I arrived at the Grindstone Campground after Noon. In my prep for the trip, it was highly recommended to park at the campground ($3 per night in 2011) instead of leaving your car at a trailhead. Given it was a weekday in late September, it was dead. I did have a nice discussion with the curator and found out a tornado went through the back of the campground earlier in the year, thus the spur trail was not open.
I headed up SR 603 for a short distance to the Mount Rogers Trail TH. The first few miles was an uphill hike on a good trail through a forest. It was a fairly warm and very humid day. The hike was pretty nondescript, except for a couple neat oddities along the way.
At 4.5 miles, you reach the Appalachian Trail at Deep Gap, and you are treated to your first good vista of the day.
At this point, the AT turns back into the forest for another 3/4 miles. It is a nicer forest, with views off to the southwest of Whitecap Mountain visible through the trees. Once you depart the forest, you are in the clear and treated 180 degree sweeping views to south. The trail returns to the forest for another mile until you approach the spur trail to the summit of Mt. Rogers. From here I could see my final destination for the day, Thomas Knob Shelter.
Much like Roan High Knob, Mt. Rogers is a forested peak and doesn’t offer a vista from the top. But it is still a state highpoint, so you must drop your pack and take the half-mile trail up 300′ elevation to the summit! The trail is on a open ridge for a short period, and then enters a dense pine forest, with a bunch of mossy trees, which I did not expect, at all.
The summit was a bit weird in that it wasn’t too clear what was actually the summit. There are several rock outcroppings amongst the dense forest. After finding the USGS marker for the summit, I headed back down the trail. Once I returned to the AT, Thomas Knob Shelter is only a quarter-mile down the trail, arriving at my destination at 5:30pm.
The shelter is very nice (appeared to be recently constructed) and propped up on a ridge with a magnificent vista to the southwest. There are also several areas for tents within the bramble on the other side of the trail, a spring for a water supply below the shelter and a privy nearby. Given the expected temperatures and wind on the ridge, I decided to sleep in the shelter for the night. It was my first night ever spending in the shelter, and to be quite honest, I did not like it. I couldn’t get comfortable and I was really cold.
GPS Track Day 1 (7.3 miles and 2,100′ elevation gain)