So we finally escaped the clutches of Damascus after staying there 6 nights (I know; bad, bad, bad)! After some beers at “Camp Wok,” we hiked out with Waterbug and made it to Saunders Shelter.
There were some amazing views over the next couple days. Parts of the trail collaborated with the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is popular with bikers.
The day started sunny and then it started getting foggy and rainy, which made the trail super soupy. The views were still enchanting.
We were hoping to squeeze into Thomas Knob Shelter, which fits 16 people, to avoid setting up in the rain, but it was unfortunately filled to the brim with hikers. I was bummed out, but it’s first come first serve. Given that that’s generally how it works, I was irritated by a fussy section hiker who thought it was okay to hike without a tent or hammock since he, “didn’t need one when he hiked in the off-season.” Pretty stupid to do when you’re hiking in high season right outside of Damascus and right after Trail Days no less. Fortunately for him, the hikers in the shelter were nice enough to let him in.
The next day, we hit our 500-mile mark (well, unofficially given the 14.4 miles lost to the wildfires in Hot Springs).
We also got to pass through Grayson Highlands State Park, known for its feral ponies. We didn’t see many of them, but one was quite curious of us and walked up to see if we had any food. We didn’t have any pony-friendly snacks, but we hand-fed it some grass.
After staying the night and drying out our gear at Hurricane Mountain Shelter, we passed over a couple footbridges and pushed 19 miles to Mount Rogers Visitor Center to get a ride into Marion.
A huge rainstorm was brewing up for the next couple days, so we tried to get a hotel room, but everything was booked. A couple hikers we knew had a room at the Travel Inn Hotel and said we could stay on their floor if the hotel owner was cool with it. We asked the owner, and given that all the rooms in town were booked, he said it was fine with him. We stayed an extra night to dodge the storm (I know; bad, bad, bad), and spent our time running hiker errands, eating bad food, drinking good beer, and watching cheesy movies.
After two nights there, we passed the skunk “napping” outside of our hotel to head to the shopping center to hitch a ride back to the trail.
Total AT Mileage: 518.0 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 41
Number of Zero Days: 14
Average Mileage per Day Total: 12.6 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 15.9 miles (4 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 4.3 miles (Erwin, TN to Curly Maple Gap Shelter, TN)