Monday, August 5, 2013

Last year as I staggered out of the woods near US19E, I promised myself that I had hiked for the last time across Hump Mountain. I had perfect weather that day and what started out as a short hike to Grassy Ridge turned into a 13.7 mile journey across some of the most beautiful scenery the Appalachian Trail has to offer. Luckily, I gained cell service on Yellow Mountain to alert Amber to my whereabouts and when to pick me up along the road or I may still be up there to this day. Normally, I tell several people where I'm going and how long I will be gone but that day I had felt really good once I got to Grassy Ridge and decided to continue on until I decided I needed to head back. From Grassy Ridge the AT drops in elevation significantly and eventually arrives at Yellow Mountain Gap. Once I got to the gap and got my first view back toward Carver's Gap I knew I had come to far to turn back and get out before dark, I would have to hike on toward Hump Mountain and eventually US19E. I was ill prepared for the climbs ahead of me, ran out of water on Little Hump Mountain, and my ankle socks weren't enough padding causing me to lose several toenails and have blisters on both heels. But like many of my adventures, once I got home licked my wounds, and loaded the pictures, the thought of doing a return hike suddenly didn't seem so bad.
Shane in the fog, near Grassy Ridge.
Old tree just before the Stan Murray Shelter.

I mentioned the hike to my friend Shane awhile back, and he agreed to go, noting that it would be the longest hike he had attempted. Each day leading up to the hike my excitement grew and yesterday we found ourselves on the way to Carver's Gap to tackle Hump Mountain once again. Hump Mountain is quite ominous and can be seen from miles away. Adding to the legend, is the difficulty in getting there. The route we chose, although longer, is listed as the "easier" of the two choices. Hikers can choose to hike from 19E to Hump Mountain but over five grueling uphill miles and rough trail separates them from their prize. We arrived at Carver's Gap around 9am and was completely engulfed in fog. Adding to my concern was the whipping wind and cool temperatures since I only had a t-shirt and shorts on, but we had came to conquer the mountain and we got our gear on and set off up the balds.
First rays of sunshine.

Taken from sitting inside the Overmountain Shelter.
Overmountain Shelter from Yellow Mountain. The Balds still covered in fog in background.
Gray's Lily, a rare and endangered flower only found in the southeren Appalachians.

Our pace was rather fast and we clipped off Round and Jane Bald within the first hour. We rested on Jane hoping to see a break in the fog but it refused to budge. I asked Shane what the weather was supposed to do he said, "beautiful, my phone showed a sun ball." We both had a good laugh and continued on toward the Grassy Ridge spur trail taking the AT North toward the Stan Murray Shelter and Yellow Mountain Gap. The trail enters the woods here and with all the fog it was almost eerie hiking along, at times it felt like the woods would swallow us whole. We arrived at the Stan Murray Shelter to find it empty with the exception of some trail journals and I took time to read both books, laughing at some of the entries. I recorded our trip listing our trail names as Freak Nasty and the King of Kentucky, shamelessly plugged my blog and we were on our way. In a couple of miles the trail arrives at Yellow Mountain Gap and a trail junction. Both Shane and I are history junkies, and on the spot we stood in Yellow Mountain Gap was where the Overmountain Men marched through the Roan Highlands in route to eventual victory at Kings Mountain over the British Army. Shane was well versed on the history of the Overmountain Men and marveled at the significance of that spot and the fact that farmers were able to advance on a trained army and slaughter them.
Little Hump Mountain.
Shane takes the lead up Little Hump Mountain.
Lunch near the summit of Little Hump.

We took the short spur trail down to the Overmountain Shelter which is a renovated red barn that sits in the gap. The sun finally made an appearance and the views down the valley were spectacular! Both Shane and I were energized by the break in the weather and took a short break at the barn with a few other hikers before continuing on. Our energy was short lived because the trail takes a steep turn up Yellow Mountain and with no shade, the sun was zapping our strength quickly. Several rest breaks up Yellow Mountain and we finally reentered the woods and started the turn downhill and our first sight of the Humps.
First view of Hump Mountain.
Heading toward Bradley Gap and Hump Moutain looming large.
The AT heading through Bradley Gap.

Little Hump Mountain is a nice rolling ridge surrounded by beautiful scenery. The AT drops into the valley at it's base forcing you to climb the entire mountain. Shane and I both took breaks frequently and the breeze was a wonderful feeling as we labored up the long grade. We arrived at some rock outcrops and found an older couple taking lunch so we decided to join them, and to this day I haven't had a better tasting fig newton. I cautioned Shane not to get upset with me once we crossed Little Hump and got our first good view of Hump Mountain, and he cautioned me to stay out of arms reach. As I summited Little Hump, I saw the mighty mountain rising in the distance and looked back to see Shane's reaction. If I had a video camera I could pinpoint the exact moment his stomach turned,  and after he exchanged some pleasantries with me, we continued on.
Another view of Hump Mountain.
The trail is in rough shape through Bradley Gap. Lots of opportunities to turn an ankle.

Once again the trail loses all the precious elevation you just gained and Hump Mountain grows larger and more gut wrenching with every step. The valley before Hump Mountain is known as Bradley Gap and the wind was roaring in this area. The grass looked alive dancing with the wind and soon we were beginning the first steps up the mountain. We made goals with landmarks and trudged from one to the other resting at each one. Half way up the mountain is a large set of boulders, we took an extended break here, fully appreciating just how far we had come. Round Bald was now a tiny dot on the horizon, we could see deep into the Linville Gorge, and Grandfather Mountain was visible to our right. Both our spirits were lifted by the sense of accomplishment and we pushed forward passing the horse gate that leads to the summit of the mountain. A scout troop was heading down the mountain with loaded packs and as I was watching them, I noticed a deer jump from the trail and spring through the waist high grass.
Grandfather Mountain off to the right of Hump Mountain.
Looking back to Little Hump.

Soon Shane and I were taking the final steps onto the summit of Hump Mountain. I unhooked my packs and dropped my camera bag, the views were truly stunning. Suddenly, Shane yelled, "Jason, get it" I turned around to see the deer from earlier no more than 15ft from us just starring back at me. I snapped off a few photos convinced it would flee at any second, but it stayed with us the entire time. At one point, Shane got within arms reach of the doe, it was one of the most amazing things I've seen while hiking. We both rested while our new friend grazed the balds on the mountaintop. I took picture after picture still in complete awe of the scenery before us. Shane shared some more of his fig newtons and both of us were slow to want to get back to our feet. Although we had reached the summit of Hump Mountain, we still had a difficult five miles ahead of us.
Winding up Hump.
Horse gate near the summit.
Almost up top!

The descent from Hump takes you through Houston Ridge, a long sloped area with more fantastic views. Hump Mountain's sharp face is visible from here and makes for some excellent shots. We arrived at the woods outside Houston Ridge and traversed perhaps the most difficult two miles of the hike. The trail is littered with boulders and my feet and knees were on fire with pain by the time we made it out. The Doll Flats is the next major landmark and is marked with your exit from North Carolina back into Tennessee and several nice campsites. We found a large rock in the woods to rest on and on to the tree next to it was a mile marker. We were now over 10 miles in but still had over three miles left! I was running low on water but luckily Shane had packed heavy and that last bottle of water helped me make it back to the road and our ride home.
Deer on Hump Mountain.
Shane, the deer whisperer.
Deer crossing the Appalachian Trail.
Grandfather Mountain from the summit.

Amber was waiting as agreed when we emerged from the woods and we all crammed in Steve's Camaro for the ride back to Carver's Gap. Both Shane and I were in good spirits considering the difficulty of the hike and we told Amber of all the adventure we had shared that day. When Shane and I made it back to my truck, we continued to rave about how perfect of a day it had been and began planning our next trip into the mountains. Hopefully this blog will halfway do this wonderful hike justice, it's not to be taken lightly but if you want to see the best the AT has to offer then this is a must. Until next time, happy trails!
Houston Ridge Memorial Plaque.
The full length of Houston Ridge.
The sharp face of Hump Mountain.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good blog entry. The lilies are not Grays Lily but Turks Cap lilies. Grays Lily is red and looks quite different. Turks cap has the green center star easily visible by the photo angle displayed. Both beautiful. Yes please to some of each! :-)