I got to sit around the motel in Marion lazily for the morning, knowing that my dad wasn’t going to arrive until afternoon. Eventually, I had to walk across town to the library because of the motel’s 11 a.m. checkout, but that walk ate up more time so I only had to wait another little while until my dad arrived. We got lunch in town and watched slightly nervously as snow flurries swirled outside the restaurant windows. After lunch, I tried to stuff the giant six-day resupply he’d brought me into my pack. At first, I couldn’t get it to fit in my pack, but after reorganizing and really mashing it down it all fit. We drove back to the partnership shelter/Mt. Rogers Rec Area headquarters and set off. We had a few steep climbs to get over, and my pack weighed more than it has so far during the trip, so the climbs felt slow and wore out my feet and legs quickly. The weather kept changing on us, with about 30 minutes to an hour of sunshine before switching to snow and windy conditions for 30 minutes and back again.
Here’s the view of Walker Mountain. 20 minutes earlier we might’ve gotten a nice view, but you can barely read the sign in the weather we got.
The only consistent part of the weather was the cold temperatures, which didn’t go above the mid-40s all day, but with the steep climbs, my dad and I quickly got sweaty and then a little chilled as we hiked on. Thankfully after the first climbs we had a long descent to Atkins where we were planning to grab a motel room to avoid sleeping in the subfreezing temperatures that were coming up overnight. The descent was pretty nice, taking us past historic farmhouses and a one-room schoolhouse situated in a large pasture, before going over a nice boardwalk over a marshy area.
A nice boardwalk covered marsh
We made it to the motel just before seven p.m., and even though the motel was pretty grimy, the warm beds and shower were enough to make us stay. I insisted we grab dinner from the (trail) famous Burrito Loco Mexican restaurant, which was pretty tasty, before calling it a night.
Dad and I got up and back on trail by about 8:30 and we again faced some pretty steep climbs back into the mountains first thing. We passed the official 1/4 way sign during the morning which was an exciting milestone.
1/4 of the way to Maine!
The temperature was still a little chilly, but slowly warmed up throughout the day, and we took a long lunch and basked in the sun for a while. These last few days the trail has been pretty consistent; it climbs up a forested hill onto a ridge where we bounce up and down for a little while with views of the surrounding mountains, before descending gradually toward pastures and small farms which we walk through before heading back up again. Getting to walk through so many open fields is a nice change since they weren’t present before entering Virginia. Eventually we made it to the Knot Maul Branch Shelter and took a quick break. It was here that we met Aquaman, a southbound hiker who started in Maine in December and has dealt with all the cold and snowy weather involved with hiking through the mountains in the winter. He was awesome to talk to and seemed like a very positive person (you’d have to be to be able to accomplish his hike). After that dad and I walked down another mile to a nice stealth spot by a creek and got ready for an early night after an almost 16-mile day.
Dad and I both woke up with a ton of condensation in our tents and slightly damp sleeping bags, which were harder to shove in their stuff sacks. After breaking down camp we got started hiking up a steep but relatively short hill which I called “the warmup climb” for what was to come. At the bottom of that hill, we forded a creek where the bridge had been washed out. This was the first ford of the trail so far, which makes it sound more impressive than it was because we just took off our hiking shoes and waded across the creek, not all that impressive when you say it like that. After crossing the creek, we started the climb up Chestnut Knob; a long, four-mile, 2000-foot climb that was incredibly steep at first. We slowly made our way up and collapsed for a long lunch next to a pond once we reach the end of the steepest part.
Here’s dad collapsed post steep climb
After lunch, the ascent was more gradual and we even spotted a barred owl sitting in a tree right next to the trail. Soon we reached the Chestnut Knob shelter and enjoyed the view before starting downhill. We stopped in Walker Gap to collect more water, and decided to set up camp early because the next campsite was another six miles away and dad was pretty tired from the long climb. We lounged around for the rest of the afternoon and let our legs recover as much as possible.
It rained lightly overnight which was soothing to listen to, but it wasn’t as fun to pack up our wet tents in the morning. The trail today looked a lot easier than yesterday, and we started the day’s hiking by climbing up along a rocky ridge and then spent many miles hiking up and down along the undulating waves of the ridge top. The morning was cloudy and cool, but it was a great temperature for hiking, and I enjoyed the cool breezes coming across the ridge top. After climbing down from the ridge top we stopped to have lunch at Jenkins shelter before making a quick 600-foot climb up to the top of a hill after which the trail stayed fairly flat, and we made really good time cruising along the easy trail. The trail eventually took us down to Laurel Creek, which cascades over a rocky river bottom, and we found a place to set up our tents nearby before returning to hangout by the cascades for a while.
Some of the nice cascades. There was even a pretty deep swimming hole, although it was too cold for us to take a dip.
The water was still frigid and I only iced my feet in them for a few minutes before having to take them out. We hung out around the creek and our campsite for a while before making dinner and heading to bed.
The night started out pretty warm, which meant I had to take off layers and loosen my quilt, but then got colder toward morning and I had to undo all the previous steps, so I didn’t sleep super well. Fortunately, my dad and I were only planning an easy seven miles to the Brushy Mountain Outpost and from there a shuttle into Bland, VA for the night because he has a work call on Thursday morning he couldn’t get out of. During the morning I struggled to find someone to shuttle us into such a small town, but I finally found someone who was available. I figured that with an 8:30 start, the seven miles would take us until about noon to finish, so I told the shuttle driver 12:30 to be safe. Well, dad and I were clearly excited for the burgers at the Brushy Mountain Outpost because we flew through those miles and arrived a little after 11! We took our time devouring a couple of burgers and fries, and then waited outside in the nice weather for our shuttle into town.
To all the hundreds or maybe even thousands of trekkers who will read this post, enjoy this pic of my dad eating a cheeseburger. Sorry dad.
The motel was actually pretty nice, almost reaching “hotel” status, and we quickly got started with showering and doing some sink laundry and spent the rest of the day relaxing. I was especially excited to get some Dairy Queen which was right down the street at the gas station but they were closed (the horror! Life is so unfair).
After dad’s morning work call we hit the trail, which started off with a short road walk before we climbed 600 feet onto another long and undulating ridge walk. We had long views of the farms in the valleys on either side of the ridge during the walk, but we didn’t stop to look at them because this long ridge walk was completely dry and we wanted to keep going to find water before camping for the night. Right before the end of the ridge walk we passed the 600-mile mark and had to stop to take a picture, of course.
Eventually, we made it down to a tiny stream and refilled our water, and then we decided to push on to the Jenny Knob shelter, making it a 12-mile day. When we got to the shelter there were some weekend hikers already there with an aggressive dog that barked and growled at anyone who came close, not cool. There was also a lack of flat tent sites, but we were the first hikers to set up our tents there so we got the flattest space. As the evening wore on and we did our camp chores and cooked dinner, 6 other thru hikers rolled in and all had to set up their tents as well, and the flattest area was still next to where we had pitched our tents so we were soon completely surrounded by other tents in every direction. Once it got dark I heard the first whip-poor-will so far of the trip, and I love hearing their calls as I fall asleep. Unfortunately, the evening wasn’t completely peaceful because some of the hikers decided to stay up way after dark and have a loud conversation right next to all the tents, again not cool. I put in my earplugs and slowly drifted to sleep.
With everyone at the shelter tenting so close together it was impossible not to hear every snore, rustle, and fart that was made throughout the night, and when the first hiker started getting up at 6 am that meant everyone was up, oh well. Dad and I got moving pretty quickly and just had one significant climb to start off the day before the long descent to Kimberling creek. As we got toward the creek it was easy to see that spring was making some good progress at the lower elevations, with the trees starting to leaf and many buds and flowers all along the trail. We crossed a nice suspension bridge over the creek and headed down the road to Trent’s Grocery for lunch. After lunch, we continued on to Dismal Falls where we were going to wait for my mom to come get us and take us off the trail for the night to celebrate my birthday. We lounged around at the top of the falls, enjoying the sunshine, dipping our feet in the freezing water, and talking to some locals for a few hours until mom arrived.
We were very impressed by the falls, I swear
After a quick drive we made it to Wytheville (getting Dairy Queen on the way- sweet victory) and got all showered in the hotel before heading to dinner, where I was surprised to spot a familiar hiker who was taking some time off trail due to shin splints. Dinner was fantastic, it was so nice to get some leafy greens, and I fell into bed very full and tired after we got back.
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