Well, it was an awesome trip. We ended up getting shuttled to Elk Garden as to not have to leave a car, but in hindsight, Massie Gap would have been the better place to be to not have to reply on a shuttle and for ease of being able to bug-out if an alternate route is taken.
So, the weather...wow. Although air temps warmed up the second day throughout the day, the overnight low where we camped on day 1 was zero right on the money and good strong winds. We were about 0.8 north of Thomas Knob at about 5500'. The last mile to the campsite at 5000-6000' was tough ice-breaking and tough route-finding!
We were tired but plenty warm over the first night. Shelter and sleep systems worked fine.
We expected the cold...what we really didn't expect was the amount of icy crust that had frozen over the 12-18" of snow due to the 30-40mph winds the day before. It slowed us WAY down and we didn't make NEARLY the progress we expected on the second day. Every step was like kicking steps...crunch through the ice to get to the snow so that you had real traction. Kahtoola ice spikes would have been nice to have for some of the sections! We were breaking trail most of the way...hard work!
Also, route-finding was surprisingly tough because every blaze on a rock or tree was covered with rime ice!
Here are a few pics
Day 1 ascending to Mt. Rogers from Elk Garden:
Day 2 morning sky and views:
We brought high gaiters on MRO's recommendation...and were glad we did-here's my hiking partner in the snow for scale:
The ponies didn't care:
You can see the layer of ice reflecting in the sun:
Toward Massie Gap:
What a place! I'll definitely be back again! I updated my final gear list back at the top of the first post to reflect everything I ended up bringing.