After analyzing the map, I decided that I would end my trip this day with a return to Grindstone Campground via the Iron Mountain Trail. I continued the downhill hike on the AT through the largest portion of rhododendrons that I had seen so far on the trip, bottoming out where the trail crosses SR 603 near the Fox Creek Horse Camp. After crossing the road, the AT is a steady climb up to reach the top of Hurricane Mountain. During this portion, I ran into several more SOBO AT hikers.
Once on top of Hurricane Mountain, I went west on the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. I believe this portion could have been the original Appalachian Trail, as I read it was rerouted in the not-to-distant past to include Whitetop Mountain and the balds in the highlands. Given that this was a horse trail, it was not a pleasant experience. The surface was very muddy and rutted with hoof prints, making it a slower, sloppier walk.
Fortunately, I was only on it for less that two miles until I reached the Cherry Tree Shelter, an old, original AT shelter. I had another dehydrated meal, so I decided to take a break and have it for lunch. While cooking, a couple on horses arrived from Richmond who are regulars to the region and I had a nice chat with them. They recommended coming around Father’s Day in order to experience the rhododendrons blooming.
The rest of the hike was a downhill walk to SR 603 and the campground on a dirt road.
GPS Track Day 3 7.8 miles and 1350′ elevation gain.