Mt. Rogers, VA
5,729 feet, 9 miles
Black Mountain, KY
From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
April 23, 2011
Mt. Rogers, an Assault into Eden
The wooded summit of Mt. Rogers from the AT
Looking at a map, we decided that Mt. Rogers was an easy enough hike that Martha could make it, despite an arthritic knee. The approach from Grayson State Park involves an elevation gain of only 1,100 feet over 4.5 miles (mostly on the Appalachian Trail), and appeared to be fairly smooth walking. We arrived to high overcast, 50 degree temperatures and 25-35 knot winds – fair enough but three cuts short of ideal. Little did we know.
Martha prepares for the hike
Mt. Rogers is a great big rhyolite (very hard, high silica, volcanic rock) dike, which forms the backbone of the 6 mile long summit ridge. This rhyolite is purple-grey in color, over 750 million years old, and includes the only visible evidence of Proterozoic glaciation in the South – and it’s right on the AT! We were walking along, and I saw the typical sub-glacial stream erosion right on the summit ridge. I guess that the mountain was quite a bit taller at that point.
The mountain is named after William Barton Rogers, a graduate of William & Mary, the first state geologist of VA, and the founder of MIT.
Mt. Rogers Rhyolite
The entire summit ridge was largely field and grazing area for a resident herd of wild ponies. There were numerous apple trees near the summit ridge, indicating agriculture in the area in the 19th Century.
Apple trees and fields on Mt. Rogers
As the day wore on, the weather, scenery and walking gradually improved. Near the top we ran into two herds of wild ponies, indigenous to the area. The origins of the ponies are lost in time, but the only logical explanation is that they were ponies from the nearby coal mines that escaped/released from pasture, and have been here ever since. In any event, the Park Service provides some oversight of the herd today, but they remain, more or less wild. We came upon a herd with a new foal, which was very cool.
Wild ponies on Mt. Rogers
A brand new foal
The actual summit of Rogers is wooded, and affords no views. The weather was really great by this point; we were hiking in shirt sleeves, and didn’t really care. A quick lunch and we were off to enjoy the views along the ridge, which had improved with the passage of the day. It was down then out to our base camp at the Martha Washington Inn to prepare for our mechanized assault on Black Mt. the following day.
Martha at the summit
Near the top of Mt. Rogers
Daniel Boone at the Martha Washington
Black Mt. KY
Black Mountain KY is just over the State Line from VA, accessed from route 160, a vertiginous drive. This is big coal country, where the mines have a special ambulance entrance and the tops of mountains are removed to get at the carbon. Black Mt. is owned by a major coal company, which requires a release to get on the property. The day we made the trip was cold dark and foggy. This was Appalachia as you imagine it.
Black Mt. as advertised
Martha showing Black Mt. as we saw it
The summit is covered with various towers and transmission equipment. It includes a plaque to one William Risden, who was a local pioneer of cable TV, and was among the first to recognize the value of Black Mt. for radio transmission. If he could only see it now.
The Author resting on the William Risden plaque
This is coal country, and you see and feel it everywhere. The mountain topping operations were in full view and operation across the valley, but did not photograph well on a dark and foggy day. I did get a couple of shots of coal seams in the sedimentary rocks in the road cut.
A thin seam of King Coal off Rt. 160
We did not tarry long at the summit, and headed south at full throttle to Nashville, and the end of the Great Southern Highpoints Tour of 2011.