First Overnight – 4/22-23/2011

My son got a new backpack at Christmas and was looking forward to using it for the first time on an overnight backpacking trip. Trying to find a suitable first overnight backpacking hike was difficult due to the shear number of choices available. I planned a hike that I thought that we both could handle and would be enjoyable.

Our hike as planned would be a point to point, going from the foot bridge over the South Holston River near Teas,VA (VA 670) to the VA Settlers Museum (VA 615) near Groseclose and Atkins, VA. The route of the hike would take us 16.8 miles travelling mostly along the ridge of Brushy Mountain. Our planed overnight stop was at the Partnership Shelter which is famous among AT hikers for having running water, hot shower and pizza delivery available.

We drove up from Greensboro early in the morning on Good Friday, April 22. The weather was cold, damp and windy. We arrived at the VA Settlers museum to meet our shuttle driver. We planned to meet at 9 AM, but both of us were early so we loaded up the packs and ourselves into the pickup truck to make the trip over the mountain to our start point. As we crested Brushy Mountain it started to rain a bit and we covered the packs up with a tarp in the bed.

We arrived at the start point and the hike started in the rain. I made sure to put a poncho on Tommy to keep him and his gear dry during the hike. I was glad to have brought my GoreTex top and my pack cover was sufficient to keep my pack dry. The trail started up the mountain following an old railroad grade for a while. We passed a pasture where there was a whole herd of cows. We mooed and every one of them stood up and watched us as we passed.

The trail followed a small stream up and through a rhododendron thicket as we ascended up the mountain. We took a short rest to have a bite to eat and continued up. The trail made a giant S around and up a valley between 2 ridges. Eventually we reached the gap between the ridges and finished climbing up to the ridge of Brushy Mountain. The wind at the top was fierce and the weather was cold – in the 40s. We stopped again to adjust our packs and bring out some heavier clothes to help keep us warm. Quite a few thru-hikers passed by us as we walked. We would see many of them at the shelter later that evening. The trail followed the ridge line for some time. I was surprised by how much poison ivy was along the trail. There were no leaves, but the hairy vines were everywhere. Noticed some blooming apple trees along the way. I wonder if these were possibly old home sites or due to apple cores tossed by passing hikers.

We crossed over a gravel road (VA 601) and continued on our hike. The trail passed over a number of small knobs under a power line and finally descended a bit into a creek valley. The final 2 miles of the first day passed through what seemed to be a never-ending rhododendron thicket. There were very few landmarks due to the dense growth and no good way to judge distance traveled. We eventually saw the retaining ponds that indicated that we were close to the shelter and our stop for the evening.

We met a thru-hiker that thought that he was heading northbound. He had left the trail for a time to go to a funeral of a relative. As he started back on the trail, he went the wrong way. After we told him he immediately turned around and sped away. We would later find out that he was trying to catch up with friends that we met later at the shelter.

The Partnership Shelter was as nice as advertised. It was set in a nice area near the Mt Rogers HQ building. It had a nice lower level and a loft area upstairs. We cooked some spaghetti for supper and settled in and set up our beds for the evening on the lower level of the shelter. There were a large number of thru-hikers that we would be spending the night with. Some had decided to night-hike so that they would be able to get a mail drop in town the next morning. We had a nice fire to help keep the chill away. Just after 8 it got dark and soon after we headed to bed – tired after the long day’s journey.

The weather had changed overnight and we woke up soon after 7 to a beautiful sunrise. We made a quick breakfast of oatmeal and we packed our gear and got ready to move out. We passed by the HQ building and crossed over VA16. Luckily at 8 in the morning there is not a lot of traffic to worry about. The trail was wide and fairly level. We crossed the road that we took during our shuttle trip. The trail went straight over a bunch of knobs as it followed along the ridge. There were good views to both sides of trail because there were no leaves on the trees yet.

After 3 miles, the trail finally left Brushy Mountain and headed for Locust Mountain. We stopped in the gap to rest before trying to climb Locust Mountain. Unfortunately there were no switchbacks and the trail headed what seemed to be straight up. We took our time taking quite a few breaks to catch our breath and finally made it to the top. The trail immediately descended to the next gap where we decided to eat our lunch. There was small clearing with a fire pit and rocks to sit on.

The climb up Glade Mountain was not nearly as bad as the one over Locust Mountain. The trail had a lower grade and some switchbacks as it ascended. There was a large area the trail went around that looked as if i had burned during the last couple of years. We made the final ridge and followed it for about a mile. We started down and we passed through another rhododendron thicket. There was a break on the way down with an extraordinary view of the Great Valley below us.

The trail continued down and we reached the valley of a mountain stream. The valley was cool and there were some nice hemlock trees and large rock formations on both sides of the trail. We stopped for a rest break at the Chatfield Shelter. The remainder of the hike, we followed the creek and must have passed over it 5 or 6 times. We passed under 2 sets of high-voltage power lines and finally reached the Settlers Museum. Tommy had a great time and is looking forward to our next trip.

Total Miles Hiked – 16.8, New AT Miles – 16.8

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