The Grayson Highlands state park is one of those locations that hikers look forward to for weeks or months. You hear about its beauty and uniqueness long before it appears on your weekly itinerary. The boundaries of the park begin about 30 miles north of Damascus (via trail). The evening before we reached the park, we had just rejoined the AT from the Virginia Creeper Trail and had found an empty shelter for us to take over. Unfortunately shelters have become smaller and less accommodating as the trail makes its way north, so when we find one that is unoccupied (this happens right next to never), we will usually jam our poles into the ground like a flag into undiscovered soil and begin vying for the best slabs of sleeping realestate. The majority of the shelters that we see now are built for 6-8 persons. Seeing as we have accumulated a herd of sometimes 10 or more hikers, finding space inside shelters for everyone is frankly impossible and has happened only a couple of times further south where shelters are built for volume. Normally very few of the hikers in team Tuesday (celebrate Tuesdays, it's liberating) enjoy sleeping in shelters unless it's raining. I personally can't stand sleeping in a 3 walled hut with 10 other people's brand of body odor and a full on orchestra of snoring and fartng. But I'll do it if it keeps my tent dry (a wet tent is the ultimate piss off). As it were, the rain had just begun to fall as we stumbled across this deserted (and magically clean) shelter that was the perfect size to fit the 8 of us.
In the morning... Rain. Again. It has become routine for us to be rained on during what are supposed to be highlights of the trail. Rain aside, the highlands are definitely magnificent. They are more reminiscent of Scotland than Virginia. Massive rock formations jut out from the earth every couple hundred yards and the hills are completely devoid of trees. The trail itself weaves over the giant boulders and through the shoulder-high shrubs creating a bit of an obstacle course. Adding to the curiosity of this island of misfit terrain is the presence of wild ponies. I discovered them for the first time by literally bumping into one. They tend to bed in the shrubs since this is the only cover the highlands provides and with your head down and your headphones in, well.... I almost knocked the little guy over. Rob Was challenged by one of the larger horses and he decided it best to chase the animal through one of the giant clearings. I am still moderately depressed I didn't see this spectacle.
In the process of normalizing the pony threat, Rob and Rooster found themselves back on what they believed to be the AT. The highlands are one of those places where trails run everywhere and because of the openness the intersections can be confusing. The AT is constantly being worked on and re-routed. At this particular junction, the OLD AT happen to be nearby and this was the trail they found themselves on. The old AT cuts off about 8.5 miles from that hike and rejoins with the 2013 AT about 2.5 miles down the way. Having arrived at a landmark about two and a half hours early, they realized their "mistake". At this point they would have had to assume that the rest of us would take the correct trail leaving me with a few extra hours on their hands. So what do good outdoorsmen do when they have extra time to kill?they go to town and get beer. Being that it was these particular two hikers, they ended up getting a bit more than we needed. Arriving back in the woods an hour or so later, Rob and Rooster came bearing 60 beers, 2 bottles of mad dog 20/20 and 3 large pizzas. Sometimes we really gotta rough it out here...
With some members of the team more tired than others (some carrying 20 pounds of beer and food, some having hiked 6 more miles than others) we picked a random stealth camp cite (cite that's unmarked, probably an area where camping isnt permitted) and had a little fiesta. Tip: to keep sealed items cold where there is no ice or refrigeration, create a circle of rocks in the creek so that nothing can escape but so cold water is still passing through the ring of rocks.
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