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My first visit to Mt. Rogers was a one-way, two-day-one-night, backpacking trip with car shuttle. Our route was primarily on the Appalachian Trail. Our group started at the top of Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's second highest peak, then hiked through Elk Garden, up to the peak of Mt. Rogers, through Rhododendron Gap, and on to Pine Mountain.

We overnighted on top of Pine Mountain where the temperature dipped into the 20's, which made for a very cold night in our department store variety sleeping bags.

The next day we hiked out to Route 603 by way of the apple orchard, where we paused to feast on the juicy ripe apples.

The quickest and easiest route to this highpoint is by way of the Wilburn Ridge Trail system from Grayson Highlands State Park. This is considered by many to be the most beautiful hike in Virginia. In mid-June 1998 I returned to Mt. Rogers via this route.

Joining me on this return trip were my kids, Ryan and Megan; the Nave family, Bob, Sue, Sadie and Bobby; the Russillos, Steve and Sheila; Claude Henson; and Gordon Martin. At 12:30 p.m. we set out from the Massie Gap trailhead in the state park under threatening skies, with cool temperatures and extremely blustery winds.

The Rhododendron Trail leads toward Wilburn Ridge from Massie Gap. After a short while it connects to a trail complex consisting of the Appalachian Trail, the Wilburn Ridge Trail, and some bridle trails.

Shortly after leaving the parking area we came upon some of the free- range ponies that are allowed to roam the area. Some parcels in this area are also open to cattle grazing. Although I am usually opposed to such practices in wilderness areas, in this case I suppose it is true that it helps maintain the historically open character of the area. And there's no denying the views are big part of what makes this area so special.

The kids were out in the lead so we ended up on a bridle trail for a bit. Unsure that this would lead up to the Wilburn Ridge trails, the adults prevailed and we bushwacked up to the Appalachian Trail. This section of the trail is exceptionally beautiful. The ridge top is adorned with rugged rocky outcrops and in places there are forests of rhododendron, which were in full bloom at this time of year.

After lunch the group split up. I continued to the Mt. Rogers summit accompanied by my kids, Claude, and Gordon. The whole trail had mucky spots due to recent rains, particularly the spur trail to the peak which was a quagmire in places. We reached the summitt at 3:00 p.m. and took a short break at the U.S.G.S. marker before heading back. I scouted around the area but could not find the wooden sign that used to be there.

On the return we followed the Applachian Trail to the junction with the blue-blazed Wilburn Ridge Trail. This trail parallels the AT but follows the ridge top, crossing over all the rocky outcrops. We followed it till it rejoined the Applachian Trail which then led us back to the Rhododendron Trail and the trailhead.

We made it back to Massie Gap at 6:00 p.m. Before indulging in a picnic dinner we drove down to a lower elevation to get out of the incessant wind.