Monday, June 22, 2015

Day 41: Mount Rogers and Grayson Highlands

April 17: Once again, the morning’s weather was looking good and I decided to continue hiking onwards to take advantage of the nice weather while it lasted. Amanda and I checked out of our hotel—largely because the nightly rates would spike from $50/night to $150/night for the next two days due to some sort of race car event just down the road in Bristol during the weekend. Instead, we reserved a spot at a B&B in Damascus which was not only half the rate than hotels along the Interstate provided, but also closer to the trail I’d be hiking. =)

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However, Amanda pretty much wiped out whatever we would save on our hotel by getting a speeding ticket along the way. She was clocked going 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. Oops! I didn’t have to get back on the trail that quickly!

Amanda dropped me back off on the trail from where she picked me up barefooted, and off I went. The highlights today included Mount Rogers (the highest point in Virginia) and the Grayson Highlands (wild ponies!). The trail for much of the day, however, was absolutely awful. Large sections of it were covered with water and had streams running down them, and large rocks in the trail slowed hikers down.

The very top of Mount Rogers is about a half-mile off the Appalachian Trail on a blue-blazed trail and there’s really no reason to go up there except to brag that you’ve been to the high point of Virginia. The top of Virginia is in a thick forest with no views, and being located in a wilderness area, it seems very unlikely there will ever be views unless a major wildfire blew through the area and cleared it of the trees. I didn’t even need the bragging right to go up there—I did it during my first thru-hike! But I went up anyhow just to get photos for Walking 4 Fun. All in a day’s work. =)

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At the top I met a couple of day hikers who, as it turned out, had no idea that they were at the highest point in Virginia until I told them. This amused me to no end—this trail probably wouldn’t have existed except that it was the high point of the state, and they had no idea why it would lead to a dead-end at the top of a mountain with no views. We discussed high points for a bit and shared stories of other high points we had visited. I asked them if they’d been to Clingman’s Dome—it’s a huge tourist draw and not that far away. They had been, and neither had realized that it was the high point in Tennessee. They seem to make a habit of hitting high points without even knowing it!

The Grayson Highlands, however, made up for the lack of views on Mount Rogers. Not only did much of the trail contain wonderful views, but it also included herds of wild ponies roaming the countryside. I didn’t see any until near the end of my hike when I spotted half a dozen of them wandering around and eating grass. One day hiker who had left his pack unattended while he chased after a pony taking photos didn’t see another pony that started poking at the unattended pack—presumably looking for food. People aren’t supposed to feed the ponies, but they were clearly used to people around and definitely thought we had some food!

The one other thing I would note—the number of day hikers and weekend backpackers skyrocketed throughout this section. The fact that it was a beautiful weekend probably contributed to the hoards of people, but I found it somewhat distressing. I don’t go into the wilderness to see hoards of people, and they were everywhere! And not just a couple of them here and there, but often times in large groups of a dozen people. I passed by multiple such groups of Boy Scouts. Not that I have a problem with Boy Scouts in general, but I’d grown accustomed to the trail being a solo endeavor and the sheer numbers of people wandering around started to grate on my nerves. Too… many… people…

My new shoes worked out well enough. If I had one complaint about them, it was that they weren’t waterproof. After having so little rain and mud on the trail thus far, I decided that I didn’t need the waterproof shoes anymore and—of course—that’s when the mud and water would begin to plague the trail! So my feet were quite wet at the end of the day, despite the lack of rain. Hopefully that wouldn’t continue…

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I’d been told during my hike on the Long Trail that these tubes stretching out between the trees was for collecting maple syrup! Looks like they’re doing some collecting in these forests too!

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Not much to see at the top of Mount Rogers!

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The high point of Virginia was marked with this. I don’t know who left the shell behind, but it made me think of the Camino and perhaps someone who had just hiked it left it behind. =)

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Here the trail runs through this small “cave.” See the blaze on the tree? That’s the official route! But it is possible to go around the side rather than through if you’re feeling claustrophobic.

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I’m halfway through the cave, now heading back out to the sunlight.

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I saw these rocks on the side of the trail and thought, “Sooo… what?” It wasn’t until the next day when I looked at my photos on the computer when I realized it was 500 and represented the 500th mile of the Appalachian Trail. I’m so blazĂ© about miles now-a-days, I hadn’t even realized I had walked through the 500-mile mark until long after I had passed it! It’s just 500 miles, after all. It’s not that big of deal!

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Ponies! Wild ponies!

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This is the guy who left his pack unattended and later found another pony sniffing around at it.

2 comments:

Debbie St.Amand said...

I've backpacked on Mount Rogers, and the ponies got into my pack and stole food!

Crystal R said...

Beautiful! I would like to see the ponies one day