Who thinks about camping Memorial Day weekend in December? This girl! Right after I registered for #ECSUT; I made reservations for both Grayson Highlands State Park (Mount Rogers) and Spruce Knob. Why? Well, those two are the closest highest points near me. Training at 0 feet isn’t exactly conducive when your race is going to be at 8k feet (plus). Granted it also isn’t 8k feet, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Grayson Highlands State Park is known as the gateway to Mount Rogers, but they are more famously known for their ponies. I’ve read oodles and oodles of blog posts about how the ponies are getting rather aggressive because people are feeding and petting them. (I will get to that.)
My dear sweet friend TennisGirl came along. The plan had been that we would do Mount Rogers the first day and then do six hours the next day. She is an experienced hiker and backpacker and was game for just about anything. I was super stoked. Right up until I checked the weather. It was going to potentially be a major suckfest. Every day we checked the weather it changed. We decided to play the gamble and go anyway. Saturday looked gorgeous, but Sunday and Monday were less likely. Worst case we got out there and came home early (spoiler alert; we did just that.)
Saturday morning we got up super early, because, well, birds. We got coffee and food into us and headed down the road by 830. The plan had been to do the 8 miles of Rogers and then tack a bit more on. Um, yeah, about that. Tactical error on our part when we walked all the way to the trailhead from the campground vice driving up to the trailhead. Well, we did say we were going to tack on a bit more mileage. Oops.
It took us a bit to find exactly the trailhead we needed, but eventually we were on our way. Early in the morning the only folks that we saw on the AT were the through hikers. Everyone was super chipper and said good morning. That was so refreshing. As we started climbing the first ridge we saw our first group of ponies. I was pretty excited as I am the girl who went all the way to Denali and didn’t see squat for animals.
We we pushed on down the trail I was absolutely gobsmacked by just how gorgeous everything was. I can only imagine what it will be like in a couple of weeks when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Or better yet when all of those raspberry and blueberry bushes we saw are in full fruit!
We picked up the Mount Rogers spur and made our way to the top. As others have stated the summit is rather under whelming. There isn’t even a sign marking the summit, just the USGS marker which is really easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. We stopped for a quick photo, turned around and started back down. As we were coming back down TennisGirl was walking with an Air Force active duty guy who was TDY to the East Coast. I over heard him comment to her, “You know, I want to open up her (referring to me) pack and check for a drum and sticks, she’s like the Energizer Bunny.” Snicker. Ah yes, Mountain Pony strikes again!
Making out way north on the AT there were more and more day hikers on the trail. What scares me more; however, was the number of day hikers we saw on the trail not carrying any water at all. As I saw those folks I tried to warn them that it wasn’t a good idea, but they seemed disinterested in hearing it. Yikes! As we came through the last gate heading back towards Massie Gap (and the campground) we saw ~15 people petting and feeding the ponies. Ugh. Ironically, right in front of the “Do not feed or pet the animals” sign. As we were walking away two of the ponies decided to get into a squealing and kicking match with each other freaking out of the people. I couldn’t resist, I yelled over my shoulder, “Yes, because they are WILD ANIMALS.” Ugh.
By the time we returned to camp we had done five hours 56 minutes and 11.85 miles. Both TennisGirl and I both wanted to draw out that last 4 minutes and do the last .15 miles but we were both starving and food trumps even numbers every time.
Linner and a nap later she and I decided to make our way to the sunset hike. This time we drove to the trail head. Snicker. We were with a group of folks who made the trip up, um, interesting. Regardless of everyone else, in my opinion, it was TOTALLY worth it. The sky looked like a water color painting. Every time I blinked the sky changed hue again.
Even though we wound up coming home two days early, I have to say, awesome weekend. I got to finally hang out with TennisGirl. I finally broke the five hour mark on my feet. We managed to grab one of the 49 high peaks marked off (we’ve already decided Denali is off the table). Only 48 more to go!