Sunday, March 10, 2013

A clear day on Roan Mountain is a rare occasion. The high elevations can cause weather shifts that are both quick and dangerous. The Balds of Roan offer no form of shelter or protection from incoming storms and if you found yourself caught in one, you might not be hiking back. Earlier this week, winter gave us one more snow storm. Here in Gray, it was more of a dusting, but I knew Roan would have snow, and lot's of it.
Crossing Round Bald, the Humps off to the left (snow capped)
Jane Bald summit
North Carolina view from Jane Bald
The road leading to Carver's Gap as seen from Jane Bald

However, I was surprised though when I started up the mountain today and encountered snow very early on. The past two days have been in the 60's so I thought most of it would be melted off. As I traversed the final few curves before arriving at Carver's Gap (elevation 5514ft), the road was covered and snow was piled over the guard rails. I fully expected to open my truck door to whipping wind but it was calm and very pleasant, even at 10am. I had brought my day pack, camera, and the new hiking stick my 76-year-old Uncle had cut and carved for me. A couple of weeks ago at Jones Falls, I forgot the one I had made and my uncle was furious that someone wouldn't try to return it. The parking lot was full of cars already so I figured I would be annoyed by the crowds on the mountain. I started the hike across the road on the Appalachian Trail northbound and began the climb up Round Bald.
Deep snow and steep climbing
Mt. Mitchell
Final approach on Grassy Ridge
More climbing, snow drifted over three feet in places.

Round Bald is a nice Roan Mountain sampler and can be completed by even the most novice of hikers. There are wonderful views into North Carolina and the hike through the old pine forests are nice too. When the trail leaves the wooded area a sign indicates you have made it to the summit of the Bald and in the distance the ominous Hump Mountain rises in front of you.  I continued on and down the backside of Round and on to the next bald, Jane. The climb up Jane Bald gives your legs the first real workout of the hike and the snow was starting to drift making some of the climb in three feet potholes created by hikers before me. The melting snow was also slick, but the hiking stick was serving it's purpose of keeping me balanced. The azalea bushes frame the trail and in winter are nothing more than annoyances as they scratch your arms and catch on your pack. There is a real nice rock outcrop just before the Jane Bald summit that I decided to have my break and eat some crackers. I could see other hikers coming across Round Bald and could hear some others just above me on the summit having a break. I didn't spend much time resting because I planned on having lunch at Grassy Ridge and I wanted it to myself. The down slope of the Bald was tough going as I waded through several large drifts and the steepness of the path made me make sure every step was certain. When it leveled my destination is in full view, Grassy Ridge rises steeply and the mountain winds around off to the right to some large boulders and that's where I was heading to have lunch.
A group of hikers leaving Grassy Ridge
Memorial plaque atop Grassy Ridge and views over 6000ft!

One of the largest drifts, even packed down from hikers over four feet and over top the azaleas.
Hump Mountains to the left and Houston Ridge. Far right is Grandfather Mountain

The snow became a real hassle climbing Grassy Ridge, It was three feet deep and trenched steeply the entire climb up the bald. I had to stop and catch my breath several times and I could feel my shirt getting soaked from the sweat of wearing a pack. Just before the summit of Grassy Ridge, there is a large Azalea tunnel, I'm so tall I have to crawl through this section but when it finally opens, the trail levels off and begins the turn to the right toward the boulders at one of the highest points in the south. There was a massive drift of well over four feet through some azaleas and it was so tall I was actually walking on top of them! It was a neat feeling but I was scared with my weight I would fall through and break a leg. When I finally made it to the boulders and the large plaque dedicated to a Roan Mountain resident from years ago, I shed my pack and hopped up on the rock. I couldn't have picked a better day for views! In every direction large mountain ranges rose in the distance. The Humps were straight ahead, Grandfather to the left, Table Rock and Hawksbill to my right, and Beech Mountain at roughly two o'clock. I chugged down my Gatorade and waded off in the snow to take pictures. There were several other people sprawled out on the ridge but they didn't distract from my photography.
Quality work from both God and Jim Bowlin
Spring showing it's first signs of life.
The strange peaks to the left on the horizon are Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge

I could feel my cheeks getting hot and realized I was sunburned! The sun was reflecting off the snow and had burned both arms, and my face badly. I tried to hike out quicker than when I came in, but the snow made for slow going. As I write this tonight, I look like an overcooked lobster and the sting of the burn makes me shiver. Time for some aloe vera and ibuprofen, until next time...happy trails.
Heading out and down Grassy Ridge
Winding out of the woods near Carver's Gap.

Goodbye, Winter.

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