|The feral ponies seem to be the bigger draw to this area over the high point|
Today's highpoint was a treat, despite the fog and cold weather. Mt Rogers has the distinction of being a highpoint that remains ONLY accessible by hiking. On the eastern seaboard, this is a rarity. Adding to its appeal is the fact that the area is designated as Wilderness by congress. This is the highest honor a natural area can achieve and it means that there has been and will remain no development at the summit. Thank goodness!
Although isolated and hard to get to, the actual hike of Mt Rogers is very easy. There are two commonly done options- the Appalachian Trail from the west and the Grayson Highlands State Park trail which takes you to the AT east. The AT from the East at Elk Garden is 9 miles, round trip. The Greyson Highlands trail is 8 miles, round trip and has the advantage of allowing the hiker an almost sure encounter with the hundreds of feral ponies. It is a strange sight to be seen. Here's my map of the area-
View Mt Rogers from Grayson Highlands State Park in a larger map
On the day I hiked Mt Rogers, it was dreary, foggy and cold. This was unfortunate but there aren't views from the actual summit anyways. It is somewhat counterintuitive because the best views are lower on the trail as opposed to higher. Part of this is probably because the ponies have grazed much of the lower lands allowing for sweeping panoramas. The upper elevations are covered in spruce forests making it feel much like a New England summit. That familiar "Christmas Tree" smell of the pines brought back strong memories of the many summits I hiked while living in Maine.
The lower portion of the trail runs through the pony area and I couldn't believe how many lived here! They were as common as squirrels. Unfortunately, so many tourists have been feeding them and petting them that they are not very wild. This is highly inappropriate. I would advise you to not do so while hiking though this area.
|The Greyson Highlands felt like the Scottish Highlands today|
Overall, the trail took a very gentle ascent of the mountain. From what I've been told, this is consistent with most of the AT through Virginia. This is why hikers find themselves covering much more distance per day than they do in other more arduous sections though Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine.
|Ponies of all shapes and colors inhabited the highlands|
Other than the ponies, there were several noteworthy parts of the trail. The first was a small talus cavern that felt much like a cave. Boulder fields are the hallmark of the halfway point but the AT seems to glide right across them. As I gained elevation, the flora became wonderfully dense and I appreciated the true wilderness of the area. A classic pentagonal sign designating the boundary was a welcome sight as always.
Reaching the summit itself was hardly distinguishable from the rest of the trail. There's an American Flag on the tallest tree and a few summit markers but nothing else that would let you know this is the high point. It was a nice change of scenery from the other crowded high points. On this day, I did see other hikers but the summit was completely empty for me.
|It was nice to be walking in spruce forest again|
So although it wasn't a difficult hike, it was a pretty one. Walking though the alpine forest was like a walk down memory lane for me. The ponies