild ponies as it inspects us for snacks near the AT shelter on Mount Rogers.

The trail up the mountain joins the Appalachian Trail after a few miles. From that junction, we get on the AT and head south towards Mount Rogers’s peak. We pass the 500-mile marker on the AT, a group of rocks placed on the trail that spell out “500” on the wet ground.

Only about 2 minutes walk past the 500-mile mark, we see two young girls pass us; hiking North. A peculiar sight indeed. These weren’t just a couple of kids day hiking with their family – these two were thru-hiking from Georgia to Maine. They waved and said hi but didn’t skip a step as they moved North. A few steps in front of me, Jamie turns around and asks me, “Are they part of the family?”.

“The Family”

Several months prior, I had reached out to a family that started hiking the Appalachian Trail to see if I could host them at my home for a day or two when they reached Waynesboro. (I reach out to thru-hikers rather often to offer some bit of “trail magic”) Now, I do understand that when hiking a long-distance trail, an email will often go unanswered. I really didn’t expect to get a reply, and that’s okay. I’m not sure I would respond to some random guy on the internet anyway.

Was this the family that I had reached out to several months earlier when they were in Georgia?

We walked only around the next bend, and hiking towards us was Sunshine and Papa Bear! The mom and dad from the family that I had emailed. What are the odds??!! What are the chances that a random family in Waynesboro sends an email to a random family hiking the AT and happen to cross paths on a random section of the AT? Crazy!

We introduced ourselves, and they did remember seeing the email. Sunshine and Papa Bear were very gracious that I offered my home, but they had other plans when they arrived at that part of the trail. We said our goodbyes and hiked on. They headed North on the trek to Katahdin, while we headed South towards the peak of Mt. Rogers.

A big congratulations to Jamie, Chris, Maya, Harper, Josie, and Sabina Malone, as they did reach the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine that summer!

The Malone family on the summit of Mount Katahdin – via awaking-dreams.com

It wasn’t much further, and we found the spur trail on the right, which led up to the summit of Mount Rogers. As we walked up the trail, we noticed a very abrupt change in the forest and scenery. The scrub brush and dry open fields gave way to dense greenery as we went further and further up the mountain.

The summit wasn’t far up the trail, perhaps only 15 minutes walk. Once at the top, the true summit isn’t obvious, but looking around revealed a marker embedded in the large boulder at the top. It’s a brass color and gives the geological information marked by the U.S. Geological Survey.

U.S. Geological Survey marker at the top of Mount Rogers – the highest point in Virginia.

Of course, we had to take a selfie to mark the accomplishment!

At the top of Mount Rogers! Kevin, Jamie, Lillian and Lexie; counterclockwise from bottom left.

We set up our camp in a small grassy clearing in the trees right along the trail. It seemed to be at least slightly protected from the wind, which was picking up as the day went on. The weather forecast called for more of the same the next day, with increasing winds. We could have set up camp near the AT shelter, but it was full and not very protected from the wind. Previous stays in AT shelters taught me about the mice that like to hang out there. Some shelters are okay, and some are… well… not okay.

Setting up camp in the clouds.

We woke up the next morning to more fog and more wind. Breakfast was oatmeal with almonds. I did the cooking while Jamie packed up the tent. Lexie and Lilly are great about taking care of their gear. They set up their tent and sleeping gear and pull it all down in the morning. It really makes a trip like this so much easier when the kids can take care of their own and pitch in to help. After eating breakfast, we hit the trail! It was several miles of hiking to the parking lot, and we wanted to get back before the real rain came down.

Hiking down the mountain in the cold fog.

After a couple hours we make it back to the car, and not 10 minutes later, it POURED rain!! We made it just in time!

Mount Rogers was an enjoyable trip, despite the cold and rain. We will definitely make another trip! Maybe on the next trip, it will be sunny, and we can catch some of the amazing views that the Grayson Highlands has to offer!