I wake up in Trimpi shelter, excited with anticipation. For the first time in eight days, the weather forecast does not call for rain! I’m out of the shelter early with Scudz. We’re always first out, followed shorty by Arbor, then the kid, and wolfburger sometime after them (usually an hour or so after).
It’s a cold morning, my poles send chills through my fingers as I take my first few steps. Fortunately, it’s a climb first thing this morning, and it does not take long for my body to warm up. I lose Scudz on the climb when she stops to delayer, and I’m left to myself in the forest. It’s peaceful. Like most mornings, the hills are socked in with fog/mist. It feels thin, and I doubt it will stay long. Not like the last few days, where it built into steady, cold rain.
Steadily, I climb my way up on the leaf covered path. Roots and rocks hide themselves with the colored leaves, and I pick my footsteps carefully. As I gain the ridge, I can see the mist being burnt off as the sun gains it’s strength, rising in the sky. This has been my favorite part of the entire trail, when the morning sun rises and meets the mist that blankets the woods every morning. The battle lasts only a few minutes today; the mist is thin, as I expected. Days of light shoot between the branches of the trees, illuminating the moisture in the air. I don’t hesitate to stop and marvel at the beautiful display. I try taking some pictures, but they just don’t do it justice. The forest and lighting is hard to photograph. It’s not like the pct, where the landscapes are just sitting there for you, easily captured. Here, in the eastern woods, there is much texture and depth in every view that only the human eye can decipher. I wait for Scudz to share the moment, which comes and goes so quickly. On one side of the ridge, the fog is bright, and quickly being burnt off. The trees are illuminated and the colors of the leaves are beginning to show. Down the other side of the ridge, darkness still covers the forest, and the mist hides the details, blurring the distant oaks and maples. I think to myself of just how lucky I am. Lucky to be here, so fortunate to see this, and so happy that there is sun. Finally, sun!
Scudz and I hike through the forest in silence, occasionally breaking it with comments on the blue sky, and how the sun feels on our faces. But mostly, we listen. The birds are out, clearly as excited about the sun as we are. The birds sing, and the colorful leaves crunch under our feet as we make our way over, down, and around the brightly lit mountains.
Today is an exciting day – one we have all been looking forward to for some time. We are getting to Greyson highlands, home of the wild ponies! Arbor and Scudz have been geeking out for so long about this. Even the kid and wolfburger are noticeably excited.
The first 14 miles are quick. It’s simple; hike then fast, and spend more time with ponies. We stop at a shelter until wolfburger arrives. We want to hike through this all together. As we sit at the shelter, arbor grabs the rake from the privy and starts raking the leaves into a giant pile. He and Scudz have been excitedly talking about playing in a pile of leaves for quite some time. Scudz runs over and jumps in. “Yes!” We laugh as they throw leaves in the air, so happy to be in a pile of leaves. The Kid turns to look at me, “and I’m ‘the kid'” he says.
Nope, we’re all kids out here.
Eventually we reach the top of pine mountain, at 5,000 feet, it’s the highest I’ve been on the AT this year, having started in southern New Hampshire. Arbor and I decide this is an occasion worthy of a jumping high five (we’re extremely liberal on viewing this as worthy of this celebration, but this one seems extra fitting). Arbor looks at wolfburger and I excited, and I know what’s coming before he says it.
“5,000 feet Wolfie, jumping high five trio!” He yells out. We all jump and nail the triple high five. Ron Burgundy would be proud.
We’re greeted at the summit to sweeping views of bare mountains. Colorful grass covers them, bare trees scattered here and there. Large rock outcroppings top several of the mounds. We have yet to see anything like this. It reminds me a lot of the foothills of the Rockies back at home, in Denver. It’s beautiful.
We walk by some open lands, and soon I hear a yell from someone above, “ponies!!!! PONIES!!!”
Pure joy on everyone’s face. We race ahead to see them, taking eleventy billion pictures, smiling, and of course, sharing many jumping high fives. Why are there wild ponies here, on these high mountains in Virginia? I have no idea. But it’s both amazing and totally silly to see.
“I keep imagining Gimli riding on the pony to mordor,” arbor says to us, “I want to ride a pony to springer.”
The rest of the day is slow and beautiful. We climb on balds, go through a narrow crevasse between two rocks known as ‘the fat man squeeze’, and prance with the ponies.
Wolfburger says that Virginia might be his favorite state. Arbor claims it’s a tie between Maine and Virginia. Surely, for me, Virginia has been my most memorable, and today has been it’s best day yet.
Wolfburger and the kid stop at a shelter just before sunset. It’s busy with weekenders, and it’s the first nice night in so long; no way I’m sleeping in a shelter. Scudz, arbor and I keep trekking into the sunset (literally, not figuratively), climbing mount Rogers. It’s Virginias highest point. Some people collect, or try to climb, all of the state high points. Even though it’s off trail, I like collecting the high points, and want to get them all over time. It’s a goofy thing, really. Many of the peaks aren’t even peaks. Many have no views or are just boring climbs. That’s the fun in it, in my eyes. It makes for funny adventures, and this one fits the bill. The summit is completely forested. No views, nothing ‘special’ about it. Feels just like the rest of the trail we’ve travelled. I plank on the summit, since I totally missed out on that fad 5 years ago. It’s my 7th state high point, I believe. Not many, but I’m hoping to get several when I drive from Denver to Michigan and back for Christmas. It’ll make the most exciting and scenic road trip even more exciting.
“I can’t wait to get Iowa’s high point!” I tell arbor.
“It’s likely a garbage dump, you’ll love it!” He responds.
The three of us descend the mountain and find a good place to cowboy, sheltered from the wind. We snack on Oreos, beef jerky, cheese, and bread. Scudz reads us some chapters from the two towers, and I go to bed dreaming of Gimli riding the ponies of Greyson highlands…
Some pictures trying to show the morning mist. Note how in one photo from the ridge, the left of the picture shows a dark forest, and the right side is bright, as the sun burns it up. I loved the contrast!