May 23, 2016
Wise Shelter to Old Orchard Shelter
Hikers: Julie, Becky, Lyndy and Michelle
Michelle is our early riser and I was awoken the morning of day 3 to excited whispering. “Julie, get up! There are ponies in our camp!” And indeed there were! I slipped out of my tent to a beautiful morning and several ponies wandering among the tents. How cool is that?!
Becky cooked us a great breakfast of coffee and eggs with cheese. We again took advantage of the sunshine to continue to dry things out. We probably spent way too much time ooohing and aahhhing over the ponies and ended up getting a late start. Our favorites were a handsome little fellow we later learned is named Fabio and an appaloosa who looked like she could have her baby at any point. Fabio had the most amazing mane and tail. We are obviously not the only ones whose eye he has caught. I have read several trip reports since our hike and have seen his picture posted many times. He does not seem to mind the attention!
As we were packing up, our late campsite arrival got up and around. We chatted with him a bit and learned he was a thru hiker. We asked his name and he said his name was John. He did not like his trail name so he didn’t use it. Fair enough. We discussed food and he was very impressed with our trail fare. Because we had not eaten our first night, we had an extra night’s meal we were carrying. Becky offered him our unstuffed peppers which he happily accepted. We didn’t mind lightening our packs so it was a win-win situation. We did discover in our conversation that we were actually camping in an illegal spot since we were still within the boundaries of Grayson Highland State park. This came as quite a surprise to us as it was a well established campsite complete with rock enclosed fire rings. With all the tents set up when we arrived, and many more that came in after us, it never occurred to us that we were camping where we shouldn’t. It was an honest mistake and one we will not do again if we ever return. That is a shame, however, since it was my favorite camp spot of the hike! It is ok to sleep in the shelter, so plan accordingly.
We finally got packed up and moving and soon left the pony area. Our fence crossing at this time was a ladder stile.
We were grateful for the bridges as the water was flowing swiftly in most of the streams and rivers.
Our lunch destination was Scales and our hike to there progressed quickly. As we left the State Park and entered the National Forest, we came across a sign laying out the rules of the trail. Are hang gliders a common problem on the trail?! Maybe we were a little punch drunk from too many miles but we found this quite amusing! Fortunately for us, we had all left our hang gliders at home this time…
Despite our sunny start to our day, the clouds began to build and we were again making sure our rain gear was handy. The hike from Wise to Scales was beautiful and for the most part, flat. We were hiking across the highlands with mile wide views in every direction. This was arguably my favorite stretch of the trail, despite the threatening weather. It would not be a good place to be caught in a thunderstorm. We picked up pace, hoping to make it to the Scales shelter before the skies opened up.
After a couple of miles of level hiking, we began descending into Scales. We passed through an area with free range long horn cattle. They seems rather uninterested in us as we passed by. We soon spotted the fenced in Scales area and discovered the joke was on us as far as getting to a shelter before the approaching storm. There is no shelter at Scales!
What Scales did have was a very large open grassy area for relaxing, an actual bathroom and a trash can so we could unload some garbage. When you are backpacking, these types of things are greatly appreciated! We dropped our packs, kicked off our boots, stretched out on the grass and enjoyed our lunch.
The was an information kiosk here that explained how the highland ponies came to be as well as the original purpose of Scales. After being logged, the highlands were used for grazing of cattle. The farmers, of course, liked to get the highest dollar possible for their cattle and soon discovered that they lost a considerable amount of weight being herded down the mountains to be sold. The scales became a gathering placed for the cattle to be weighed (Scaled), traded and sold. After the land became protected and the cattle no longer grazed it, the area became overgrown with trees and shrubs. The ponies were introduced to keep the vegetation down and preserve the wide open views. Obviously there are some cattle grazing still taking place but I do not know if these are privately owned or are kept by the forest service for historical relevance.
Despite the lack of a shelter, we enjoyed our stop at Scales very much. While it does not really have a “wilderness” feel about it, it would make a very comfortable place to set up camp for a night. Fortunately the rain held off for the duration of our stop. We met a couple more thru-hikers, Red Dragon and Danger. They had met on the trail and had been leap frogging each other since Georgia. As tempting as it was to linger, we still had several miles to cover so we bid Scales good by and started back uphill.
The trail leaving Scales showed clear evidence of the thousands of feet that had passed through over the years. The trail was eroded so much in areas that it was more tree root masses than dirt. While it looked interesting, it was surprisingly hard on the feet! We came across a full sized horse and foal that looked liked giants compared to the ponies of the last couple of days.
Our long uphill trek eventually brought us to the summit of Pine Mountain. Michelle thought she’d give us an editorial comment on our Pine Mountain climb.
After passing over the mountain summit, we began and even longer downhill trek. It felt like we were never going to reach the bottom! We did find several things to amuse us along the way. We found interesting shapes in trees, such as initials (“J” for Julie of course!) and a dragon head.
We also found a pair of boots that had obviously been sitting there awhile. Ordinarily, I get very annoyed with trash of any sort being left on the trail but I suspect these may have an interesting story behind them! In any case, we used the find to make up interesting stories of how they came to be there.
In addition to the roots, the descent down Pine Mountain was very rocky. This was the first time my knees were starting to really bother me. I do not know what I would have done without hiking poles! As tiring as the uphills are, I often think the downhills are worse. The hike was not without moments of beauty though as some of the trees were in bloom. It was along this stretch that we were passed by the two thru-hikers with the puppy who we had met earlier. We were relieved to see the puppy was doing well and had survived the monsoons of a couple days ago. We were a little confused as to how they ended up behind us.
Finally! Orchard Shelter! We hiked a bit passed the shelter and picked out a campsite. We were lucky to find most unoccupied and we could take our time to chose. We found a nice open grassy area with a large fire ring and logs around it to sit on. We quickly set to getting our tents up because the threat of rain was never far away. As Lyndy was setting up her tent, she came across a huge spider with what looked like dozens of baby spiders on its back. It was right beside her tent. Being the good hiking companions we are, we helped Lyndy relocate the spider away from her tent so she didn’t spend her whole night dreaming of creepy crawlies!
After setting tents, Becky (aka “Cookie”) and Lyndy started dinner while Michelle and I went for water. We decided to filter water tonight rather than in the morning to get a quicker start. Every campsite had been chosen to have water close by although on this hike, water availability had not been a problem. The source for this area was a spring that used PVC pipes for easy access. While not as pretty, or natural, as other sources, it made getting the water much easier. We filtered all we needed for the night and next day and made our way back to camp.
Once back at camp, dinner was ready and waiting. We had turkey and stuffing as well as a little bit of unstuffed peppers that was left over from what had been given away. Once again, dinner was amazing! This was the only night we started a fire in the fire pit and we enjoyed a nice evening eating, chatting and being mesmerized by the flames. We honestly don’t do many fires when backpacking (many places they are prohibited) but once in a while, it makes a really nice way to spend an evening. For some reason, I only had one picture of our fire and unfortunately, everyone had weird looks on their faces. Trust me, they really weren’t as grumpy as they look here!
As wonderful as dinner was, the best part was still to come. Dessert! We had not one, but two types of pudding to choose from. Oreo with crumbled Oreo pieces or banana with mini vanilla wafers. You cannot begin to imagine how good these tasted after 3 days on the trail! The pudding was made by adding water to bags in which Becky had premixed the dry ingredients, then kneading until the right consistency. And while it may look like Lyndy is texting in the background, she is actually taking pictures. There was no cell service for any of us here.
Becky later commented that this was her favorite campsite of the trip because it reminded her of sitting around the communal campfires of Pictured Rocks. It was a very nice area and an enjoyable evening. Just before dark, we put out our fire and Michelle again showed off her food bag hanging skills. We stayed up a little later on this night than we had on past nights but were still snuggled into our tents by 9 pm. Backpacking is tiring! As I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sounds of the night, I was a little sad that tomorrow was going to be our last day on the trail.