Thomas Knob to Wise Shelter
May 22, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Becky, Lyndy and Michelle
After a long, cold wet night of pounding waves of rain, morning finally arrived. I found out that Michelle had also been dealing with uncontrollable shivering for much of the night but we all managed to finally warm up get some sleep. The waves of rain eased into periods of steady rain and eventually intermittent drizzle. We had done it! We survived a miserable first day of hiking and an even more miserable night. Our morning mood was enhanced by hot coffee and warm oatmeal courtesy of camp cook Becky. This time, all the smiles were genuine!
When I first suggested this hike, I raved about the great views. So far, our views had been rain and fog. This morning was mostly more of the same but we did get some peeks of what we were hoping to see.
Today’s hike gave us an option; we could continue to follow the Appalachian Trail or we could take Rhododendron Gap Trail which we had been told had some nice views. We decided on Rhododendron Gap Trail after conferring with a trail maintenance worker. The area we were hiking into had several trails coming together so we had to take care to follow the right trails. We continued on the AT for a less than a mile before connecting to the Crest Trail. We had just 0.2 miles on the Crest trail before we picked up the Rhododendron Trail. Our first order of business this morning was refilling our water supplies. Just off the trail and downhill a bit at the Rhododendron/Crest Trail intersection was a fenced off area around a spring. The spring was flowing right out of a rocky outcrop in the side of the mountain. By now, the sun was shining so we took advantage of the rocks to dry things as we filtered water. Off came the shoes and socks which were spread out in the sun.
The spring was so pretty and I commented on how great the water was going to taste. I filtered a bottle full, took a big swig, and nearly spit it out. It tasted awful! The spring was fenced off because there were free-range cattle in the area. I don’t know if that is what contributed to the bad taste but unfortunately, our water bladders would hold that taste for the remainder of the hike. If you need water, by all means use it (filtered of course). None of us became ill. But if you can wait, I would do so. We had plenty of other options throughout the day. Other than the foul-tasting water, it was a nice place to stop and we chatted with some young people on a church retreat.
Aside from great views, my other big selling point for this hike was the opportunities to see wild ponies. I had hiked in the area years ago with my kids and it was so fun seeing the ponies. So far, we were batting zero as far as seeing ponies. The trail worker we spoke to had just seen ponies earlier this morning and our hopes we high for this being our day. After our short jaunt on the Crest Trail, we started downhill to follow Rhododendron Gap. The trail was narrow, rocky and flooded for much of it. At times it was very hard to tell if we were following the trail or a creek. The trail was unmarked but we knew we were going to right general direction.
We entered into a clearing and finally, there they were, ponies! It was very exciting! And I finally got to break out my “big” camera which had been carefully tucked away in a dry bag through our monsoon walk.
Since our hiking gear was so saturated from the day before, Michelle and I hiked most of the day in our pajamas. We taught Michelle early the function before fashion rule on the trail! Our jaunt on the Rhododendron Trail was less than a mile before we jumped back onto the Appalachian Trail. While our side excursion was nice, I think if I ever do this stretch again, I’ll stick to the AT. Once back on the AT, we had a downhill hike into Grayson Highlands State Park. Grayson Highlands is where I started my highpoint hike many years earlier and fell in love with the area. Just inside the state park, we came across a nice bench that beckoned us to sit and enjoy a lunch break. Since HighPointing is what first brought me to this area, I was pleasantly surprised to see who sponsored the bench. It’s funny how life sometimes circles back on itself. For those of you who are familiar with highpointing, I’ve completed 38 state highpoints.
As we trekked through Grayson Highlands State Park, we couldn’t help but stop for some AT sign pics. The day had been mostly nice but intermittent showers meant we mostly stayed in our rain gear.
The ponies are allowed to roam the highlands to keep the vegetation in check and allow for the great views of the area. They are kept to the areas they are supposed to be by fences which means hikers have to cross the fences by going either through zig zag fence stiles or up and over step ladder stiles. This was sometimes tricky with a pack!
Our destination for the day was Wise Shelter but we again were planning to camp near-by, not sleep in the shelter. We came to the shelter and were pleasantly surprised to find a privy. Yeah! When you are backpacking, this is luxury! Shortly after the privy, we found some very nice campsites. Several were already occupied but we soon found a beautiful open area with a great view and lots of space for us. Yeah again! So very different than our experience last night of trying to find anything not flooded or being buffeted by hurricane force winds! We set our tents and used the trees and bushes to hang our still wet clothes and gear. I left the rain fly off my tent for the evening to dry out the inside.
Once we were set up, Becky got dinner going. Tonight’s meal was tacos, complete with lettuce and fresh tomatoes! It was amazing. I could get used to having a camp cook! We had a nice big rock to set up our cooking area on which was a safe distance from the tents. It was such a relaxing evening and we could have easily stayed here for longer.
As we were cleaning up from dinner and getting around to retire for the night, a tired thru-hiker came into camp. He asked if we minded him setting up near us and of course we told him he was welcome. He picked a spot very near to our cooking rock and we told him we had just recently cooked there. He said he’d take his chances and it suited him just fine. We bid him good night and settled in for the night. I did put the rain fly on my tent which turned out to be a good thing. A thunderstorm rolled in with lots of lightning and thunder. We had one lightning strike that was pretty close judging by the very short time between the flash and the boom. I actually had limited cell service here and texted my husband to check the radar for me. He said there was a pretty strong storm cell right on top of us (yes, we knew that!) but that it would be brief. Forecast was decent for the rest of our hike. Good news! All-in-all, it was a really good day. The storm soon passed and we got some well earned sleep.