Saturday, February 13, 2016

Number 6 - Grayson Highlands

Trail: The Appalachian Trail + side trail to get to AT
Ranking: number 6
Where: Grayson Highlands, VA
When: July 2013
Cost: Daily usage fee is $4 on a weekday and $5 on the weekend.
Who: The same good friend (the PE teacher) from my number 7 hike, and her good friend.

This hike could be titled the “The Hike That Wasn’t Suppose to Be.” 

On our first day (just out of two) at Grayson Highlands State park we had sent up camp (car camping) in the campground and decided to go for a small hike. We could see thunderclouds in all directions and assumed this hike wouldn’t be long. We planned on a much longer hike the following day.

 However, we just kept going! I can’t remember if we were going north or south on the AT, but we were at one of the most gorgeous points along its long route from Georgia to Maine.

Later that night, (I swear the calm before a storm that I only hear when camping is the spookiest thing) the rain started. Lightening lit up my tent, but the thunder always sounded miles and miles away. The next morning it was still raining! Not a drizzle or a steady rain, but a continued heavy torrential downpour. We finally decided to pack up and go home – we had only planned on staying one night anyway.

So, it was a good thing we got as much out of hiking/camping the first day.

We could tell by all the fresh leaves down in the forest that a big storm had recently blown through.

The side trail to the Appalachian Trail.
Do you see the profile of a face?

 The terrain was low shrubs, rocky paths, huge meadows of grass to stretch out in, and huge boulders, which my friend loved to play on. She may be twenty years older than I, but she is an avid rock climber. She enthusiastically takes on any rock climbing challenge – even the kind where you clip yourself to the rock as you go along. She taught me to climb when I was in my 20s, but I never got back into it after Alaska. Another word about this person: She hiked Mt. Whitney when she was going through the chemo/radiation process! I can barely climb my stairs. She is now cancer free. Last year she attempted the famous cable route in Yosemite but was turned around due to a thunderstorm.

 She is a lot of fun to hike and camp with, especially when we play phase 10.

Anyway, back to the hike. As if the greenery and rocks and the whole “middle earth” feeling wasn’t enough, people often encounter wild ponies while hiking this part of the AT!

Well . . . hello.

 Some will come up to you, but most don’t. They can have a powerful kick, so I passed with caution. Sometimes even the friendly looking ones will change moods in seconds. The ponies looked a little like donkies, so we called them ponkies.

Another note about this hike: it was my first time I hiked over 2 miles since having Brycen. I was not in the shape I once was. Other than this hike, and hiking the strenuous mountain at Crowders, I did no other hiking between giving birth and being diagnosed with cancer. I was so busy, a little depressed, and then eventually too sick to even think about my next “big thing.”

But that day in Virginia, everything just happened to go right. The trail wasn’t too crowded, but neither were we alone (something that spooks me out). There was a slight wind keeping the bugs away, and keeping temperatures in the 60s. The cloud formations, and their shadows over the hills were gorgeous. Every time we turned a corner there was something new and beautiful. I was the one who actually said, “if we are going to do a major hike tomorrow, then we need to turn around and get back.” I had no idea the weather forecast would be completely wrong, but I don’t regret it. It was a great hike. 

By the way, from pictures I have seen, this park is gorgeous in the autumn. 

Turn a corner and this is your view!

Sidenote. That night, during the calm before the storms, we experimented with S'mores:

Question: Would you ever thru hike a long trail solo? Obviously you would make friends along the way, but would you set out solo? I used to think I could at least do the AT -  their shelters are famous for being TOO crowded with people. But honestly, I don't think I ever had the guts, even if it was just for a few weeks doing a partial section. Sometimes I would get spooked on the AT just doing a solo day hike! Could you do it, solo?


  1. I'm with you on the spooky aspect of being completely alone. Any time I've camped in the backcountry (with Sly) it felt as if every creak and sound in the night was amplified by 10.

    I used to want to thru hike the AT but after reading several accounts of the sweaty smelly crowded facilities/shelters I thought to myself no way. Nature for me is a way to get away from people not be stuffed like sardines in a cabin. I think I would prefer to hike the AT in segments during the off-season or at least when the section isn't so crowded.

    On the other hand I have backpacked around Europe and Costa Rica alone. It's not the same but I found that even someone as introverted as myself craved and welcomed company on those trips. So maybe that would be the case on a solo backpacking multi-day hike.

  2. Wild ponies?! Oh man, I have got to do this hike. Adding it to my list!

    As for thru-hiking solo - I have so many thoughts as I'm reading Carrot's book. Can't wait to discuss!


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