July 9, just north of Wise Shelter
Maggie woke me with a wet nose and an eagerly wagging tail at 5:30 am this morning, and before long we were up and moving. We efficiently cooked and ate our oatmeal and broke camp, and soon began our hike through Elk Garden, over the hill where the cows had been he evening before. During the night they had moved up into a higher area. The watched us lazily as we passed.
The “highlands,” including Grayson Highlands State Park, are breathtaking in their beauty: Green mountains covered in low grass and shrubs, dotted with evergreen trees now and then, and topped with rock outcroppings big enough for whole families…even groups of families…to climb. The mountains were covered in rhododendron, and, higher up, in grass, blackberry, and blueberry bushes. All the berries were green, much to our disappointment. I was strongly reminded Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire.
The really fun part of today was the wild ponies that inhabit the balds. The first one we saw was an older male that was standing perpendicular to the trail, completely blocking the way through the brushy growth that formed 3-foot walls on each side of the path. This pony was injured, and had a large gash on one hind leg, which he was favoring. Maggie was beside herself with this newly discovered kind of creature. Not wanting to risk a kick, we managed to bushwhack our way around him as he had no intention of moving for us. (The little guy pictured at the right was just a baby, and healthy-looking as could be).
All told, the girls counted 23 ponies today, including quite a few foals. The foals were SO precious. Some were tamer than others, and the girls did pet them a bit, but later we saw a sign asking us not to. The last group we saw was the most wary. One adult watched us as we passed, and that seemed to be his or her job in the herd. When we got a bit too close as the trail turned toward where they were grazing, they moved off, with the one sentry holding back and watching.
So much of today we were out in the sun. I joked that it was a good thing the scenery was so beautiful and the ponies so fun, because the relentless sun and rocky footing were proving pretty uncomfortable. Without the views and ponies, there would be no point. Despite more than one liberal application of sunblock, some of us were sporting pink and tender skin by the end of the day.
At 11 AM we stopped for lunch at the Thomas Knob shelter after four miles of hiking. Lunch was cheese, crackers, and pepperoni. We (mostly I, as I am the worrier!) are now a tiny bit worried about having enough of the right kind of food for the second half of our hike. Half of the crackers (lunch food) are gone and we’ve broken into the aged Gouda (YUM!). Mostly it’s snacks we’re short on, as the GORP is nearly gone. We underestimated the amount of breakfast we’d want, and have ended up eating snacks to round out our breakfasts enough to feel satisfied when we leave camp. I think if we cook some of the extra dinner food for lunch we should be able to eat some of the lunch food for snacks?
The best parts about this trip so far include those obvious to backpacking – taking exercise in the mountain air and being surrounded by ferns, moss, trees, rocks, mountains, deer, and ponies. On a more personal note, Maggie has been an excellent hiking dog. And I’ve really had fun with our family together. We have laughed a LOT.
I have missed conversation with Scott as the usual hiking order is Maya with Maggie (Maya has been so caring and responsible for her!), Scott, Azaria, and then me. We all get up and go to bed at the same time so there’s no adult conversation to be had. Still, we’re doing great. Tonight is hump night…after tonight, 4 nights down and 3 to go. Hiking days are half done and we’re at about 34 miles, I think.