Today was a Mary Poppins day in that it was practically perfect in every way. That first day out of Gatlinburg was pretty perfect too, but today borderlined on being amazing.
I was the first one up at the Greasy Creek Friendly, but Cee Cee (corrected spelling) was right behind me, housekeeping, making coffee, finishing laundry, and making certain that everyone had everything they needed to continue on their journey. When I settled with her financially, she charged me $21 for the room, shuttle to town, and for doing my laundry. I gave her twice that much and told her to put the difference towards her new roof fund. How many times has a hostel owner given you a big hug before you departed? How many hostel owners have told you to have a safe and wonderful hike, and a “butterfly day!” The answer is NONE, unless you have met Connie Pruitt. I have posted a really well written article about the Friendly on my Facebook page that I hope you will take the time to read. I walked the entire 0.6 mile, uphill road from the Greasy Creek Friendly back to the trail with a smile on my face.
After an easy two mile climb out of Greasy Creek Gap, I reached the Clyde Smith Shelter where I stopped, and took on fuel for the 1,700 foot climb facing me. Before reaching the summit of Roan Mountain, I first had to get past Little Rock Knob. That climb was rewarded with a pretty nice view.
Shortly after starting the main climb from Hughes Gap, I looked up a saw a deer. At first, I thought it was fake, like someone put a plastic lawn ornament on the trail for fun. Then it twitched. I laid down my poles and pulled out my camera, and she was still there. After getting a couple of pictures, I tried to move a little bit closer to her, but she would have nothing to do with that, and she bounded off into the woods. Thank you my deer, for putting another smile on my face.
I forgot to tell you that yesterday, the wind stopped. I mean it really stopped. The Enchanted Forest was made even more enchanting by the fact that the only sounds I heard were my footsteps, and the sound of me breathing. It was actually a bit eerie. So I climbed Roan Mountain without a breath of wind and that same eerie feeling. As I gained altitude, the forest changed into another spruce forrest with a bonus. This time it smelled exactly like a Christmas tree lot! Although this forest wasn’t quite as “enchanted”, it was still a stunning section of the hike.
At the summit, the trail opened up into a bald that once featured the luxurious Cloudland Hotel. Built about 1884, this three-story structure, complete with a rocking chair lined porch facing the view, was a magnet for “finer” ladies and gentlemen nationwide. Now, all that is left of this grand hotel are some aging pieces of foundation, but the view remains intact.
A short walk past the mountain summit is the Roan High Knob Shelter. It is the highest shelter on the A.T., and unique in design in that it is two-stories high and completely enclosed. I decided to take the 0.1 side trail to take some pictures and discovered that the trail was very steep and covered with tree roots. On the way back down, I passed another hiker that was climbing up and I said, “The trail seems to have varying definitions of what constitutes 0.1 miles.” He responded, “0.1 is always longer when you are climbing a ladder.”
The trip down from Roan Mountain was very nice, with mostly gentle grades and a good treadway for the next 4.5 miles. When I arrived at Carvers Gap, I noticed that the parking lot was packed and there were a lot of people coming down the trail on the other side of the road. It thought this was odd, because I hadn’t seen very many day hikers climbing the backside of Roan Mountain. Why are all of these people here?
Despite reading dozens of trail journals, and watching dozens of YouTube videos created by last year’s thru-hikers, I’m still surprised about what is in front of me on the trail. As soon as I climbed up a few feet, I immediately recognized this place from the pictures I had seen online. All of these people are here to hike a series of the most magnificent balds in the southern Appalachians! One after another, I climbed over Round Bald, followed by Jane Bald, followed by Grassy Ridge Bald, each with a more breathtaking view than the previous bald. It was made even more special because at each bald, you could look back to where you had hiked, all the way back to Roan Mountain! I took over 50 pictures while I was up there, but unfortunately, I can only share a few for now.
After spending a large chunk of time enjoying the balds, it was time to get moving in order to make it to my intended shelter before sundown. I told myself that if I made it to the Stan Murray Shelter by 6:00 pm, I would continue on the 1.9 miles to my intended destination, the Overmountain Shelter. Happily, I made it by 5:45, so I continued on to what would be an amazing ending to my day.
The Overmountain Shelter is a barn that was built in the 1970’s, and renovated as a hiker shelter in 1983 by the Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club. It is two-stories high, fully enclosed, and sleeps nearly 30 hikers. Not only is the structure unique to the A.T., but it is located on what has to be one of the most prime pieces of real estate in these mountains. The view from my tent provided an ending to my day that was practically perfect in every way.