View Full Version : My Trip Report -- Grayson Highlands To Damascus

07-30-2012, 18:41
Sunday afternoon I returned from my latest hiking trip, doing about 30 miles from Massie Gap at Grayson Highlands to Damascus. Thirty miles really isnt much, but it made for a nice easy trip with some friends from work out to enjoy a vacation.

On a personal note, I've been fat and as a result as much as I love hiking its sometimes feels like a struggle. Thats what happens when you let yourself get out of shape and you are going to pay for it. At my biggest I was a 54 inch waist and probably over 320 pounds. And this spring I learned I was diabetic. BUT, I control it and I have come down to a 42 in waist closing in on a 40 and almost to 240 pounds. This was my first hike after learning I was diabetic.

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Two pictures of me. On the left summer 2011 at about 285lbs and on the right 2012 at 245lbs

Gear --
My pack was a Kelty Treker 3950. I love it!
Deuter Dreamlite 500 sleeping bag
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad
Lightheart Solo tent with pegs and poles
Tent footprint
2 water bottles, about 1 liter ea.
Hiker Pro water pump/filter
Extra clothing in pack -- t-shirt, undershorts and 2 pairs of socks
rain jacket
Toiletries -- tooth brush and paste, soap, sanitizer, first aid items, ibuprofin, bug spray, medication and testing kit.
Trowl and toilet paper
Guide book, map and cumpas.
Food for 3 1/2 days

All total everything came to 28 pounds after I filled the water bottles.

There were four of us on this trip, my buddy Brian, Whit, and his son Dylan; we all know each other from work.

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Brian and myself along with Whit and his son Dylan.

We left Williamsburg About 7am Tuesday, July 24, heading to Damascus. It was a bright sunny morning and a great start to the trip until we got a bit south of Lexington and the biblical down pour that followed us down I-81. Once in Damascus the rain let up a bit, until about 2am Wednesday morning when we were awakened by another thunderstorm rolling through.

We determined to take whatever came our way and left our lodgings to get up to Grayson Highlands State Park and on the trail by 8am. The rain had stopped, thankfully, but the rest of the day would be damp and we'd hike in the clouds. Much of the trail over the next few days would also be covered in streams of water.

We started at Massie Gap (Wednesday July 25) going up the spur trail to the AT. Last year's trip there it was clear; this year you could not see many features ahead. We also only saw three ponies in the area. By 10am we took a break at Thomas Knob shelter and took lunch along the trail at Brier Ridge Saddle. About 3pm we were at the parking area at Elk Garden for a short break before making our way up Whitetop for an 11 mile day. We had hoped for some great views on Whitetop, but it was covered over with clouds. It was still very beautiful up there nonetheless and we made camp off the side of the trail in an already established camp site.

We called this lil guy "Nibbles" because he ran right up to us and tried to nibble on everything including Dylan's family jewels. He followed us up the trail at a trot for a couple hundred yards.

On the trail near Fatman Squeeze. I'm sure there is a pretty good view here, we just didnt see one on this day.

Leaving Lewis Fork Wilderness Area on our way to Elk Garden.

Look back towards Grayson Highlands from Elk Garden and the cloud cover.

The second day (Thursday July 26) on the trail was meant to be an easy relaxing day of only about 5 miles. We got up, made our breakfast, broke camp and packed our packs. We made our way to Buzzard Rock and then 1900 feet down over the next 3 miles from Beech Mt to where the trail crossed Rt 58. From there we made our way to Lost Mountain Shelter reaching there by 1pm.

Packing up and leaving our first camp.

Whit at Buzzard Rock.

Looking back towards Beech Mt and finally starting to see some blue sky.

Day three was going to be a little longer (Friday July 27). We were up at 6am, made breakfast, packed up and left Lost Mt Shelter, getting on the trail about 8am. This was my favorite part of the trip as the trail comes down and begins to parallel Whitetop Laurel Creek. By 10 we reached the Luther Hassinger Memorial Bridge and we enjoyed the easiest 1/2 mile on this section of the AT as it joins the Virginia Creeper Trail. Over the rest of the morning and into the afternoon we made our way to Saunders Shelter. One thing that we noticed was the great variaty of mushrooms that were coming up along the trail. We lunched at Saunders shelter and watered up. We continued hiking down the trail past the blue blaze trail to Taylors Valley, until the trail again paralleled the Virginia Creeper and we made camp out last night on the trail along the Whitetop Laurel Creek where the AT and the Virginia Creeper are about 20 yards apart.

A shelter mouse at Lost Mt Shelter.

Luther Hassinger Memorial Bridge

On the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Mushrooms along the way to Saunders Shelter.

On the fourth morning (Saturday July 28) were were once again up at 6 with breakfast prepared and camp packed up by 8am. We went down to the river to fill our water bottles and hit the trail about 8:30. We figured we had another 6 miles to go. We hit Rt 58 pretty early in the morning and then passed the Feather Camp trail. At mile 28 on our trip near the Iron Mt Trail we stopped for our last snack, before reaching Cross Saddle near Cuckoo Knob. From there we made out last descent and reached Rt 58 again and picked up the Virginia Creeper and the last short distance to Damascus.

Our last camp

My last breakfast.

Filling our water bottles for the last time.

A view while making our way up to Cuckoo Knob.

Hitting Rt 58 and the Virginia Creeper Trail for the last stretch into Damascus.

We made it! we promptly put away our packs and headed to Quincey's for lunch in Civilization.


What I took away from this trip in no particular order --

1) Yes! train and prepare. I think that riding my bike to work a couple days a week really made things easier.

2) In the furture I am going to have some hot breakfasts. All 4 breakfasts were cold no cook breakfast bars or Cliff Bars along with some yogurt cover raisins. By the 4th day eating breakfast was a chore.

3) The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad is a nice pad, but I found it was too small -- short and narrow -- for me. I am going back to my Thermarest at 25"x77"

4) I may try out the Sawyer filter. I may even try out a hammock. When I was bigger I never really gave much thought to them and dismissed them. Now that I am getting lighter I may try something new.

5) And speaking of something new. I have always been a old school leather boot guy. But I am less and less pleased with what is available. For this trip I bought a pair of Merrell Moab mid waterproof boots. I LOVE THEM! Nice and light weight, but feel durable. I certaily feel like I abused them. And the 13 wide really is wide. No hot spots and no blisters.

07-30-2012, 19:10
Thanks for the pics and trip report. Congratulations on your weight loss! Just think, you were carrying 40# more last year!

Double Wide
07-30-2012, 22:25
Great pics! And thanks for the report. Also, congrats on the weight loss--I love hearing about people who lost the excess pounds and now enjoy hiking. I was in the same boat too, so to speak, although I never got diabetes. I still have a ways to go, but I'm down 90 lbs so far. It's getting much easier to climb hills these days.

07-31-2012, 18:31
Thanks for the great report! Hope o do this section soon!
Keep up the good work ! It clearly shows!

07-31-2012, 18:57
Thanks guys for the thoughts. Looking back on the trip as well, I was hoping for some great views the first day but with the weather and the clouds that was not going to happen. However, there is another beauty to the Mt Rogers/Whitetop area being covered over that is just as striking.

07-31-2012, 20:12
Great report Tuck. The Fox Creek to Damascus section is on my must do list.

08-01-2012, 16:44
Thanks for sharing. I loved that section so much. I need to revisit...

Buffalo Skipper
08-01-2012, 17:11
Great report, and cudos on reducing your weight. ;)

I too am preparing for a section in the south of NC with friends in September. Your report only makes me more eager to get out there. Well done!

08-01-2012, 17:58
Really great trip report Tuckahoe, sounds like you had a great hike, very nice!