Virginia's Lost AT

The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed across Comer's Rock in Grayson County, Virginia (elevation 4,035'). At the time there was a U.S. Forest Service fire tower on the summit of Comer's Rock and the area had been part of the Unaka (now Jefferson) National Forest since 1920.

Like many place names along the Appalachian Trail, there is more than one version of why this summit on the Iron Mountain ridge was named "Comer's Rock." One version has it that a Civil War draft-dodger named Comer hid there to avoid his military service in the Confederacy. Another has it that the lookout simply derived its name from the many Comers who lived nearby.


This letter from Myron Avery to C.S. (Clint) Jackson, May 13, 1932, provides very useful insights into the difficulties the Appalachian Trail Conference had in scouting out a route for the trail west of the New River in the early 1930s. In the letter, Avery describes his efforts to find a route along Iron Mountain in the Houndshell Gap area between Flat Ridge and Sugar Grove. Even with the help of a local resident, Avery struggled to find a route that suited his needs.

The trail guide for this section makes it clear just how difficult the task was, because in the early 1930s, this region was still largely unmapped by the U.S. Geological Survey. Avery was relying on a military map created by Henry Lindenkohl in 1864. Iron Mountain and the surrounding area had been incorporated into the Unaka National Forest (now the Jefferson National Forest) in 1920, and Clint Jackson was the supervisor of the forest between the New River and Damascus, Virginia. In that capacity, he was instrumental in helping Avery find a route for the trail through the Unaka Forest and then helped to maintain the trail in this region for more than a decade.

ATCLT046 copy.jpg

The original route of the Appalachian Trail crossed into North Carolina on Fisher's Peak, just south of the Blue Ridge Music Center (built in 1997). This image shows the Peak in the winter of 1932 and demonstrates how different the landscape was in the 1930s, when the Peak was almost entirely free of trees. Today, it is almost entirely wooded.

The trail guide for this section of trail describes the signature feature of the hike across the Peak as the fields of massive rhododendron bushes covering the peak, a feature that helps to explain why the city of Galax (just a dozen miles northwest) held its rhododendron festival there starting in 1931.

Fisher's Peak 1.jpg

This image shows the view of Smith Mountain from the Appalachian Trail near Bent Mountain in Floyd County, Virginia. The 1940 trail guide describes the views from the summit of Smith Mountain as is section of the trail as:<br /><blockquote>Summit (3,368 ft.) affords extensive views of Roanoke and Franklin Counties; Buffalo Mtn. visible to the southwest and Peaks of Otter to the northeast. Cahas Knob is prominent on the Skyline.</blockquote>
Much of the original route of the trail in Floyd County was obliterated by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid-1930s, but this segment over Smith Mountain remained a part of the trail route -- as trail -- until the relocation of the entire trail in Southwestern Virginia in 1952.

Smith Mountain.jpg

The old route of the Appalachian Trail crossed into North Carolina on Fisher's Peak, just north of the Blue Ridge Music Center along the Blue Ridge Parkway, both of which were built much later. After passing through the resort known as Norvale Crags, the trail looped back northwest into Virginia toward Galax.

This photograph, taken by ATC Chairman Myron Avery in 1932 during one of his hikes along the old trail route, looks west along the Virginia/North Carolina line toward the New River and the Grayson Highlands in the far distance.

West From Fisher's.jpg

The view north and east from a point along the old route of the Appalachian Trail approximately two miles south of Sling's Gap.

The man in the photograph is Shirley L. Cole, the County Agent in Floyd County, and the original overseer of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia. The photograph is from ATC Chairman Myron Avery's personal scrapbooks and was taken during one of several scouting expeditions he took with Cole in the region between 1930-1932.

Below Slings Gap.jpg

This photograph taken by ATC Chairman Myron Avery shows the view of the Appalachian Trail south into North Carolina at Fisher's Peak from Fancy Gap, Virginia. This is one of many photographs of the old route of the trail taken by Avery during his numerous expeditions to this part of Virginia between 1930-1950.

AT From Fancy Gap.jpg

Hikers on the old route of the Appalachian Trail crossed the Dan River at the bottom of the Dan River Gorge, either just after descending the Pinnacles (if hiking northbound) or just before ascending the Pinnacles (if hiking southbound). This photograph from 1932 shows the river crossing as it was in the original version the trail. The creation of two dams in the Gorge required the trail's overseers to relocate the river crossing to avoid the inundation created by the dams.


The Townes Diversion Dam is one of two hydroelectric dams built in the Dan River Gorge in the late 1930s by the Danville Power Authority to generate power for the city of Danville. These two dams forced the old route of the Appalachian Trail to move to avoid the lakes created for the project, however, the trail continued to traverse the Gorge and the Pinnacles of Dan until it was relocated west in 1952.

Scan 9.jpg

The Dan River Gorge, also known as the Kibler Valley, as seen from the summit of the Pinnacles of Dan in Southwestern Virginia.

This black and white lantern slide is part of a set of promotional slides used by the Appalachian Trail Conference to promote hiking the trail beginning in the late 1930s. ATC members could borrow the slides for public presentations. This particular image was from a photograph taken by ATC Chairman Myron Avery in the early 1930s during one of his many tours of the trail in Southwestern Virginia.

The Pinnacles were regularly described by AT hikers as the single most difficult part of the hike, except perhaps the climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Gorge itself is now largely filled in by two lakes created in the late 1930s by the Danville Power Authority when they dammed the Dan River.