Day 42: Grayson Highlands

Day 42. Wow today was epic. I’d go so far as to say this has been one of the highlight days of the trip thus far. Today had it all … blue skies, calm winds, high peaks, trail magic, trail legends, and the damn coolest ponies you’ll ever see. I want to talk about those amazing ponies, as they were a clear highlight, but so many other great things happened today that need mention first. So let’s go in order…

Last night was colder than I expected. We had an awesome time with the fire, but when I finally curled into bed around 9:30, a chill was definitely in the air. I normally close the doors on my tarp on a cold night, to keep the cool winds at bay, but didn’t last night so felt every gust. It wasn’t a horrible sleep, but I woke from the cold more than a few times.

So getting up his morning was more difficult that originally planned. Ridge and I had hoped to be on the trail by 8am, but that time came and went and we were still curled up in our beds. So it wasn’t until around 9:15 that we finally got moving.

And the first thing we did? Climb 6 miles straight up Mount Rogers. It was a 2500 ft climb over that time, but seemed to never end. We finally summitted the peak right before, and took some great photos at a landmark called Buzzard Rocks. It was a clear Bald up there so the view was spectacular in the sun. Then we continued our climb up.

But not before passing the US Route 58 road crossing, and being met with some trail magic! Gucci Girl and Grumpy were set up with a truck grilling up pancakes and eggs, accompanied by bananas, chips, snickers, and cocoa. It was a meal fit for kings and a treat we happily accepted. In batting with Grumpy, it turns out he was a thruhiker this year, but injured hims of really bad and had to end his hike permanently. So now he and Gucci Girl drive around doing short day hikes and giving out trail magic to other hikers instead. This truly is one of the best parts of this hike, and I cannot wait to be like them some day, giving back to future thruhikers. Gandalf and The Captain and I already discussed this weeks ago actually, we’ll be doing it next year for sure.

After (slowly) departing, Ridge and I continued the final climb up Mt. Rogers. We met up with Atlas at breakfast so now he a threesome to hike with. Just before the top, we passed a southbound section hiker doing a long section to Hot Springs. In stopping to chat, it turns out he was a well-known AT community member named Odie. Odis completed his hike in 2013 and is famous for doing a Hiker Yearbook ever since. Each year, he collects photos and contact info from that year’s hiker class and publishes a hard copy yearbook of everyone. I’ve seen the previous years’ books at every hostel so far, and thought it a really neat idea. I’ll for sure be sending my photo in and buying one at the end of the year. It was really neat to meet him.

Then. Came. The Ponies.

And oh man, they were awesome. Even before reaching Grayson Highlands State Park, they were out on the trail. They would walk right up to you and happily let you pet them. They clearly are used to hikers feeding them (technically, not permitted) and gravitate towards any they see. We saw 3 early on and took a ton of photos, then continued into the park and saw a dozen more. There were big ones, small ones, baby ones, old ones, even pregnant ones and ones in heat. Yes, you could tell.

We took so many photos and leisurely hiked throughout the day to see and pet more. I’ve never seen a pony outside of a petting zoo, so it was such a marvel to me. The biggest ones were only as high as my chest, and you jut wanted to take them all home with you. Note to self, definitely coming back here with the family in the future.

The final stretch of the day was a bit of a challenge. A rocky trail with multiple scramble sections left my feet beaten and bruised. Right at the 500 mile mark, we went through a rock tunnel called “Fatman’s Squeeze”. This was exactly what it sounded like, as you carefully had to meander between 2 huge boulders (without slipping in the ice below). It was difficult and frustrating, especially since the rocky terrain didn’t give up for at least another mile.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. But because of all the excitement, we took out time. The dream of 24 miles today quickly evaporated as we stopped for our 3rd pony petting session. It was now 4pm and we still had 11 miles to go if we wanted to keep to the plan. Not enough sunlight left though, so we audibled and stopped at Wise Shelter at 17.5 miles instead. This is technically still in the Grayson a Highlands State Park, so there is a definite chance of more pony sightings over night. From other hiker stories written in this shelter’s journal book, it sounds like they do come pester you in the sleep if food is left out. I’ll let you know if that happens, but so far tonight, it’s been quiet.

Also, did I mention we hit mile 500 today? Big milestone reached! There was no number written out in the ground, so we decided to make one with the rocks.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 486.1
  • Start Time: 09:20
  • End Mile: 503.6
  • End Time: 18:40
  • Miles Hiked: 17.5
  • Miles to Go: 1687.3
  • Lodging: Wise Shelter