UPDATE 1/16: NWS and NOAA are predicting a possible 16-20 inches of snow for the highlands on Thurs. Please be advised that deep snow is a real possibility. Also- the trailhead at Grayson Highlands may be closed causing us to use a different trailhead (VA 603) With snow/sunshine combo for the weekend YOU MUST HAVE SUNGLASSES
Tentative Winter Trip! - This will be cancelled if good winter conditions are not present.
With hopes for snow and cold I'm planning to head towards the Grayson Highlands area, but snowfall will be taken into consideration and we might need to divert to a different location.
The trip will leave right after work friday evening and drive to the trailhead at the Grayson Highlands State Park. Parking will cost $8 per vehicle for the weekend. Sometimes the parking lot in Grayson Highlands is closed due to weather. In this case we will park at one of the less secure trailheads along VA 603 and adjust the trip accordingly. (during the winter usually there are fewer problems).
We'll hike in about 2.5 mi on the AT spur to the AT and continue mostly downhill to the Wilson Shelter.
Saturday we'll rise with daybreak and follow the AT to the Bearpen Trl and Ascend the First Peak Trl. We'll pass over 1st Peak, 2nd Peak, and 3rd Peak on our way to "the scales". From the scales we'll take the Pine Ridge Trl along the crest of the Highlands and head southbound when we reconnect with the AT. Shortly thereafter, we'll reach our home for the night at Thomas Knob Shelter. Saturday mileage will be about 10 miles.
Sunday (Optional) - we'll rise very early and take the spur trail up to the summit of Mt. Rogers (highest point in VA at about 5700 ft.) This will be about 1mi roundtrip w/o packs.
We'll return to the shelter and grab our gear before heading back to the car along the AT and Wilburn Ridge Trails (nice exposed rocks and long views!). From the shelter to the car is about 4 miles.
Total Trip Mileage: about 18 mi
Elevations: no huge climbs (less than 1000ft) but we will be at elevation (about 4000ft) most of the weekend so the wind/temps could be quite nasty!
Highlights: Exposed open terrain with long views and interesting rock formations. Very exposed to the weather so we should have challenging winter conditions! Last year the low reached around 15 and we had freezing rain on the ridge.
Grayson Highlands also has a population of feral ponies which are fun to look for, pet, take pictures with, etc.
We will plan on staying in the shelters, but you'd be wise to bring some kind of backup shelter in case they are full. (it is first come first served - no reservations!)
I look forward to hitting the trail with you. Please let me know if you have any additional ideas/questions. This trip is similar to last year, with some trail variations.