Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Only 13.7 miles to go!
near the summit of Jane Bald, looking back at Round Bald
The Appalachian Trail

Since I moved to Gray, TN last August I have been intrigued by a sharp mountain peak that looms in the distance as I pull in my driveway each day. After some research, I learned that it's known as Hump Mountain and it is the southern anchor of the Roan Highlands. I have hiked on Roan Mountain for quite some time but taking on the Hump Mountain trail is not one to take lightly or unprepared. From the Carver's Gap parking lot it's 8.3 miles to the summit and from US 19E it's a 3000ft elevation gain over five miles to the summit, in other words, it's really hard to get to.
Yellow Mountain Gap
spur trail toward Overmountain Shelter
hiking up Yellow Mountain Gap toward Little Hump

I was really torn on which route would best serve me, I've hiked from Carver's Gap across the balds to Grassy Ridge which isn't a really easy hike with the up and down climbing but even from there it's still almost six miles of unfamiliar trail to the top of the mountain. I settled on the hike from US 19E due to the shorter overall distance of a eleven mile round trip hike, and last Sunday I set off to Roan Mountain alone and unsuspecting of the challenges that lay ahead.
Little Hump Mountain
see what I mean about "false summit"
Summit of Little Hump

For some strange reason on my drive to Roan I changed my route from US 19E to the Carver's Gap parking lot, I just couldn't face that elevation gain after a week with a nagging cold. I got started on the trail at 1040am and hurriedly made it across Jane Bald in the first hour averaging over two miles. I made it to the top of Grassy Ridge Bald just around noon and the nice weather had my spirits high as I rested along some boulders contemplating the trail ahead. From Grassy Ridge the trail descends for over a mile and the trail goes through small forests before arriving at the first shelter of the Roan Highlands, Stan Murray Shelter. As with most shelters it's a simple three sided building with a wooden floor, but it was a welcome sight and I rested briefly here carefully measuring my water for the trip ahead. From the shelter the trail meanders through more forested area and eventually reaches a clearing known as Yellow Mountain Gap. The views here are stunning although not from the lofty heights of the balds it's a nice picturesque scene. This area is also home to the Overmountain Shelter, which is a renovated red barn that seems like a luxury hotel compared to the sparse Murray Shelter. The trail begins a steep straight uphill climb back up the ridge and I recognized it to be the climb toward Little Hump Mountain. Suddenly my phone rang and I realized that I had service! After talking with my mom and her worrying about my shortness of breath, I sent a text to my wife to see if she would respond. I was already over six miles from my truck and also some tough climbing going back stood in my way as well. She responded and I asked if she could meet me at US 19E around 530pm and she agreed.
Hump Mountain
another view winding into Bradley Gap heading toward Hump
wild flowers trail side heading up the mountain
trudging on on the endless climb

I now had a goal and a time limit, I was tired and not even half way through my hike but I didn't want to spend the night in the mountains alone and nothing but a sweatshirt to keep me warm. The hike up Little Hump is almost cruel and unusual, the mountain has a "false summit" so each time I crested a ridge more mountain rose in front of me. When I finally realized I had made the summit the celebration was short lived, rising almost twice as high as Little Hump, Hump Mountain came into view and I was in awe of it's beauty and fear of it's daunting climb. If you could casually stroll across the void between the humps it might not be so bad but between Little Hump and Hump Mountain the trail drops steeply into Bradley Gap making you waste all the elevation gained to that point. I could see the trail worn through the grass of the balds heading up Hump Mountain and at the time it seemed I would never be able to make it that far. Both my ankles had raw blisters on them by now and I was drenched with sweat still gassed from the climb up Little Hump. I rested and took in the scenery, my saving grace was the nice constant breeze and the 360 degree mountain views, I thought of how many people would kill to be able to be in my position and the ones that would never be able to even if they wanted to. My second wind must have kicked in because my legs felt less heavy and I started into Bradley Gap in preparation for my final climb of the day. With each step toward Bradley Gap it appeared that Hump Mountain grew higher in front of me. Even if I wanted to I couldn't turn back now, I was too far and I was surprisingly ahead of my time limit on meeting Amber at 19.
gateway to the summit
final climb
cresting Hump Mountain
Hump Mountain looking back toward Little Hump

The climb up Hump Mountain was tough, I was at the eight mile mark which is really the limits for my usual day hike. I rested about every 100 yards are so, taking pictures at each point. I eventually made it to a wooden fence and remembered reading that it was the gate to the final summit of Hump Mountain. As I wound around the summit and the grassy bald I thought of how the mountain had taunted me for all that time from the comfort of my truck seat back in Gray. It was a good feeling when I crested the mountain and was greeted by three other hikers. They were much more "hikery" than me with fancy gear, boots, and sleeping bags tied to their packs. I had my walmart back pack and a canteen of water. They were surprised to see me and asked where I had come from and I told them Carver's Gap. They had came from there too and asked where I had stayed the previous night, and I said, "at home, in my bed!" The look of astonishment on their faces made all my struggles worth it, they couldn't believe how far I had come in a single day, apparently 8 miles in the mountains of Roan is a lot. I took some pictures and looked in the direction of Gray thinking of Amber undoubtedly laying on the couch watching Cake Boss. I was thankful to have the climbing behind me but I still had a five mile hike to the road and less than three hours before Amber would be there.
Grandfather Mountain and Houston Ridge in the foreground
heading down Houston Ridge

From the summit of Hump Mountain the trail gradually winds down the south slope through a vast bald eventually reaching another set of wooden fences. The trail from here enters a wooden area and narrows a lot and crosses loose rock after loose rock, I carefully made my way down but was losing time with the rocky path. After about a mile of brutal trail, it finally widens and is smooth one again, I really burned it up in this section reaching the Doll Flats camping area in just over an hour and almost three miles hiked. I passed a sign saying now leaving North Carolina but I didn't even realize I was in the state! I hadn't seen anyone in four miles now but then I started to hear some voices on the trail ahead. It was four older female hikers and they didn't shut up the entire time I followed them, eventually they wised up and let me pass and within the first few minutes I had lost sight of them completely. The final two miles was hard. It was steep the whole way downhill and my shoes were digging into my blister wounds, I could hear traffic but it never seemed to get any closer or any further away. My phone started ringing, and Amber announced her arrival at our meeting spot. Another five minutes of hiking and I caught a glimpse of a car through the trees, finally 19E! I looked at my watch and it was 520pm, I had made excellent time! Cash was with Amber and ran down the trail to meet me, and I was so happy to see them both! I piled in the truck almost too tired to talk and Amber took me back to Carver's Gap to pick my vehicle up and head home.
leaving Hump Mountain
final view of the day
my body may leave but my heart will stay

It's been several days since I completed this hike and as I write this my hips hurt, my blisters are still raw, and my cold is still nagging. I would rate this hike as my favorite though, I guess it's because of the effort I had to give to make it and the sights I took in along the way. I talked to a friend who has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and he said the Roan Highlands are his favorite and most scenic part of the whole trail. I will eventually climb Hump Mountain again one day, but for now I will enjoy the pictures, I hope you will also...happy trails.

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