Day 42 (May 18): We woke early to catch the 8:30am shuttle into town to visit the post office and get some breakfast in our bellies. McDonald’s McGriddles hit the spot so well. After breakfast we began the arduous process of drying out our wet tent and packing up our food bags and the rest of our gear. We had a few left over beers so we each cracked one and donated the rest to the hikers that were just arriving at the shelter. In no time it was early afternoon so Nadine and I finally threw on our packs, which now weigh a cool 31.5 and 30.5 pounds, respectively, and said goodbye to Uncle Johnny’s.
We only planned to hike the four miles to the first Shelter and once we felt the humidity in the forest, we knew we weren’t going further. The trail followed a stream up the valley over several footbridges before switch backing into the surrounding hills. Some light rain help to cool us off as we climb the steep incline out of the valley. We were one of the first to reach Curley Maple Gap Shelter (mile 346.4) and quickly settled in and began making some dinner since lunch was skipped.
We munched on mashed potatoes with meatloaf and later a double batch of ramen. Soon the rest of the crew showed up (Derek, Jonny, Sam, Charlie, Alex, Pyro, and Pyro’s mom, Becky). After some light conversation we crawled into the shelter to read and write before falling asleep.
Day 43 (May 19): Derek’s first night in a shelter did not go so well. I guess the symphony of snoring we were performing for him wasn’t good enough. He decided to pack up and do some night hiking around 10:00pm. Nadine, however, had the best night’s sleep so far on the trail and was practically skipping down the trail once we headed out. The rain, which had started the night before, quickly tapered off and we were left hiking in a misty fog for most of the day. We found Derek, still in his tent, about four miles down the trail just waking for the day’s hike. Soon after we reached Indian Grave Gap where, to our surprise, trail magic was waiting for us. Brother Tom provided us with folding chairs and served us hot chocolate and homemade banana bread. We were already having a great morning enjoying the misty views, but the trail magic definitely helped to improve it even more. We had decided the night before that we’d try to get off our feet every four miles or so to give them a rest, so the trail magic was perfect timing. We then headed to the base of Unaka Mountain to fill up water and take our second break of the day before starting our big climb of the day. Climbing up the mountain was much easier than we had anticipated, probably due to us being distracted by the beautiful scenery. While climbing higher, the forest had changed from deciduous trees to conifers an endless number of times with tunnels of dense rodadendrens sprinkled throughout. We almost forgot we were even climbing by the time we reached the summit which was blanketed in a misty spruce forest.
We noted that if we took our eyes off the white blazes of the trees for too long we could easily get lost or disoriented. Climbing back down the other side of the mountain, we eventually reached Cherry Gap Shelter where we ate a hearty lunch of summer sausage and cheese wraps with buffalo cheese Combos and Skittles on the side. The remainder of our hike involved climbing seemingly endless hills to reach our end goal at the Greasy Creek Hostel (mile 366.4), which would make it our longest day at 20 miles. We were kindly welcomed at the hostel by Gadget and CeCe, who sang us a song. I promptly chugged a couple sodas and devoured some pizza, which was provided by White Cap. After a bottle of red wine and a good movie, we happily climbed into warm beds for the night.
Day 44 (May 20): We woke up around 8:00am and found some section hikers packing up in the common room of the hostel. I was able to help lighten their load by eating their extra snacks for breakfast and enjoyed a cup of Joe. We said our goodbyes and headed up the 0.6 mile side trail back to the AT that seemed to go on forever. When we were almost at the top I realized I had left my rain jacket in the hostel and had to drop pack and run back down the trail to retrieve it. The short, ten mile day we had planed had already gotten longer. We had our second breakfast at Clyde Smith Shelter and our first break at the top of Little Rock Knob. Unfortunately, the views from the knob would be our last as the fog rolled in for the day.
After spotting a few orange salamanders along the trail, Nadine and I decided to make a game out of who could spot the most for the rest of the day. I won with 8 to Nadine’s 3.
Half way up the climb to Roan High Knob, Nadine’s morale hit a low and she began dragging her feet and cursing at the muddy trail. I was only able to remedy her mood by scaring the crap out of her by jumping from behind an old stone chimney along the trail as she passed. We reached Roan High Knob Shelter (mile 376.8) by 3:00pm and were happy to get out of the cold into the cabin style shelter with a door to keep us warm. We were second to the shelter and by the time we went to bed it was packed full of people and warm.
The rain started at 7:00pm, but we were still hopeful that we would get some nice weather for the coming days as we hike over the balds of the Roan Highlands.
Day 45 (May 21): We woke with the rest of the shelter still hearing the pitter patter of rain on the roof. Procrastinating as long as possible, I made us coffee while still wrapped in my sleeping bag and slowly packed our things. It was after 10:00am when we finally left during one of the breaks in the drizzle, but couldn’t really tell since the trees were dripping more rain than the clouds. Our hike down Roan High Knob followed a river of water, also know as the trail, through a pine forest before emerging at Carver’s Gap.
The rain had stopped and patches of blue sky were starting to emerge when we began climbing Round Bald. At the top we took some time to let the clouds part and enjoy the views of the trail as it climbed up the next bald. It seemed like we were surrounded by gray clouds but somehow ever few minutes we got glimpses of blue sky and warm sunshine. We spent a good half hour on top of Round Bald hoping the clouds would part, but soon grew impatient and headed toward Jane Bald. On the way to the top we stopped for lunch on a rock outcropping where we had lunch a year prior and reminisced about our prior hike.
Continuing down the trail we decided to climb the blue blaze trail up to Grassy Ridge Bald since we had a short day planned and plenty of time. At times we were completely enveloped in clouds and moments later would be warmed with sunshine and have views of the surrounding valleys. On our way down off the balds the trail began to get extremely muddy and we were thankful we had waterproof shoes to hike in. Somehow the trail got even muddier but Nadine and I were having fun playing in the mud like we were kids on our day off of school. When we reached Overmountain Shelter (mile 383.9) we were greeted by a sea of tents and a troop of boy scouts that had taken over the large barn shelter.
A lot of new thru hikers joined us for the night but the shelter could have held forty or more if it needed to. A section hiker, Coffee Break, showed up with beers, cokes, and snacks to share with everyone. Jonny, Alex, Nadine, and I snagged spots in the open, East facing side of the shelter, hoping to wake up to tomorrow’s sunrise at our feet.
Side Note: Jonny gave me the trail name Crash Pad because I had broken Alex’s fall out if a shelter loft a few night’s prior.
Day 46 (May 22): We woke to clouds at our feet and dew on our sleeping bags. One at a time we sat up in our sleeping bags only to curl back up when we saw how gloomy the weather was. We were eventually enticed out by a few section hikers who made us some hazelnut cowboy coffee. We waited as long as possible for the clouds to part, but unfortunately the cold got the better of us and we were moving up the trail. The mud was as bad or worse than the day before and with ever step we took up the hill we seemed to slide a half step back. On the top of Little Hump Mountain we could barely see the trail twenty feet in front of us and had to search for the spot we camped the year before. By the time we reached the base of Hump Mountain the clouds had blown away and we had a full view of the summit and the trail leading up to it.
We could see other hikers making there way up the mountain in a conga line of colorful pack covers whipping in the wind. As we climbed out of Bradley Gap the wind was blowing us sideways as we tried to make progress around the mud ruts. At the top we got a final reminder of why Roan Highlands is such a beautiful place as we followed the last few miles back into the tree line.
On our way down the mountain we left North Carolina for the last time, finishing our second state, and headed into Tennessee before we reach Virginia in a few days.
At route 19E, we headed to the hostel down the road and booked us a room before heading into town to resupply and grab a bite to eat. To our surprise, Derek was waiting for us with an ice pack on his leg. He was recovering from some shin splints and planned to rest up for a few days. In town, Nadine and I first gorged ourselves on glorious cheeseburgers and chili cheese fries at Bob’s Dairyland before headed to the grocery store to buy food for five more nights on the trail. We capped the night off by watched a few movies (American Pie and Liar Liar) in the hostel with Derek, Jonny, Alex, Charlie, Got Away, Silence, Short Cut, and Pepper. Before bed a few section hikers showed up at the hostel with a box of wine to share.
Random trail thought of the day: Passing gas, from either end, is counter productive for a thru hiker. With each fart/burp you release buoyant gases that would be better off inside you, making you slightly lighter.