Saturday, October 9, 2010

One of the real benefits of living in the Chattanooga area is that my wife, Sleeps With Skunks, and I are much closer to many of our favorite trails than we were in Nashville. Roan Mountain, Tennessee is only about a 3 ½ hour drive from our home. So, after a shuttle from Mountain Harbor Bed & Breakfast, we (meaning my wife and me, as well as the ever-present Dewey and Orville Bears) stepped out at Carver’s Gap at the Appalachian Trail Crossing around 11:15.

We actually enjoyed a brief greeting there in the parking lot with Marta and company. She definitely manages to get around.

We headed up the first short climb of Round Bald. Light cover from conifers quickly gave way to the iconic southern balds for which Roan Highlands is best known. We parked ourselves a bit before noon for lunch on a rock outcrop.

After lunch, we continued on toward Jane Bald. My wife quickly learned that nobody every feels particularly tired in the Highlands because you stop so often just to enjoy the view. This time of year, at 4000-5000 feet, Autumn colors add to the stunning visuals.

We continued on, enjoying the gentle climb and views. Orville Bear asked to stop and grab some information about the goats that are being used to keep the balds from growing over.

Unfortunately, the goat herds are removed from the Highlands by October each year. The bears and Sleeps With Skunks were disappointed.

We passed by Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge and began the downhill stroll to Stan Murray Shelter. We only stopped briefly to chat with Marta and her group. My wife continued on while I headed downhill to check out the spring. It was flowing very slowly, only a small pool maybe a couple of inches deep. It would have sufficed for cameling up with some straining or filtering, but I was glad to move on to Overmountain Shelter and its piped spring.

By three o’clock, we had turned onto the blue-blazed side trail at Yellow Mountain Gap to Overmountain Shelter, the well-known converted red barn. It bore a fresh coat of red paint and a crowd was beginning to filter into the camping area beside the shelter. I gathered plenty of water from the beautifully flowing piped spring and then joined my wife as we hung our hammocks behind the barn. She quickly retired for an afternoon nap.

I relaxed for a while in my hammock and read for a bit. Since I couldn’t manage sleep, I headed to the front of the shelter and sat and chatted with the hikers who were arriving and settling into the sleeping platforms at the front of the barn. The foliage views of the valley to the front were gorgeous in the Autumn sun.

Even the folks on the tent landing were surrounded by colors.

I cooked dinner and brought it back to my wife to enjoy. Then I relaxed in my own hammock, chair-style and watched the view of the valley.

As the stars began to glow above, I snuggled up with my book and Dewey Bear, and I settled in for the night.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The next morning, I rose a bit before dawn and boiled water for morning cocoa. Afterward, I began packing gear. During this time, my wife rose and began with her morning pack-up routine as well. The biggest delay was simply using the privy, as a line of sorts had formed, and there was a wait of several minutes. Altogether, there were at least 30 campers in the vicinity of Overmountain Shelter on this morning. Dewey and Orville waited as patiently as they could, but I’m sure I heard a paw tapping, ready to go.

The 900-foot climb north from Yellow Mountain Gap felt steep, but it quickly yielded views back to the red barn.

About half-way up the climb, the trees again gave way to balds, in this case, Little Hump.

As we crested the summit, the view of Hump Mountain awaited. I was a little disappointed that a line of trees had grown in slightly obstructing the view of Bradley Gap which was clear 11 years earlier on my AT thru-hike. The view was still nice in spite of this.

Despite the gorgeous views, the 600-foot climb up Hump Mountain was steep enough to leave us a bit winded. But once on top, the views below were just stunning.

We stopped at the Stan Murray Memorial for a quick lunch.

Then we headed onward, down hill. Longhorn cattle barely seemed to notice us as we ambled on by.

As we crossed through a turn-style and headed into the woods again, I knew the open balds were behind us. But the trail continued to hold its own delights. Occasional viewpoints offered even closer blasts of Fall color.

We pulled into the red and orange foliage at Doll Flats for our last break of the day.

With just three miles to go, we both began to quicken our pace a little bit. The trail, which has offered copious rocks and roots in the first couple of miles of trees, began to mellow into a relatively smooth and fast tread. However, the early rough trail had taken its toll on my wife’s feet. Within a mile of Apple House Shelter, I pushed on ahead of her, with the intention of arriving at Mountain Harbor in time to bring the car to her at the 19E crossing, thus saving her feet 3-tenths of a mile of walking the pavement. A couple of minutes after 4 PM, I arrived at Mountain Harbor.

I tucked my gear in, and headed back up the road, arriving at the small parking area just as Sleeps With Skunks walked out. We loaded up and headed home. Our souvenir for the weekend was mild sunburn from the gorgeously clear days and memories to last a lifetime.