Up early at The Place and on the trail through Damascus. North of town, I walked on the Creeper Trail for half a mile then started climbing up Iron Mountain past rhododendrons with fist-sized magenta blossoms. Back down then up again past the turnoff to the Saunders shelter, which I skipped. After a few minor ups and downs, the Appalachian Trail descended to be Creeper Trail at 12.3 miles on the day. I could have stayed on the Creeper Trail and avoided lots of elevation gain. A 500-foot climb brought me to the Lost Mountain shelter where I stopped for a water and snack break at mile 15. After a short descent, I began a three-mile, 2000-foot climb. It seems to go on forever. But eventually I topped out on a windy summit and headed back into the forest. I intended to camp a mile later just past Whitetop Mountain, but the sites were windy and slanted. I continued on hoping to find a camp spot at Virginia Highway 600. Happily, I found a spot next to a group of former AT hikers who attended Hiker Days. I cooked spaghetti dinner with my companions as the photo shows. There's nothing like sitting in the dirt and eating straight out of the food pot. Today was unusually cold and windy. After dinner I met two day hikers who gave me some cheese and crackers. Yum! I got cold and returned to my tent. Today's miles - 23.5. Total miles - 493.0.