Twig Adventures

AT Day 82: Grayson Highland Ponies

Thursday Oct 14th 2021, 0640-1730 
Trimpi Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter, SOBO AT mm 1694
25.3 miles
6190 gain, 3715 loss

The famous Grayson Highland ponies were on order for this day. We’d been singing and telling stories for days about how we’d catch one to ride all the way to Georgia…just as a joke of course. We’d worked out a pretty catchy tune. But first we had to do our usual hiker things of getting ready and walking in the dark. The poor guy in the shelter, who was left wondering how on earth we all got in so late, only to be up at 5 am packing. I’m sorry to say that we disturbed his 12 hours of sleep but we thrus got to spend the 12 hours of daylight hiking…which means everything else happens in the dark.

Two flip-floppers, Whippoorwill and DEFCON, who were in a tent overnight joined us in our noise-making. They had breakfast at the picnic table and left promptly at 6 am, just in time to clear the spider webs for us. The section hiker awoke from his 12 hour slumber long enough to mutter in the most passive-aggressive tone, “Well, I guess everyone’s awake now.” To which we all happily nodded in agreement, until he went back to sleep, resuming his continuous snoring. We delayed our start a bit to wait for the light. We had planned a somewhat shorter day to allow for some pony time.

The morning hiking wasn’t too notable. We stopped at a shelter for a privy break, talking to a few section hikers. One took our pony story a little too seriously, boldly stating that they belong to the federal government so it would be a crime, like stealing mail. We’d have the FBI or CIA after us if we took one. The pony police. We kept going with it, saying we’d just go online to apply for a permit or something. GSA would have some paperwork to fill out. Surely there was a process for appropriating a pony legally. Good fun was had by all.

We climbed and climbed, reaching over 5000′ for the first time in months. It didn’t feel like much. We came to the Scales, a large open field with jeep trail access. The area was crawling with people…some from 4x4s, 2 on horses, backpackers and day hikers. A guy in a jeep was eager to help us out by giving us cold water and taking our trash, so nice. We petted the horses and joked that we’d finally found the ponies… they were saddled and ready to be ridden! At least we got to pet some form of equine. The riders were really impressed by our hiking abilities…but they must have quietly wondered how we didn’t know the difference between a horse and pony.

We walked up to a ridge, past a herd of longhorn cattle to have lunch. Some of the cows were really close to the trail, intimidating with their big horns. Having such an extensive history with cows and hiking, they didn’t scare me and I didn’t bother them. We paused briefly to let a calf catch up with its mother, lest she become anxious. We also passed our first pony, a rather sickly and old looking nag off by itself. We immediately deemed it too tired and slow, leaving it alone. We needed young chipper steeds for our adventures.

We settled into a beautiful field with rock chairs for lunch, enjoying a view of the sudden explosion of Fall colors on the hillside. At this elevation, we’d suddenly entered peak leaf peeping season. There were no cows near us when we stopped but I told Mud, just watch, they’ll come our way. Sure enough, within 10 minutes, the herd started grazing right past our position. We stayed put, calmly eating while a bull (no horns) strolled by just 10 feet away. I had flashbacks to my bull experience camping in Florida but this time he made no noise and just kept grazing past us. All the cows ignored us except for one bossy betty… there’s always one. She walked straight up to me, putting her head down and giving me that stare I know isn’t good. “What?” I said, putting my hands up in the air. “I’m not doing anything but sitting here eating beef jerky, minding my own business…you came up to us!” I didn’t really have any other move but I guess this was enough to call her bluff. She moved over over to Mud, giving him the same stare… probably for his jokes about wanting a burger, then kept going. It was just a reminder “don’t even think about trying to pet one of us.” We watched some adorable calves go by next but were well warned not to get any ideas. At least we got to watch some entertaining cow TV for lunch.

A lady with a German Shepherd came by. I thought the dog would be going crazy over the cows and she was, just in an absolutely terrified kind of way. The lady couldn’t drag her past the herd…in fact she got loose and ran over to us to take refuge. It was hilarious…a Shepherd afraid of cows. I told the dog that she was a disgrace to wolves. She looked shamed. Dogs have feelings, I’m sure of it.

We finally moved on, descending back into some trees. The day dragged and I had to take a break for a dip in a stream. I stripped off most of my clothes to give them a good rinsing, not caring that other hikers were all about. Mud kept going so I had to play catch-up. The trail climbed for 4 miles through more fields and boulder areas along Wilburn ridge. It was really a cool area and you guessed it, full of ponies. It was also full of tourists all gathered around the ponies. I didn’t feel like standing in line for a petting, so I just kept walking past the attractions. I climbed on top some boulders for some fantastic shots. The colors were so spectacular. I couldn’t believe we’d timed our visit so perfectly.

I caught up to Mud just before reaching the shelter, our planned destination for the day. We compared pony notes… he’d had one lick his legs…they like the salt. I’d just washed off all my salt…ooops. We went down to a spring to collect water and here came 3 ponies. They were also getting water so we had a little meet and greet, all to ourselves. Mostly they ate grass while we scratched their necks and loved on them. I took a ton of pictures, getting some really good ones of Mud and a paint pony. He was either a really young stallion or was gelded, as he was super chill.

Have you hugged a pony today?

The other 2 ponies were nice too, just not as photogenic. The funny thing is, there are signs everywhere warning people that the ponies are wild and should not be petted. Of course, a few people have been bitten and kicked. But I grew up with horses and know their mannerisms, what to watch out for when they get a little anxious. I’d seen broke horses that were more dangerous than these guys and just look at the size of them. We quickly decided they were just too small for us to ride, so we settled for hugs. It was such a fun time and lovely ending to the day.

After, we moved our stuff into the loft of the double-story shelter, which was warm and inviting. Then we cooked dinner on the rocks overlooking the sunset on Mt Rogers, highest peak in VA at 5729′. What a fantastic spot…probably my best campsite this whole trail. The ponies lived up to the hype for sure. Even if the day didn’t end with a ride into the sunset, it still ended with a phenomenal sunset.

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