Damascus to Pearisburg

The first day out of town was full of the optimism that comes with better-than-expected weather and new shoes.

Neil had played it safe with a replacement pair of Hoka Speedgoat 5 trail shoes, while I had decided to try Topo Traverse shoes. These are really popular on the AT, thanks to the extra wide toebox, and it was a huge relief not to have shoes crushing in on my bunions.

The previous day’s heavy rain had cleared out, and by the time we got to the Saunders shelter, our destination for the day, it was sunny and warm.

The next day started well, but as soon as I started going uphill, my hip flexor muscles in my groin started to complain; if I made a big step up with my right foot, or stepped wide, or my foot twisted on a rock or root, I got a massive jab of pain. But I could keep going by taking small steps and being very careful with my foot placement. I’d had trouble with my hips before starting the trail, but whether the new shoes had triggered the problem again, I couldn’t say.

So we made slow but steady progress. But as we started the 2000 foot ascent of Whitetop Mountain, we climbed up into cloud, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and it began to rain, hard. We needed to move faster, so I took ibuprofen and kept going. The trail, although beautiful, was a flooded mess to walk on, with water flowing down it and pooling up against roots. We both tried to avoid wet feet by stepping on rocks and roots, but with my hip flexors still giving me grief with every other step it was a painful and largely pointless exercise.

The trail is a waterfall
The trail is a creek

Finally we dropped down to the road at Elk Garden trailhead, where the wind was blasting through the gap in the mountains. From there it was another long, painful, wet climb up Mount Rogers, at 5729 feet the highest peak in Virginia. The trail passes within half a mile of the summit. The previous day we had debated taking the side trail to the summit, but when we got to the trail junction we were in thick cloud, soaking wet and starting to get cold. No more debating – there was a shelter quarter of a mile away and we made a beeline for it.

Luckily it was a big shelter, as when we got there, there were already 10 wet people and a dog there. We all crowded in, with the earlier arrivals bagging space in the relatively cosy loft, and the rest of us (including four who arrived after us) bedding down on the open-sided lower deck. We hung up our wet gear, cooked and ate dinner, and jumped into our sleeping bags with all our dry clothing on as quickly as we could, then lay there watching the rain hammer down. The wind howled around the shelter all night, blowing in drops of rain and making so much noise around the metal roof that I worried a roofing sheet was about to take off.

The next morning we were still in fog, and the wind was still roaring. The temperature had dropped overnight, and was now just above freezing. It was no longer raining, but there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for getting going. Neil and I gritted our teeth, pulled on our wet clothes, packed up and set off. My hips were slightly less painful, and before long we started to enjoy brief views of the Grayson Highlands through gaps in the cloud. This area is renowned as a scenic highlight of the trail in Virginia; with rocky knolls, scattered pine trees and low shrubs, it had a very different feel to the rest of the trail so far. The stormy sky and scudding patches of sunshine just added to the atmosphere. Sorry we don’t have better photos, it really was too cold to take off gloves!

As the day went on the weather got better and better, and by the time we reached Hurricane Mountain shelter it was sunny and warm. We had covered just 15 miles, less than we wanted to do. Unbelievably, we had heard that snow had been forecast for that night, and thunderstorms. Although we have used our tent in both snow and thunderstorms, we weren’t keen on camping. The next shelter was 10 miles away, too far. So should we play it safe, stay at Hurricane Mountain and waste part of a lovely day, or carry on hiking and hope we’d be ok in our tent in the storm? After the previous rough night, we decided to play it safe – a decision helped by the good company at the shelter, including Cards (19 year old lad we’ve been leapfrogging since about day 3 of our hike) and Mosey, whose company we enjoyed in Damascus. And we were really glad we did stay! Within an hour the sky had darkened and it began to rain. By the time it got dark the rain was torrential, by 11pm there was thunder and lightning. Then at some point during the night, everything quietened down, but I kept getting woken up by what felt like fine spitting rain on my face, even though my head was towards the back of the shelter.

Getting ready to bed down for the night at Hurricane Mountain shelter with all our clothes on. Thanks to Mosey for the photo.

The next morning, it was obvious what had been blowing onto my face – snow. Cards had had his head towards the open front of the shelter, and had a worse night than me! But it wasn’t actually that cold, and as we hiked the snow soon melted. Nonetheless, the previous two days had left us with a lot of damp gear, and as we were short of food, a visit to town seemed a good idea. So we called the Merry Hiker Inn in Marion, and they sent a shuttle driver to pick us up from the next road crossing.

Marion was a great place to visit, and the next morning we got back on trail feeling very refreshed. Although we hadn’t realised it at the time we planned our resupply, this also marked a real change in the nature of the trail. We are now out of the real high mountains, and with that we seem to have dropped into a different season! It’s definitely spring here, with leaves opening up on the trees, lots of small spring flowers, hot days and warm nights. There are more opportunities to buy food along the way, and hiker hostels just off trail. Although we still have a lot of ascents and descents, the going is easier and it’s possible to fit more miles into the day – in four and a half days we’ve covered 91 miles. Tomorrow we’re looking forward to being picked up by Mike and Andrea Futrell, some caving friends of Neil’s who live near the trail. We’ll stay with them for a couple of days. We’re loving the trail but looking forward to a break and a rest!

Crossing Comer’s Creek
Down into the lowlands, with more sunny open meadows
Duckboards across a swampy area
Hikers’ backpacks lined up outside Brushy Mountain Outpost – just off trail and a chance to resupply and get great sausage biscuits! Also plenty of stock of spirit levels, just in case …
A quarter of the way from Georgia to Maine! Woohoo!
Seeing more of these little fellas along the way! Ribbon snake snoozing on the trail

10 Responses

  1. Sandra & Johnny
    | Reply

    Oh my! What a challenging adventure for you both!.. Thankfully though it sounds as though things are settling down weatherwise.. Hope the aches and pains settle down too!.. You’re doing great job.. Fabulous photos, Johnny and I are really enjoying catching up on your blog too.. xx

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Thanks Sandra! Looking forward to catching up with you and Johnny again after we get back.

  2. Roz Savage
    | Reply

    Sorry to hear about the hips – that sounds like it was a really painful day. Glad that the going seems to be getting a little easier.

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Thanks Roz! Going a little easier now, it’s my knees’ turn to grumble instead

  3. Valery Hartnell
    | Reply

    Your tough cookie Tanya. Well done . Hope your hip doesn’t give you too much trouble .
    Val hartnell

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Thanks Val! There’s always something aching, as long as it’s not always in the same place or so bad it stops me walking, I reckon it will be ok in the end!

  4. Shelly
    | Reply

    Wow. Sounds like a very challenging time. I hope the shoes work out for you.

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Yeah … Probably going back to Hoka Speedgoats next time. Topos just too unsupportive around my forefoot for my liking.

  5. Stephanie GEORGIA quarles
    | Reply

    Have you seen the ponies yet??? They were one of my favorites!! Love your updates!! You guys are doing great!!!!

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Hi Stephanie, yes we did see some ponies but only from a distance. Beautiful animals but they were totally uninterested in coming over to say hello! And to be honest we were too cold to hang around, hiking as fast as we could to get warmed up!

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