The Roan Highlands

We made camp near Hughes Gap at the base of Roan Mountain around mile 371.3. Luckily we were all set up and fortified just as the winds kicked up and rain started blasting sideways. Secret waterfalls off the trail "Many Waters" leads the way local style outside Damascus.

It was nice cooking under our new 10x14 tarp lugged and carried by the Polish donkey. Muffins and Dumpstermouth set it up between our two tents and we had a nice dining room for the night. Despite the nasty weather, we cooked up a fest of pepperoni and basmati rice tacos. For dessert there was peanut butter, honey, and Nutella heaped on trail mix.

We went to sleep early as the temperature dropped with dreams of the Roan Highlands spinning about in our heads. When we woke up it was briefly sunny, and the clouds soon took over. Up to Roan we went. Roan Muffins Clouds (CLICK FOR VIDEO)

Roan was off in the distance. We could see about 50% of the base of the mountain, but the top was hidden way up in the clouds. Soon, we would be up in those clouds and damp again. The climb up was quick for us. It took under 2 hours to reach the top, where visibility was about 10 feet and everything was dripping. The cold dampness was back, and clouds whipped around us like tattered wraiths.

Dumpstermouth thinking about food. Four seconds of sun.

We skipped down to the Roan Mountain Shelter and explored it for its novelty of being the highest shelter on the AT. We vowed not to eat or touch anything at the shelter because we were all still wary of the Hiker Plague. The shelter is one of the few that actually have all 4 sides enclosed. There was also a ladder that led up through the ceiling to a loft, and it even had a front door!

Roan Mountain Shelter

We headed down to the parking lot at Carvers Gap around mile 377.3 and ate lunch there. The sun and clouds played a cruel game on us as we ate. The sun would come out for a moment and warm us up to nearly sweating, and then the wind would blow in more clouds and we would cool back down to a shiver. Josh was screaming at the sky for it to quit.

2ft. drifts yet to thaw on the way down Roan Mountain.

From Carvers Gap we climbed up and over a series of balds low enough to be under the clouds and not in them. There, we took pictures and rolled some videos of the cloud line breaking just over the edge of the mountains. On one side of the mountain it was clear, calm, and sunny with views that stretched for hundreds of miles. On the other, there was nothing but white out cloud and gale winds. The sunshine was just out of reach.

Getting the camera level with the clouds.

On the other side of Jane Bald around mile 378.7 the weather took a turn for the worst. After teasing us all day the sun finally disappeared behind a thick veil of fog and cloud drip. Cloud drip is not rain, no it’s when the air is 100% humid and cold so all the trees gather the moisture in their branches and drip it to the ground.

Muffins, Josh, and Dumpstermouth had gotten ahead of Mr. Dallas who was tinkering with his camera in the fog and changing into warmer clothes.

The plan was to hike to “Bradley Gap” near mile 385.8. It was only about 2 miles away from where they had separated. The sun was setting. The winds were increasing, and the intensity of the cloud drip escalated.  Bradley Gap has no tree cover, it is an exposed mountaintop with grassy rolling fields up in the jet stream, we did not know this.

Muffins, Dumpstermouth, and Josh hiked straight through Bradley Gap without even realizing it until they were about a mile past it up on Little Hump. It’s hard to notice a campsite and water source in gale force winds damp as a wet towel and thick as pea soup. The “water source” was a trampled mud pit and the “campsites” were invisible behind a swirling gray howling cloud. Needless to say, there was no staying there for the night. P1040750

They followed the deeply rutted trail down and out of the clouds to Doll Flats at mile 389.6. They arrived as darkness was falling. The cold gales persisted. The tents set up by Muffins and Dumpstermouth handled the wind, inside there was peace.

3 hours later around 10:20 Mr. Dallas arrived at the Doll Flats. He got to do it all in the dark. Headlamps don’t help much in the clouds. Ambient light, and the trusty white swatches beside the old mud trench guided him out of the madness. Dinner was ready before 11:00 and after nearly 20 miles everyone was asleep before midnight.

Before crossing the gap of death’s breath and summiting Little Hump twice, in dark behind a boulder, Mr. Dallas listened to the jet like roar. He could see his feet, and about a foot past that. He double checked the map, and took a deep breath; this was going to be fun.

One step out from behind the rock and into the open, and he was on his face in the grass tackled by the wind with 5 more miles to go.

BONUS VIDEO FROM THE SMOKIES. Check out the cold from the Fire tower. Tower0

Authored by Mr. Dallas