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

20 thoughts on “Day 42: Grayson Highlands

  1. Co-worker Jeff Elston shared your blog with the hiking group here and I enjoy reading about your adventures every morning! Question for you: what’s your power supply like? Seems like you use your phone enough that you may recharge every day or two. Are you carrying a power pack or using solar panels? Is cell coverage pretty spotty out there? Do you notice some people’s carriers getting better coverage than others?
    Happy hiking!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Breanna, thanks for following! Verizon has the best coverage, and although right now is the worst I’ve seen … there is always a few places a day it grabs full LTE service. Most of the time you have at least Extended 1x service (which works for phone calls, but not much else).

      Listening to music while I hike, writing my blog at night, and calling my wife from time to time uses up about 70% battery per day. I bring a 10,000 amp battery charger which can recharge my phone 4-5 times. I’ve yet to run out of juice.

      Solar panels won’t work, you rarely have direct sunlight contact. It’s either cloudy or tree covered. Don’t get one.

      Since I stay in a hostel about once every 4-6 days, I’ve been able to recharge enough. Hope that all helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Every day I enjoy reading about your adventures. This day sounded Awesome! Thanks for sharing with all of us that wish we were out there.

    Like

  3. It does sound like a wonderful day – unexpected hot food prepared by others, wild ponies, great companionship, and blue skies. How could it get any better (we know, of course, it could simply be worse :).
    Great to hit that 500 mile marker – sort of like finally cresting Stony Indian and discover they now have a hot tub on top :). Be well, keep horsing around!
    xxx
    mom & dad

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been following you since the beginning. Thank you for making the trail come alive for me. I’m going to try to thru hike next year with my dog. How have your dog encounters been? Any insights? I’m glad you’re writing this, wonder how being so connected with technology while out in the wild affects the experience. I’m 58, and remember when we’d go off into the Alligash or to the Boundary Waters and not see or speak to another soul for 2 weeks. Does every one have a phone out There now?

    Keep hiking your hike and writing for all of us living vicariously thru you! Janice

    Like

  5. Um yes we are going back as a family to visit these ponies. I never would have known this magic existed and now I shall never be satisfied until I pet wild ponies all day long. Hiking? I mean, we could also hike. But you could also just leave me with the ponies 🙂 ponies!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Neiman! Gucci Girl here. We are so glad that we met you guys and are part of your AT experience, and hopefully that will always be a fond memory for you as you recall this blessed experience for all of your days.
    I am falling in love with your writing, as it makes me feel as if I’m there and can picture it the way I want to rather than through a cameras view.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the ponies, it’s an amazing experience and one that most people rarely get.
    Be safe and enjoy every minute. Thank you for taking time out of your days to bring us along!
    Gucci Girl and Grumpy

    Liked by 1 person

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