A few members of the BPL Southern Appalachians Facebook group decided to head on up to the Roan Highlands for a brief 40 mile trip. I will only be recounting the first 20 of those miles as I bailed, for reasons covered below.
We meet at Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove. It was a long 5 hour drive from Atlanta and I arrived first. I chatted with some section hikers and the hostel owners. Soon Brad Rogers and Ray Dunham arrived. They had both done the trip before, as well as extensive hiking on the AT and other long distance trails in the Southeast. They were what I would describe as greyhounds, long lean with tons of lungs. I'm more of a bulldog, slow and plodding.
We got dropped off at Carvers gap below Grassy Ridge around 7:30, by 8:30 we were up on the ridge scouting for campsites. Balds are deceptive in that they present a flat look but the actually ground is tussocked and rutted. Grassy Ridge was a very popular destination that weekend, I believe because of the Rhododendron festival going on. After searching around and not finding any really good campsites I lobbied to push on to one of the shelters further down the mountain.
Sunset looking back down Grassy Ridge.
We took out our headlamps and hiked into the night eventually setting up in the field near Overmountain shelter, which was a very cool place. Basically a big converted barn, on the lower level of the shelter you can wake up to wee the sun rising. This place was jammed about 4 people in the shelter and 8 to 10 tents in the field. We choose the field as we got in around 11 and didn't want to wake too many people.
My MLD Grace Solo set up in the field. This was easy to setup and get tight quickly. Not much fidgeting around to get it right.
The next morning I rose early and watched the sun come up into the clearing having a hot breakfast of tea, granola and milk with some summer sausage for protein. Animal protein was something that I found I missed on the trip. Perhaps bringing some protein powder would alleviate that next time. The first thing you get to do after leaving Overmountain is climb Little Hump. And then almost immediately you get to climb 500 intimidating feet over Hump mountain. A lot of this time the trail is above treeline.
This is Overmountain Shelter from Little Hump
In the saddle between Little Hump and Hump Mountain the Forest Service has implemented a process of baldification. Because the balds were not natural and created by grazing they have to be maintained by grazing. The forest service use large herbivores.
Longhorns on top of the mountain. Very surreal.
Coming off the balds of Hump mountain the trail plunges towards 19E. I had slowed the group heading up the balds so we tried to make up some time coming off the mountain. I also snapped one of my new trekking poles which earned a Colin Flechter cougar scream from me and a few grey hairs for Ray who assumed that the sound of the pole snapping was my femur snapping.
After crossing 19E things got weird for me. Though I was relatively diligent about intaking water, I started to experience what I can only assume was excessive heat stress. A contributing factor may have been trying to keep pace with Brad, who I swear was running up the mountain at some points. Within an hour I went from happy, albeit slow, hiker to a gasping sweaty, hot mess. I was in a bad way. We had hiked 2 miles past 19E and 19E was my only bail point. After that it was 20 odd miles of up and down back to my car. I decided at this point to cut my loses and head out. I bid adieu to Brad and Ray and turned back. Sitting at Mountain Harbor Hostel I started to cramp up and basically couldn't move much or at all without some muscle in my posterior chain complaining louldy. In the coming days I would be as sore as any workout I have ever done.
The clearing in which I turned around.
Conclusions: I tested out a lot of gear. I really liked my MLD Grace. I had never used trekking poles before and I think they really helped although I've now switched to aluminum for durability. My JRB no-sniveller was almost too warm, but still an excellent quilt. I liked the looks of Brad's BPL 90 quilt. My Inov8 315's we're too narrow from my feet. I also learned that I don't need a fleece in the middle of summer in North Carolina.
I need to research water supplements and experiment with trail snacks that provide me with more energy.
But ultimately this was a limit finder trip for me. Perhaps 20 miles in a day without training was a bit much. Could I do it if pushed? maybe but I'm not sure if it is something I would like to try again. I need to learn to hike my own hike, instead of trying to keep pace with others. More experience and time would have shown me this. I believe this was also a case of hubris though. More solo hiking and time and I'll learn my own pace.
All pictures credit to Brad Rogers.