May 24, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Becky, Lyndy, Michelle
We awoke this morning to sunshine and birds singing. As much as I enjoy backpacking, I am usually anticipating a hot shower and cold beer by the last day. I was honestly disappointed this morning that this was going to be our last day. I could easily stay out for one more night. But alas, work and other life obligations necessitated our return to civilization. We decided to finish our stay at Old Orchard by getting a group photo. This is decidedly harder to do when there isn’t someone handy to ask and you aren’t carrying a selfie stick! The plan was to prop the camera in a tree fork, set the timer, then I would scramble to the top of the rock we had chosen for our backdrop. After many failed attempts, we finally got our picture!
After our little photo shoot, we donned our packs and headed back for our last 1.7 miles on the Appalachian Trail. The hiking was easy and we were surprised how quickly we came to Fairwood Valley Trail, a multi-use trail that would help loop us back towards Grindstone Campground.
Too much water had been pretty much the theme of this hike and this trail was no different. We came to a river crossing that, despite how it looks in the picture, was too deep and moving too fast for us to safely cross. Fortunately, the trail had a “high water” route that took us up on the road to cross a bridge.
Part of the Fairwood Valley trail crossed a cow pasture, complete with cows. At first, we were pleasantly surprised by the cute calves poking their heads out of the woods.
Soon, however, the mama cows took notice and didn’t seem to happy with our presence. They showed their displeasure by starting in our direction. Slowly at first, but they soon started picking up speed. We moved off the trail a bit to give them plenty of space but onward they came, clearly on a mission. We had read plenty of dealing with wild animals but had not thought to brush up on cow attack procedures!
As we hurried past the cows, they broke into a dead run. The were heading straight for … the feed truck we had failed to see pulling up at the opposite end of the pasture. Turns out, they weren’t attacking us, they were hurrying to get lunch! We had a good laugh about it but were still glad to close the gate behind us as we exited the pasture. We did all decide that had we been attacked, we’d have claimed it was bear injuries, not a cow!
After our exciting pasture crossing, we had a few more hills to tackle as well as another water crossing. This one was shallow and had a few stepping stones. While rest of us did our best to keep dry, Lyndy took the “heck with it” approach and just waded on across. She now hikes with quick-drying trail shoes rather than boots and has been very happy with them. Even with the stream crossing, her shoes were mostly dry by the time we finished for the day.
We’ve come across some interesting signs along our trail travels but there is the occasional head-scratcher. This sign would have made perfect sense if it was close to a road. Being a little way into the trail, though, left us wondering what exactly people are illegally parking? Maybe they are parking their hang-gliders.
Leaving Fairwood Valley, we had a 0.2 mile stretch of the Mt. Rogers Trail before looping back to the Grindstone Campground Spur Trail. We were almost to the end of our journey!
This time, the trail was open and sunny, very different than the rain and fog that we had climbed up in just a few days earlier. We managed to get mild sunburns!
Very soon we found ourselves back where we had started, in the parking lot for Grindstone Campground. We are never exactly sure of the mileage on these trips because of the side trails we take for things like scenic views and water. Best guess is probably around 25 miles. This is my second time at Grayson Highlands and I still can say it is one of my favorite places I’ve ever hiked. This loop could easily be done in a 3 day weekend for anyone who is reasonably fit.
We ended our hike in our usual fashion. A hiking stick high five and a cold drink.