Pony Watch

Day 125

Partnership Shelter is a large, 16 person structure with a enclosed upstairs loft.  We enjoyed the cozy space all to ourselves save for the mouse who worked on building his nest all night. While we’re not looking forward to daylight savings, one of positives will be not getting up in the dark.  We were on trail at 7:45AM as the sun rose through the trees.

It was another beautiful day on trail filled with sunshine and blue skies. The heat wave has died down a bit but it’s still enjoyable. Unfortunately there is rain in the forecast this weekend.  We are always amazed at how unassumingly tall these mountains are.  We quietly ascended to over 4000 feet but the tree clad ridges and long switchbacks make it seem like we’re at lower elevation.  The south knows how to make their switchbacks.

We cruised into shelter around 4:30PM and enjoyed some hot beverages before our pizza leftovers dinner.  At this elevation there is a noticable chill in the air. Eric decided to take a night off from camp fires so we will likely be in our sleeping bags early tonight.

Day 126

The chilly air makes for comfortable sleeping conditions.  However, getting out of the warmth of the sleeping bag can be a challenge.  We are thankful to have the shelter to ourselves so we can enjoy breakfast and coffee inside without disturbing anyone…perks of a SOBO.

We got on trail shortly after the sun rose.  It was going to be another beautiful day.  The trail meandered upward towards Grayson Highlands.  The higher we climbed the thicker the fog got.  We were still optimistic the sun would eventually burn it all off.

Once on the ridgeline we enjoyed the quickly changing landscape from hardwood trees, to rhododendron thickets, to pine, to open fields.  It was great to be surrounded by thick pine trees again as they have seemed more sparse in Virginia. There were many day hikers and weekend backpackers out, we can tell this is a very popular hike and it’s easy to see why.

Once onto the open ridgeline we had our first pony sightings!  They are such majestic animals.  We watch this herd of about 7 for a while as we ate second breakfast.  On a high from this sighting and feeling confident we would have more, we continued south.  A few moments later we came across 2 more ponies just several feet from the trail.

We dipped back into the hardwood trees for a little while.  Right around 12:30PM as we got back on the ridgeline the sun finally burnt off the fog.  Now we have nothing but views…and more ponies.  We enjoyed several more sightings throughout the afternoon.  Each sighting brought smiles to our faces, it never gets old seeing wild ponies freely roaming around.

The final few miles strolled along the ridgeline.  We’re at 5000 feet!  Our first time at this elevation since the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  We saw Mount Rogers in the distance and couldn’t believe this unassuming tree clad hump was over 5700 feet and the tallest mountain in Virginia.

We arrived at Thomas Knob shelter and were surprised to find it empty. It seems the other backpackers we saw are opting to tent. With a cold night in store we’re opting to sleep in the loft of the shelter for the extra warmth. We ended the day on the earlier side but are looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the amazing views.  We are also now under 500 miles from Springer Mountain!

We were hopeful to get a sunset tonight.  Unfortunately, as the sun was setting the fog started to take over the high peak but it was interesting to watch.  The temperature started to drop as well.  We ate dinner quickly at the picnic table then snuggled up in our nice warm loft.

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