Choking up on the steering wheel, I white-knuckle my way around another unannounced hairpin turn, praying that another car doesn't come flying towards me in the opposite direction. The marked speed limit is 55 mph, but even on the stretches of straight road that seems insane. The semi truck that appeared in my rear view mirror moments before apparently took that speed as the minimum, leading to several minutes of teeth-grinding before I screeched into a driveway, letting him roar past me. These are the kinds of twisting back country highways that make you realize you've been holding your breath, a poor strategy for staying sharp in the driver's seat.

After about an hour of feeling my top-heavy vehicle creak and list around a road that feels as if it were cut out of the mountains with scrapbooking scissors, I arrived at my destination: Grayson Highlands State Park.

Grayson Highlands State Park is a gem on the southern border of Virginia. At the foothills of the Appalachians, it has beautiful hiking trails that wind in and out of dense forests and scrub brush meadows that characterize the “balds” (or highlands) of the area.

It also has wild ponies.

No joke – there are two herds of wild ponies that apparently help to keep the native ecosystem balanced through something called conservation grazing. That may be true, but they also draw crowds and tourists, and for good reason. They’re ponies, and they’re adorable.

In addition to the micro-equine attractions, there are also lots and lots of rocks in the park, which is what compelled me to seek it out in the first place, and why I spent the week there.

The climbing was interesting, dynamic, and plentiful. Most of the boulders erupting from the landscape are a conglomeratic metasandstone, which in this context was described to me as a "metamorphosed pebbly sandstone interspersed with muddy matrices that have been altered to phyllite." In practice, what you get is hard sandstone flecked with pebbles, crystals, and the occasional veins of quartzite (which delighted the Devil's Lake climber in me).

A quartzite-striped sandstone overhang. How cool is that? (the answer is: very cool)

I had a blast climbing here. The first day completely destroyed my poor fingertips (I haven't been climbing very consistently lately, and these rocks bite hard), which slowed me down a little. Still, I had some solid climbing days, and familiarized myself well enough to jump right in next time I'm there.

The gallery below shows one of the best routes I was on during the week. It's called "True Grit," and it's crazy fun. Forgive some of the pained expressions, but that's part of what constitutes "fun" in the bouldering world.

I found myself a great campsite in North Carolina (away from well-meaning law enforcement), where I spent the week. Helton Creek Campgrounds - definitely hit them up if you're in the area. I met some incredibly generous folks there, who made me such a big southern breakfast on my last day  that I wasn't hungry again until around 5:30 pm.

Legitimacy comes at around $15 a night in these parts. Totally worth it.

All in all, it was wonderful. I would highly recommend Grayson Highlands as a destination for climbers and campers alike. It's right on the Appalachian Trail, as well, so you could easily make it part of a longer trek.

That's all for now.



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