Backpacking Grayson Highlands

Last month I took my first backpacking trip. I went with a seasoned backpacker, who hadn’t been backpacking in quite some time. We opted to do Pine Mountain Loop in Grayson Highlands State Park because of the variation of forests and balds, the access to running water (although the park had a severe water shortage this summer), and of course… the ponies.

As you know, I live to hike and take photos. Since this was an overnight though AND my first trip, I opted to take my lighter 35mm film camera. All of the images you see here were shot on Fuji film ASA 200 or 400.

We started from the Backpacker’s Lot at Massie Gap and hiked up to the Appalachian Trail where we headed south towards Wilson’s Ridge and out of the State Park (there’s no camping allowed within the park). We decided to conquer the ridge on our first day while we were still fresh. 

I’d like to note that I don’t get very many photos of myself, so thanks Jennifer Garonzik for this awesome pic!
After conquering the ridge we decided to set up camp at Rhododendron Gap–a partially bald area accented by firs, rocks and the occasional pony. It was windy, but offered a spectacular view of the mountains to the South. Since we were coming from Boone/Blowing Rock area, we quickly spotted Elk Knob and Grandfather Mountain in the distance.

Hey look, it’s Jennifer!
Dusk from Rhododendron Gap:
Sunrise over Wilburn Ridge as seen from Rhododendron Gap:
We needed to fill up on some water so we left our packs behind and headed over to the Thomas Knob shelter, which is on the AT headed south towards Mount Rogers. The spring just behind the shelter was one of the most peaceful and majestic locations I encountered on this trip. It’s a place I won’t be forgetting anytime soon…

After we filled up our water bottles, we headed back to Rhododendron Gap to hop onto the Pine Mountain Trail. We hiked north from there through boulders, rhododendron bushes and forests that had crazy trees growing on rocks like this one:
This pony was so surprised to see me!
While we were breaking for lunch, I decided to try to “climb that boulder”. It wasn’t my most graceful descent off said boulder, but the view was nice.
We were there during full fall colors, which were putting on a show.
From the Pine Mountain Trail we hopped back onto the AT headed south towards Scales. The trail was a little gnarly with lots of roots and rocks.

After we passed through scales and took a quick pit stop at the privy, we continued south on the AT back towards Grayson Highlands State Park. The balds on this spot of the trail offered a magical view of Wilburn Ridge. We were there late in the day, and the side of the ridge was divine with rays of sunlight illuminating the foliage.
I feel like this pony is saying, “Hang 10, brah.”
Our destination was in the proximity of Wise Shelter. As we got closer though, we could hear a group of boy scouts who had passed us earlier and decided to make camp in a beautiful little forest just about a mile from Wise Shelter.
The next morning we leisurely packed up and got back on the AT. The morning light through the trees really made the fall colors pop!
The trail crosses Wilson’s Creek, which had an awesome swimming hole. Had it been summer, we would have jumped in! After stopping at the spring just behind Wise Shelter, we soldiered on towards the Appalachian Spur Trail. Our trail markers guided us:
The kid that took this picture was soo thrilled that he got to use a film camera!
We began the descent back down to the Backpacker’s Lot with a view of the Pinnacles as a backdrop.

What an awesome first backpacking trip! I wish I would have done this sooner as this was the only time I was able to go out this year. I will be getting started early in 2017!

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