Sunday, February 12, 2012

Trip report: Carver's Gap-Highway 19E Appalachian Trail on the


Starting Point: Carver's Gap, TN
Ending Point: Highway 19E NC
Distance: 14.3 Miles one way
Date: November 3rd, 4th 2011
Trip highlights: Hump Mountain at Night, Four of the best Southern Appalachian Balds, Hiking in open terrain, Amazing views of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia

It was 12:59 for an hour and a half. The clock finally hit one and I clocked out, ripped off my name tag and walked out to my car. My pack was already in my back seat so I was ready to hit the road to Carvers Gap. I met Katei at Yum Yum's for a quick hot dog and shake and then began the journey to the Tennessee Border.

A wrong turn in Blowing Rock, NC set my already late starting hike back even later. It was a beautiful Saturday in November, which means highway 105 was jammed with mini vans on their way to an afternoon at Grandfather Mountain--picnics and yuppies and toddlers; oh My! After more than an hour of stand-still traffic I was finally past the obstacle and quickly got back on the right track.

I finally arrived at Carver's Gap at around 6:00--about two hours later than I had planned. The parking lot was very nice, with a privy and ample parking, and was quite full. lacing up my boots and stretching; I strapped on my pack, crossed the road and headed North. My plan, originally, was to hike to Bradley gap, (about 7 miles in) set up camp for the night, wake up and do some day hiking before picking up my pack and hiking out. My late start changed my plans a bit but as I started hiking I had no concrete plans.

This section begins with a pretty easy clime up to Round Bald. The trail winds through some small patches of Ash forest, but for the most part remains fairly open. Day hikers heading back to Carvers Gap made up the bulk of trail traffic, although there were a couple small groups of weekenders and one group of SOBO thru-hikers headed the Roan high Knob Shelter. After a quick easy hike, I reached the 5,826 foot summit of Round Bald. I had no time to really stop and "take it all in" but the views were fantastic. The sun was already falling quickly and I needed to keep going, as I still wasn't sure how far I was going to hike.

I hiked down Round Bald, across Engine Gap and up to Jane Bald. Although lower the Round Bald, Jane Bald had equally as great views and I decided to stop and enjoy the sunset, eat a quick snack and figure out what my plan would be for the night. I consulted my map and determined that Stan Murry shelter would be a decent spot to camp for the night. I was disappointed that I would only be hiking less than 3.5 miles that day, but figured that would leave me well rested for a tomorrow of exploring the area.

Hiking down Jane Bald I ran into a group of middle-aged weekend hikers scrambling to find water and a place to camp. I told them that I didn't know of any campsites in that area but let them know that there was a spring not too far ahead on Grassy Ridge. They asked me where I was planning to camp. Feeling a burst of energy from my snack on Jane Bald, I explained to them that my plans had changed and I was looking at Stan Murray Shelter but was now thinking about trekking considerably further to Applehouse Shelter; given that I had walked the last mile or so with no sun in the sky and the moon was offering enough light that I had not yet even realized that I wasn't using my headlamp. Thus, Apple House became my new goal for the night. 14 miles sounded much better than a mere 3.4.

The trail leads down Jane Bald and enters its first real stretch of forest. Although the forest was aptly illuminated by the almost-full moon, I decided to finally pull out my head lamp. The trail gently looses elevation on the way through the woods towards Stan Murray Shelter and I was making pretty good time on this section of trail. I ran into a mapless and quite clueless group of high school kids looking for a spot to set up camp. I told them that they probably wouldn't find an established campsite big enough for their group but suggested going on to Over Mountain shelter which sleeps around 30. The group, who appeared to be dressed straight out of CCS Magazine, weren't up for very much more hiking. I breezed on and continued down the trail. I reached Stan Murray Shelter at around 7:15. Its two occupants were cooking dinner out in front of the shelter. They had hiked from Iron Mountain Gap and stayed at Clyde Smith Shelter the night before. I warned them about the clan on cotton-clad youths that were headed in their direction and continued towards Little Hump Mountain.

Yellow Mountain Gap was not too exciting in the dark except for a placard with a story from the Revolutionary War near the blue-blazed trail that lead to Over Mountain Shelter.

The forest opened up into grassy meadows and I again found myself without the need of my headlamp. I reached Little Hump Mountain and decided to cook Dinner behind a large rock formation which presented itself as an effective windbreak. I put on a layer of two and cooked my Minestrone and Cous Cous. I started hiking and the wind started picking up.

I traversed Bradley Gap which was wooded andoffered a nice break from the wind. I spotted several groups camping in this area. I passed several great unclaimed hammock spots and considered stoping short of my goal and staying in Bradley Gap. I kept Going. I also passed several springs and stopped at one to fill up. A small fence with a horse gate was situated right beyond the woods where the terrain opened up once again to a beautiful mountain meadow.

The hike up Hump Mountain was dominated by the wind. The trail was clearly marked through this open area but the wind was doing its best to keep me off of it. However, the summit of The Hump brought a change. The wind curiously stopped blowing as I reached the top and allowed me a chance to sit on The Hump and enjoy the summit. City lights from Roan Mountain, TN shined as brightly as the stars. Hump Mountain at night is a rarity worth investigating, and I highly recommend that you, at some point, experience it. I ate another quick snack and started down the trail at around 9:30 towards Doll Flatts--which was another pleasant surprise

After quite a while of rocky trail through the woods, the trail passes through one last open meadow. Even at night, the views from here are impressive. Past Doll flatts is more forest. A side trail to a spring is just beyond the Flatt and there was ample room for tents in this area. After about 3 miles of switchbacks, forest and several large rock formations I reached Apple House Shelter just at midnight.

The Shelter was full and several tents surrounded it. I set up my hammock behind the shelter, hung my food and went to bed under a clear sky--no need for a rain fly.

In the morning I awoke to the shelter coming to life. An older local man was cooking breakfast and talking to a young group of SOBO thru-hikers. It was their first night back on the trail after having spent two night in town, where they had had a great time with the locals. I made coffee and oatmeal and packed up me hammock. The thru-hikers started off before I did and I stayed and chatted a while with the local man. I was excited to repeat the previous day's hike with the benefit of sunlight.

I started back up the trail towards Hump Mountain. I reached Doll Flatts and stopped to take in the view. The night before offered great views but the daytime views blew them away.

I reached The summit of Hump Mountain. The thru-hikers from the shelter were on top eating lunch so I joined them. There was a clear view or Roan Mountain which is where they were planning to stay that night. The sky was so clear we could see as far south as Watauga Lake and far into Virginia to the North.

The thru-hikers continued on and I finished my lunch. A local family reached the top and we chatted for a bit. I told them that I was headed back to my car at Carver's Gap and they offered that I follow them though a short-cut to Highway-19 where the assured me hitchhiking to Carver's gap would be easy. I took them up on their offer and followed them back down the north side of hump mountain. We entered the woods and took a trail that headed onto private property that their neighbors owned. We walked for maybe 3 or 4 miles through the woods and then through a couple Christmas tree farms. We piled into the bed of a truck that was waiting at one of the tree farms and we headed towards 19. The dropped me off at a convenient store on the highway and wished me luck. As soon as they pulled off, A couple pulled over and offered a ride.

Zeke and Trish were two of the nicest strangers I've ever met. They had hiked a 500 mile section of the trail in the late 80s and soon after relocated to Damascus, VA. Zeke had planned to open up an outfitter is Damascus that sold gear and "took novice hikers into the woods to show them how to not be idiots," to use his own words. Unfortunately, sickness had prevented them from pursuing this dream. I told them I was from Greensboro and they Told me about Wild Foods Weekend in near by Oar Ridge...I'm looking forward to this in April.

They dropped me off at Carver's Gap, which was quite a ways out of their way. I offered to give them money for gas but they refused. I loaded up my car and headed back to Greensboro. TRIP PHOTOS

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