Day Four: Ash Gap Campsite to Overmountain Shelter. 9.0 mi
There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this part of the trip and it didn’t disappoint. The forecast was in our favor as we started up the trail. First stop was the site of the former Cloudland Hotel near Toll House Gap. The Cloudland was a luxury hotel built in 1884 which straddled the Tennessee-North Carolina border. A line was painted right down the middle of the dining hall and banquet table, serving as a demarcation line. On the Tennessee side, it was legal to drink alcohol. Doing so on the North Carolina side would land you in jail. The hotel was torn down in 1914 and all that remains are fragments of the foundation.
From there, we moved on a little less than a mile to Roan High Knob Shelter, highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail at 6,194 ft. This is also considered to be the coldest spot on the southern half of the AT. This day was turning out to be gorgeous though, and we didn’t stay long as we were anxious to reach Carver’s Gap and the start over the balds of the Highlands.
It was a quick 2.5 miles down to the gap where we were met by a throng of day hikers. We made a quick stop at the restroom, a luxury since few shelters on this stretch of the AT have privies, and started the climb up to Round Bald, the first of three for the day.
Shortly after leaving the gap, the trail ducts under the cover of the trees and flattens for a bit, but you quickly break free into the open again to find the world stretched out before you. It didn’t take long to reach the summit at 5,826 feet and we spent a bit of time there taking in the spectacular views.
The trail now descends a bit and then makes a short, stiff up tick to Jane Bald at 5,807 feet. My dead leg syndrome continued but we made it to the top and spent some time there, trying once again to absorb all that this amazing vantage point presented to us. We had lunch, talked with a day hiker for a bit and moved on once again.
A bit more up hill brought us to the 0.5 mile side trail to Grassy Ridge Bald, highest of the three at nearly 6,200 feet. Upon reaching the junction with the side trail we stopped and debated on whether or not to make the trip up. My legs were crying “NO” but we have always made it a point to not pass up such opportunities. Our old saying “You may never pass this way again” had never led us astray. Up we went and it was one of the best decisions we had made since we started at Amicalola Falls, GA several years prior. Grassy Ridge Bald was the most incredible yet and I decided right then and there that this had to be the most fantastic spot we had set foot on to date. Despite being too early to witness the display of blooming rhododendron, flame azaleas or rare Gray’s Lily which draw thousands of people each year, we were overwhelmed by how beautiful this spot truly is. Mountains stretched out in all directions for miles and miles before us.
After some time contemplating just how blessed we had been to have had the opportunity to walk over this stretch of trail in such amazing weather, we picked ourselves up and moved on. Three and a half miles more, nearly all downhill, lay ahead before we were to call it a day. More Trillium and Larkspur, as well as Wood Anemone, Star Chickweed and large swathes of tiny White Fringed Phacelia were on display as we made our way to Stan Murray Shelter where we stopped for one last break.
We then knocked out the remaining two miles to Yellow Mountain Gap, where a short side trail brought us to the old red barn that serves as Overmountain Shelter. A number of tents were already setup on the sprawling field outside. There was more than enough room for the two of us to join them and we pitched our shelters such as to take full advantage of the amazing view. Dinner out of the way, I sprawled out on the ground, exhausted, while Deep Woods sat perched on his camp stool. There we stayed until the sun slipped down behind the mountains. Jupiter lit up the night sky as we headed off to bed. What an incredible day!
Day Five: Mountain Harbour Hostel – Roan Mtn, TN. 9.2 mi
This day would prove to be epic as well. The weather appeared to be iffy as we left the shelter. A fine mist fell right out of the gate but then stopped as we came out of the trees into a large clearing where we were treated to a double rainbow. Skies remained cloudy but dry as we made our way around the clearing and to the top of Little Hump Mountain. From here Hump Mountain stands like a treeless giant in the distance.
The trail dropped down to Bradley Gap over the next mile or so and then rose steeply up the side of Hump. Deep Woods moved steadily up while I crawled along behind. Hump dominates the landscape here and I would imagine that on a clear day you could see for miles and miles. Even with the intermittent cloud cover we had good views from the top. A short distance from the summit is a lone rock outcropping with a plaque in memory of Stanley Murray, a man who was instrumental in bringing the Appalachian Trail to the Highlands and for helping to protect them for generations to come. It seemed fitting that the plaque was placed here. It’s as though it stands alone atop Hump Mountain to serve as the alter for the great cathedral, the Roan.
We parked ourselves behind the rock outcropping to get out of the wind and take a break. More ominous looking clouds hung in the distance but it appeared we would be spared of any rain (or worse). Deep Woods set his alarm, intent on taking a nap. No sooner than he had done so, thunder rocked the ground. Being totally exposed in our current position, we decided the prudent thing to do was get the hell off the mountain! The exposed hiking continued down the other side for nearly a mile more. We watched the storm move parallel with us as we made our way down, dumping rain on those below. We discovered later that hikers not far behind us were pelted by hale and those not far ahead got drenched. Fortunately, we stayed dry as we made our way to Doll Flats. It is here that the Northbound hiker leaves the state of North Carolina behind, ending the dance back and forth across the border with Tennessee. Two states were now officially under our belts and the state of Virginia lay just 75 miles ahead.
Took a snack break and moved on. The long descent to US 19E continued for three more miles, passing rock formations and a stream. Upon reaching the highway, we hung a left and followed the signs up the road to Mountain Harbour B&B and Hostel to bunk down for the night. After checking in and downing a cold Coke (just want I don’t need, right?), we showered, washed clothes and grabbed dinner from the food trailer. A double cheeseburger and fries for me, a single cheese and fries for Deep Woods. I was tempted to go for the massive “AT Super Burger” but it was all I could do to finish the regular double. We spent the rest of the evening checking in with our wives, talking with other hikers and looking over the property before hitting the sack.
Our trip over the Roan was over but it was an experience I will never forget. Words and photographs could never convey just how unique and special this place is. It must be experienced, one end to the other. It’s as though you need to become a part of it, if even for just a day. There are other places in the Southern Appalachians, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, that will always be special to me but I was overwhelmed by the Roan. I kept telling Deep Woods that I didn’t know what more to say. Though our time there was brief, I could no longer express how moved I was and I’m sure he feels the same. Someday soon, I hope to go back and walk the Roan again, this time with Loonie. Maybe we’ll get to see those rhododendron and azaleas in bloom yet!
There was more walking to be done and sights to see on this trip though. I’ll pick up from here in the next post.
More to come…