Hiking the Roan Highlands

Saturday morning (10/13) my wife and I finally made our way to where the Appalachian Trail crosses over US 19E, 0.3 tenths of a mile up the road from Mountain Harbour B&B and Hostel, at a tiring 4:30 in the morning. I parked our car and called my hiking buddy Hiking Shoes to see where about’s he was. A few minutes later he arrived and we briefly talked with each other about our trip there. Then, I tried to lay back in my car and catch at least a tiny bit of sleep before heading back down to the road to the Hostel around 7:30 am.

Around 7 am I realized that trying to get any sleep in that tiny car was pointless. After driving to a small country diner and having a cup of coffee and a yummy tenderloin and egg biscuit, we pulled into the hostel around 7:45. There we met our other buddy Craig for the first time. We all introduced ourselves, and then set our packs out and went up to the house to find out about our shuttle…

Around 8:30 am we all piled up in Terry’s truck and began making our way to Iron Mountain Gap to start our hike! It was a quick ride being that I filled the time talking with Craig about backpacking gear… Once we arrived at the trail head, I wasn’t even sure I knew which way to go… but of course we figured it out pretty quickly! Then we officially began our hike…

The group consisted of myself, my wife, my buddy Hiking Shoes and our new hiking buddy Craig. Being that my wife came along, I decided that I wanted to keep the miles short, which turned out well for this trip. The plan was to hike the 29 miles from Iron Mountain Gap back to US 19E over the next 4 days. This turned out to be a good thing since we found that this section of trail is a beautiful section, and quite unlike what we have been used to hiking through, a green tunnel… it was nice to take our time when walking over the balds.

As I said, we began our hike at Iron Mountain Gap the first day and hiked about 6 miles down the trail to Clyde Smith Shelter where we stayed the night. However, along the way we took a 0.6 mile side trail to the Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel for a lunch break. Finding our way was a slight challenge at first… It is said that there is an unfriendly neighbor right next door to the hostel which has made it a habit to remove the signs pointing the way to the hostel along the trail, however, we eventually realized that there were arrows made of sticks and almost hidden beneath all the fallen leaves along the ground that pointed the way to the hostel. And yep, we found it!

We arrived at the hostel on Saturday, which happens to be Connie’s (the hostels owner) Sabbath, so we did not get to meet her. Instead another lady by the name of Darla was watching over the hostel on the day we hiked in. Once we got there we kicked off our shoes and put on some “inside” shoes that is supplied by the hostel. After that we rummaged through the freezer until we found something we wanted, then nuked the meals in the microwave…

After we finished eating, we said our goodbyes and took off down (or rather, up) the side trail back to the AT to pick up where we left off. It didn’t take us too long and we were back on track…then shortly after we arrived at the Clyde Smith Shelter (which, IMO, is more than 0.1 miles off the AT…)

Brandy and I had decided that we wanted to set up camp this night since it was forecast to be a clear night. As well, Hiking Shoes and Craig also decided that they were going to hang their hammocks too. So, we took a small trail behind the shelter to a camping area and began setting up and settling in for the night…

After getting everything set up and eating we got our bear line hung in a nearby tree. By the time it started getting dark Brandy had already passed out in her nice warm bed and Charlie had also climbed into his hammock… at which point he called out for some help adjusting the underquilt. Good thing Craig was there to save the night for Charlie and get him all bundled up inside his hammock… After Craig and I sat around for a couple more hours talking about gear, we also both retreated to our own beds.

The night was indeed clear, and the temps only got down to the mid 40’s (plus a small windchill). The next morning we woke up by the light of the sun…slowly pulled ourselves out of our warm beds and began doing our morning chores of cooking and packing everything away to start a new day of hiking…

On day 2 we only hiked a little over 7 miles, from Clyde Smith to Roan High Knob shelter. The entire day was pretty much a climb up Roan Mountain… however, there were a number of new switchbacks added closer to the top of the mountain. This of course made the hike a little easier, but it also added a little more length. Either way, we made it to the top of Roan Mountain!

Once on the top of Roan Mountain, we checked out the area in which the old Cloudland Hotel once stood. Then we made our way down to the new parking area with the bathrooms, however, we found them to be closed… which was a bummer. But, at least we got to refill our bottles with some clean water from the fountain on the side of the building!

After we finished here, we made our way to the Roan High Knob shelter (the highest shelter on the AT), about a half mile from the top of Roan Mountain. I actually hiked on past the side trail to the shelter, but finally turned back around and made my way to the shelter. We had already decided to sleep inside the shelter on this night since it was supposed to rain all night long. So, once we got there we went about setting up our sleeping gear inside the shelter, cooking and again, hanging a food bag.

As we were finishing up another couple arrived at the shelter. They also decided to sleep inside the shelter due to the rain which was forecast for the night and they actually set their tent up in the upstairs part of the shelter. A little later in the evening, everyone was sound asleep inside the shelter…then around 4:30 am, the rain came…hard!

I finally pulled myself out of my sleeping quilt around 8 am the next morning. The rain came hard and steady during the night, but closer to the morning, it began coming and going. I quickly changed into my hiking clothes and went out to retrieve the food bags. Rain was randomly dripping from the trees and the bear line was soaked, however, I quickly got it all down and brought it all back inside the shelter.

As I came back in, the others had also started to get up. At this point, we all began our morning chores, again. Within an hour we were hiking back down the trail…and I gotta admit, I was pretty excited about this day!

The third day we hiked about another 7 miles from Roan High Knob Shelter to Overmountain Shelter. This was the first day we got to hike over a few of the famous Roan Highland balds, and then we would finish it off by staying at the famous Overmountain Shelter (AKA: “The Red Barn”)! I couldn’t wait…

By the time we reached Carvers Gap some of the clouds had begun to move on and the day started looking promising as far as offering some good views from the balds. We stopped here and shed off our rain gear and got it all packed away, and then we headed up the mountain! Our first stop was Round Bald…

After enjoying the views standing on top of Round Bald, we decided that we should push on…after all, the next bald, Jane’s Bald looked like it was just right there…a simple, quick and easy hike down Round Bald and then we could probably just ride the momentum right back up to the top of Jane’s Bald…

It didn’t work quite like that, but it was fun none-the-less, and we got there…and the views were just as good…

Then, after climbing to the top of Jane Bald, we had to go back down and up one more time for the day… IIRC, the name of the third bald was Siler’s Bald (although, I could be wrong on this one, there was no sign…) However, on top of this bald there was a side trail that veered off of the AT and up to the top of Grassy Bald. We decided to just stop on top of Siler’s Bald (?) and to have a break for a bit and then to push on farther along the AT to our destination for the day, Overmountain Shelter…

As we hiked off of Siler’s Bald, the trail led us downhill and back into a wooded area. Being that many of the leaves had already fallen though, we still got some good views on the way down. Then a couple of miles later we came to the Stan Murray shelter. We stopped here for a minute to take our packs off and to have a snack (and make a visit to the back side of a tree…)

Another group of 4 arrived at the Stan Murray shelter while we were sitting there. After talking with them we realized that they too were heading for Overmountain shelter for the night. So, we talked with them for a bit and then me, my wife and Craig pulled our packs back on to make the last little trek to the shelter. Hiking Shoes, being the social butterfly that he is, stayed back and talked with the other group for a while longer…

Then shortly after, we came to the side trail that took us down to Overmountain Shelter! We hiked down and decided to set-up on one of the pads built into the side of the barn so that we could take full advantage of going to sleep, and waking up, to the views of looking over the valley below Overmountain Shelter!

About the time that we all got our stuff set up the group that we met back at the Stan Murray Shelter arrived. As well, a southbound thru hiker had also stopped in for a quick visit while we were getting settled in at the shelter. The group that we had met earlier had stopped and began unloading their packs in the grassy area just before the shelter and then had come down to check out the shelter.

One of the hikers had brought his beautiful Weimaraner dog with him on this hike. After talking with him we also found out that he and his dog had thru hiked the AT in 2010, and it was noticeable. The dog was lean and strong-looking! And he was good. He was not on a leash, but at least he did not get into our stuff… he did jump up on the platform though and let Brandy pet him for a while…

Eventually another southbound section hiker came through too. He decided to set up his tent in the upstairs part of the shelter for the night too. As the darkness began to settle in though we got our food bags hung and then sat around, talking with the other hikers, and then eventually all making our own way to bed for the night…

The next morning came and I woke before sunrise…hoping to catch the sun coming up over one of the mountains down in the valley. For a while I thought I would get to catch a full sunrise, however, some clouds began moving in and scratched that idea… So, I laid there for a bit longer and then got up. I made my way to the bear line that we had thrown the night before, but getting it down this morning was not quite as easy as the previous mornings… This time I had 4 people’s foods all on my line and the wind from the night before twisted it all around and got it good and tangled. Finally though we carried the picnic table and I stood on top and used a trekking pole to untangle the mess and it finally came down.

After we got everything all packed away we headed up the trail. This was our last day, and at around 9 miles, our longest. The only real climbs we had were up Little Hump and then of course Big Hump, but from there it was all down hill (for the most part).

As we started our way up Little Hump, the clouds seemed to get thicker and we were concerned that we may not get the views that we were wanting. As well, this was the day I was looking forward to since I felt like Big Hump was the main attraction of this hike. As we reached the top of Little Hump our conclusion was correct in that we did not get any good views, but it did look like things were going to get better soon. The clouds were moving off and we were beginning to see more of the sun!

We made our way off the top of Little Hump and by the time we got to Bradley Gap, which is between Little Hump and Big Hump, the sky was all clear! So, we pushed up Big Hump, which felt like the biggest climb of the hike, and rejoiced once on top!

The top of Big Hump was awesome! The 360 degree views were beautiful. We could look back and see where we came from on Roan Mountain, and then over the different balds up to the very point at which we currently were. But from here on out, we felt like we were hiking out…to a shower and an actual cooked meal, by someone else, and not from a bag! So, after taking in the views, we started our way down…

About the first 1.5 miles or so was along the wide open balds, and then back into a wooded area where we started going down some steeper descents, and much rockier at that! Then a couple of miles down the trail we came to Dolls Flats, a field on the side of the mountain and where we cross back into Tennessee from North Carolina. To the right were some awesome views, and we even saw a few Christmas Tree farms…  🙂

From here on out, the hike was all pretty much down hill. The trail itself was beautiful, and IMO, more so than the rest of the wooded part of the trail that we had been through on this hike. There were some large rock walls, and a winding trail with fallen leaves through a beautiful section of trees. It’s just hard to explain in words, but I would highly suggest checking out this section at this time of the year…it is well worth it!

About 2 hours later we came back to US 19E, our end point…almost. From there we hiked the 0.3 miles down the road back to the Mountain Harbour B&B and Hostel. Once there we got cleaned up and went into the small town of Roan Mountain and got some lunch from a local diner. Then we headed back and just hung out in the Hiker Hostel for the rest of the night…

The next morning we all got up and headed up to the house for some of Mary’s breakfast. We had heard about her breakfast all along the trail from the other hikers, and we were really looking forward to it… at least I know that I was looking forward to it more than anything else while on the trail… I love a good breakfast, and as I found out, her’s was even better than good, it was the best! It was amazing at the arrangement she had presented, and it tasted better than it looked… If you are ever through this area, I more than recommend stopping by the Mountain Harbour Hostel… it is a must stop. From the hostel to the meals, I have nothing to complain about…

Once we filled our tummies, we made our way back to the hostel, finished loading the car and then headed back home…

For the entire picture set, click here: Hiking the Roan Highlands Pictures

As well, here are a few YouTube videos from the hike. They are divided up by day:

Thanks for reading/watching!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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27 Responses to Hiking the Roan Highlands

  1. Pingback: Goose Feet Gear Down Socks & Over Booties - Gear Review | OutdoorTrailGear Hammock,Backpacking, Hiking Gear+ Gear Reviews

  2. Ronald says:

    Hi Stick, Love your blog and vids. Myself and my two sons just hiked max patch to Hot Springs over three days and we had an awesome time. It was our first mountain overnight hike and to tell you the truth, our calf muscles were not happy with us on the third day, haha we are from the flat lands of eastern NC. We are looking at doing the same hike you did in October of this year. In your opinion, how do you compare the elevation climbs between (max patch-Hot Springs) and Iron Mt – 19East.I think the Hughes gap up to Roan Mt has me wondering the most. I really like the idea of the balds. We could do Carvers gap to 19E but we wanted a longer hike. Any suggestions? Thanks

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Ronald,

      Thanks for the kind words about my blog, glad to hear you enjoy it! And congrats on your first overnight, and with your son’s at that! That is awesome!

      As for your question, there is a bit more climbs, as well as a bit more distance hiking from Iron Mtn to US19E than Max Patch to Hot Springs. I know it’s different with kids, but the only climb I really felt there was between Max Patch and Hot Springs was up bluff Mtn, and I didn’t find it too difficult… Saying that, my daughter would have disagreed with me completely! 🙂

      Anyway, as for the Roan Highlands, the climb up Roan is not to gentle (although, not bad either), and it has been made easier with more switchbacks, although, this also added more distance. Then there are climbs up Jane Bald and Grassy Bald which aren’t bad, but noticeable… And then Little Hump and Big Hump, which are both a bit more noticeable… Again, not so much for adults, but for kids…

      I am not sure how old your kids are or how much they enjoy hiking, but my daughter is 10 and likes the idea of it, but if I don’t keep it small, she wouldn’t like it… I am not sure if I would take her on this section just yet, but if I did, I would make sure it was absolutely perfect weather the whole time, give her a very light pack, and bring things she can do to keep her happy…

      Carver’s to US19E would be better since it cuts out climbing Roan Mtn, and I think the balds are more fun than Roan, but there is a nice open field near the top of Roan, and the shelter is a fully enclosed shelter. The hike from the shelter to Carvers Gap is a nice, wide, groomed trail that is all downhill, so it’s also nice and easy…

      Anyway, I know this doesn’t help much, but maybe it does some… If you have any more specific questions let me know and if I can help you I will be happy to!

      Thanks again,

      ~Stick~

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    • Ronald says:

      Stick, That info is just what I was looking for. My boys are in their twenties and they wouldnt have any problems with Roan Mt. But I think we will start out with Carvers gap to 19E then check out Roan later. Thanks again for the info. Safe hiking, Ronald

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  3. Pingback: AT Section Hike: Carver’s Gap to Dennis Cove Rd (Kincora Hostel) | Stick's Blog

  4. Pingback: Hiking the Roan Highlands | Loneoaks Ramblings

  5. Northern Lights says:

    Great trip report! Looking forward to this section even more now. Thanks 🙂

    Like

  6. hikingdude says:

    Ben,

    Some Buddies and I are looking to do pretty much the same hike in March. However, we would like for it to be a little longer. Where would be a good starting and or ending place? Thanks

    Like

    • Stick says:

      If you wanted to extend this a little, I would suggest starting at Erwin and finishing at US19, or at the Mountain Harbour Hostel about 0.3 miles down US19 from where the trail crosses the road. This would lengthen it to 50 miles, and would provide an easily accessible starting point, as well as a stopping point. If you have enough folks to stage cars, I would suggest staging cars at the MH Hostel (they will let you leave your car there for a small per day fee… and it is safe there). If not, simply drive to the MH Hostel, leave your car there, and get them to shuttle you to Erwin, then hike back to the car. It’s a great section, and the hostel is well worth staying at, or at the very least having some of Mary’s breakfast! (I suggest calling in advance for a place to stay, as well as breakfast.)

      Hope this helps some, and good luck with the hike!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  7. Ben says:

    How long would you say it takes to hike from Hughes Gap to the roan high knob shelter?

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    • Stick says:

      Ben,

      I can’t remember how long it took us on this section off the top of my head, however, looking at a map, it shouldn’t be too difficult at all. It looks like it is only about 2100 ft of elevation, but spread out over 4.1 miles. So, it really just depends on how fast you hike…

      Hope this helps.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  8. MB says:

    Great pics, and a great trip.
    Love Mountain Harbour hostel and the bkfast! They are tops.

    You will have to be sure to go back and do it again one day in mid June when the Rhododendron is blooming against a backdrop of green. It is positively spectacular on a clear sunny day.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      MB,

      I would like to get up in this area again for sure, and I will also make it a point to be at the Mountain Harbour for some more of Mary’s breakfast!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  9. John Keefe ( Battleax) says:

    Got off the trail after doing three days going south Vt to Ma. Thought I had a good hike until I read yours. A good hike is not determined by how far you hiked; but the family and friends that hike with you. I had rain and cool weather. It’s an advantage to hike further south. You get better weather longer.

    Battleax( John keefe)

    Like

    • Stick says:

      John,

      That is a great way to put it! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy covering big miles, but having friends and family along really makes (or breaks) a hike for me. As far as in the south…it has it’s moments too…but I do find myself wishing for more snow… hiking in the heat all the time can get tiring too…and miserable!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  10. Looks like you made a lot of great memories on that trip. I love the pics and you had my mouth watering over that sumptuous breakfast. I’ll be sure to try it out when I find myself braving it out there. Thanks for sharing. Really appreciate all this.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! And yes, lots of great memories and some really great breakfast! I highly recommend this section of the AT, as well as Mary’s awesome breakfast! I am glad that we stopped there, this way when I pick back up there I can have the breakfast again! 🙂

      Like

  11. chalk23 says:

    Nice trip report! It looked cool out there. It was probably a welcome relief from the heat of the summer. Do you know if it got any cooler then the mid 40’s during the trip.
    -Todd

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Todd,

      Yep, I would say it got in the low 40’s the first 2 nights and it was 36 or 37 F the last night, of course you also have to consider wind chill… I would say real feel temps were in the high 20’s to low 30’s each night…

      ~Stick~

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  12. WildandWiser says:

    I was at Carvers gap on the 14th and it was an absolute gorgeous day. You couldn’t have picked a better weekend to hike Roan Mountain. This is one of my favorite sections of the trail.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      It was a nice time out there! The weather was great, and at least the only rain we got was overnight so we were inside a shelter rather than hiking in it. There were also some clouds out on Little Hump, but by the time we got to Bradley Gap they were gone. It was definitely a fun hike!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  13. atkory says:

    Man this sounds awesome. Getting me excited to get out there and do some miles. Love shoulder season hikes!

    Like

    • Stick says:

      This is a great time to be out there. The weather is great to hike in and the nights are a little cool so it makes bundling up and getting warm fun! I love this time of year and always try to plan my longer trips at this time of the year…

      Like

  14. Loneoak says:

    Excellent write buddy. Sure looks like everyone had a great time. I loved the milage, even tho I know you enjoy them 20 mile days…..LOL
    I had a lady do my ancestry stuff and found out I was kin to someone that was in the skirmish at Kings Mtn. The overmountain men, pretty interesting.

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    • Stick says:

      Thanks Jim! It was a great time, and the mileage was indeed small each day, but that is ok because my wife enjoyed it more that way…and we all know, that is what really matters! 🙂

      That is cool about the ancestry thing, one day I should look into mine a bit more…

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  15. Good stuff. Looks like a good time and you got some fall colors.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Jake,

      We did get some good colors, and it was just beautiful. This is a great time of the year to be out around this area for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

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