Monday, June 27, 2011

Grayson Highlands Trip

Dad & I took a trip to the Grayson Highlands for a three day, two night walk. We started at the state park just over the Virginia line and planned a 25 mile loop. Our past several trips have been mileage intense so this walk was designed to take it easy. We were celebrating my dad's 70th & Father's Day so there was no need to pop off big miles.

The Highlands are famous for the ponies but the views are spectacular as well and are a great change of pace from the dense growth typical of the lower elevations of the Appalachians.

Great views constantly along the AT connector, AT & Crest Trail
Wildflowers everywhere

A rocky outlook at the AT - Crest Trail connection
More wildflowers
We walked out to the AT then to the Crest trail after an eventual (& unintended) detour on Spring Trail. We planned short miles and the walking was relatively easy so the extra miles weren't a big deal. Dad almost managed to become close friends with this guy. He was non-poisonous but it still gets your attention at that second you almost step on a snake.

The trails in the area aren't marked that well so we eventually found our way to the Crest Trail and our first night's camp after 10 miles or so. I learned that I'm not a big fan of walking trails that are dual purpose horse trails. The flies, pies and lack of sleep had me ready to sit down and relax. 

It wasn't long before we were greeted by the famous ponies. They were fun to watch and VERY curious thanks to all those before us that gave them snacks. We had to politely invite them to find another camp several times.

Prancing along... this is my meadow!
The ponies were certain that dad had pony snacks in his bag
Home Sweet Home
What we didn't expect to see came over the rise next - free range long horn cattle. There were a dozen or so of them. They were as curious as the ponies - just much larger and with lots more horn! They were determined that they were going to bed down right on top of us so we had to herd them back down the hill several times. Cows are stubborn but calm.

We woke up early the next day, took care of breakfast and hit the trail in hopes of missing possible storms. The walk from our camp to Wise Shelter on the AT was very short (~5-7 miles). After getting there it was exactly as expected - a little dirty, lots of flies and almost as many people. We decided to find a more comfortable camp site. After a short search we found a great spot in hardy grass under a tree. There were still a lot of flies but the pesky hikers were nowhere to be found.


My MLD Grace Solo & Caldera / Trapper combo
Dad prefers the Shires Tarptent Contrail
It didn't take long at all before a localized thunderstorm rolled in. It was a monster with HEAVY rain and reported 60mph gusts. One of the nice things about having a tarp is that you can invite a buddy to hang out in a pop up storm like this one so dad and I just hung out. One of the bad things about a tarp is that you're directly on the ground when heavy storms dump water so fast it runs across the top. It wasn't long before there was a 1cm deep flow running under the tarp. It wasn't a big deal but it was good for a chuckle with two 6ft 180lb guys huddled under a Grace Solo. As soon as there was a break in the storm we took all of our gear (except shelters) to the Wise Shelter to find 7 other people and a dog there. Eventually, it filtered down to us and four other people. With strong winds still in the area and having never actually used an AT shelter we decided to call it a night there. Honestly, I can't recommend it. Noisy people + stone hard floor + someone deciding that solar powered outdoor lights attached to their pack should burn all night (yes that actually happened) = a bad night's sleep. The best part? The lady who carried the lights was truly puzzled on how to lighten her load and make it to 10 miles per day for the next 21 days. This is absolutely no insult to her - just proof that UL walking needs more exposure! As a side note I was able to make it through this whole trip with no perceived need for three entire solar powered yard light systems. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing. ;)
The next day we walked out from Wise Shelter back to the park via the AT. Again, it was a pretty short day. We were out early since hard floors make for early mornings. 

Smiling because we ALMOST missed this connector with rain threatening
We did run into some NORMAL wildlife on this trip
There isn't a trail in the area that isn't littered with stones
We were back to the trail head by 8am (I told you it was an early start) and the 4 hour drive home went quickly. All things said, it was a great trip. I did a lot of new gear testing on this trip so keep a watch for those reports later this week.

1 comment:

  1. It can be a real bummer when you get out there to get away from everybody, and they're still there!!! I'm just glad one of those longhorns didn't make you it's wife. Good trip report.

    -- Ian