the appalachian trail – NC & TN

On Friday’s it’s always a scramble trying to get off work, pack, and hit the road before 6pm. Somehow even with unexpected happenings on this day, the road was finally in our vision as we headed towards the Carvers Gap parking lot. This was a little over 3-hours of driving from Winston Salem. Our intention was to hit the Grassy Ridge Bald on Roan Mountain.

The towns of Bakersville, North Carolina and Roan Mountain, Tennessee are connected by the State Routes TN-143 and NC-261. This is where Carvers Gap is located. Featuring a section of the Appalachian Trail, it is considered the most beautiful part of the entire trail which is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. It stretches over 14 states in the U.S. and is a total of 2,190 miles long. (http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail)

We finally arrived at the Carvers Gap parking lot around 10pm on a Friday night. Definitely not doing what your typical persons of our age would be doing at that time. We were unloading our packs from the car, strapping down, locking up, and hitting the dirt trail across the road in the pitch black darkness of foggy abyss that lay before us. Scared? No, never. We had Caroline and she was born to kill — is that too dramatic?

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With headlamps attached to our heads, we hiked about 2-miles in the dark not being able to see anything except the trail directly in front of us. We saw an owl, and two sets of eyes peering at us through the fog. We just kept going.

Coming to a stop, turning our headlamps off, and peering out into the open air, we were able to see the campfires of others and their lights in the far, far distance. We weren’t alone and that was comforting. We continued until a loud bark greeted us and we saw a few guys camping for the evening. They offered us the campsite next to them and we immediately made friends and set up shop for the night. We fell asleep early, it was cold, foggy, and windy.

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We awoke early the next morning to the fog clearing out and our little dog friend greeting us with more barks. Caroline and him played as we made small talk with the guys next door and cooked breakfast. Egg and cheese quesadillas, my favorite! We ate, began to pack everything up, and made conversations with all the thru-hikers that passed by as we were set up next to the trail on a flat grassy ridge.

A couple stopped and told us NOT to head towards the Grassy Ridge Bald. We would be wasting our time he said. He told us to continue on the Appalachian Trail (the white blaze) — in his opinion, it was the most beautiful part of the entire trail! After hearing people say this exact thing, time, and time again, we agreed it had to be done. We would get as far as we could in a day. We hit the trail.

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Taking a left onto the Appalachian Trail at the split not far from our campsite, the sun began to pop out and the fog was now gone.We hiked for a long time passing people along the way. Everyone was friendly, made conversation with us, and wished us well. The trail is heavily trafficked, but not in a way where you feel crowded. There is a lot of solitude here, and a lot of time spent walking on a trail that looks like it did just a few miles back. Up and down the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, up and down.

1.3 miles later and a total of 3.3 miles from Carvers Gap where we parked, we came upon the first shelter — The Stan Murray Shelter.

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With a notebook for others to sign and write their experiences in, we wrote a little blurb, and grabbed some water at the nearby water source (about half a mile down a little side trail near the shelter).

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Not much to it, but we needed water, and of course we used a filter.

Grabbing a little bite to eat and conversing with a few others that passed by, we learned that a main attraction was 19E (a cool blog here: https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/the-final-shakedown-carvers-gap-to-19e/). It’s a total of 13.6 miles from the Carvers Gap parking area, includes views in elevation of 2,437 feet, and is a point to point trail. People often see wild ponies here. With a total of three AT shelters (including the Stan Murray Shelter), this seemed like a pretty cool hike. We obviously didn’t have enough time to complete this one but we wished the others luck and hit the trail again attempting to get as far as possible.

The Appalachian Trail itself is a VERY well maintained and well-kept place. It amazes me that being completely volunteer based, the trail has been able to stay in existence for 92 years. It brings tears to my eyes that people care so much about the efforts to protect, conserve, and beautify this land. It’s so important to have this in order to show our children, grand-children, and everyone. It’s not just beautiful, IT IS LIFE CHANGING. If you could see it through your own eyes, you would understand my tears. They are happy tears.

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Along your way, expect to find many different wild fruits and berries that are safe to eat and are very tasty. The trail is kept up with a White Blaze throughout it’s entirety, and is marked well and on unique surfaces. I enjoyed making a game out of where the white blaze would be next.

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The trail can be very thin at times making it hard for even one person to squeeze through. As you make your way up and down the ridges of mountains it can get quite difficult at times. It takes you through thick forests, to open fields, and back into forests again. An absolute diverse part of nature to see.

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Making our way to another fork in the road at 5.2 miles since trail-head, we had arrived at the split that either continues onto the trail, or you can take a right. Taking a right will lead you to the Overmountain Shelter or as most call it “The Barn“. This is a popular place to camp and can get very crowded at times. The barn is a red historic barn that is one of the most unique and largest shelters on the Appalachian Trail. It can be seen in the background of the picture below.

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We very much could have camped here and even met an inviting couple who had already started drinking and said we should stay — but we didn’t. We took advantage of the water source about half a mile through the woods, filled up, and continued on up the mountain towards Little Hump.

You see, before you get to 19E, there’s Little Hump Mountain, and then you go up and over and onto Big Hump Mountain, and then to 19E. Here’s the map…1234

Once past the barn, we went as far as our bodies could carry us with our packs that were getting increasingly heavy at this point (you’ll see why). It was about 4pm. We found a little trail in the woods up a little hill with a perfect little campsite there. That was it, we set up shop at 8.3 miles total from parking lot and right at the base of Little Hump Mountain. Once we were set up, we ventured out and up onto Little Hump to try and catch a sunset.

The fog began to roll in again, and the wind was kicking back up. The views began to become bleak and I must say, I was disappointed and upset about it. I couldn’t stay upset about it for long though because once at the top of Little Hump…I had found my piece of heaven on earth.

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Some say this is one of the most beautiful places they have ever seen. Some say, it’s the best part of the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail as I’ve stated earlier. Honestly, you can say whatever you want about the view because no words will ever describe it and I am still speechless about what I saw this evening atop this mountain. I saw myself, I saw my best friend, I saw my four legged girl, both in front of me in the midst of fog and cool mountain air and I just breathed in and out. It’s a lot to take in. It goes beyond your scope of understanding. Your 9-5 doesn’t even matter, your skills, your knowledge, your accomplishments. Nothing in your life matters except right there in that moment. It’s a feeling of complete freedom and no one can ever take that from me, or from you. No one can stop any of us from climbing that mountain, seeing, and feeling, that kind of feeling. I want it in my pocket to keep forever. It is life.

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We climbed down as we realized it would be dark soon, and began to cook our dinner. On the menu was Thick-Ass-Steak and Fettuccine Alfredo. The milk and cheese actually held up for 24 hours and WOW it turned out amazing. So pasta may be my new forte’.

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I was surprised with two jugs of wine that my love had carried all this way for me, a raspberry chocolate bar, and gummy bears. We sat and drank by the fire, warmed our feet, and eventually called it a night.

About 12am the rain came in. Luckily where we had chose to camp the trees canopy kept us for the most part, dry. Once the morning came, the rain let up some, but the fog was still pretty dense. We cooked some breakfast again, packed up, and headed towards the car.

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The fog kept the temperature relatively cool and I was enjoying it as the hike out was just as strenuous as it was in. I wore shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt, completely comfortable. We continued to pass many thru-hikers, one, all the way from Ohio who was using his vacation time to hike a portion of the trail. Another, a lady, who was headed out all by herself questioned us on the shelter, how far it was, and if it were empty. I was amazed at the fact that a woman was headed out into the wilderness for a night of camping all alone. I admire that. I wish I had the guts.

The most amazing thing happened around lunch time as we were headed out and back on the ridge where we had camped that first night. The fog began to clear and we were able to catch the 360 views that I had so dearly missed the day before. My dreams came true as I gazed in wonder at the sights that unfolded before us.

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My trip was now complete. The air was still and quiet as we found a rock and climbed to the top and looked out and over at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Mountains for miles and miles and miles. Mountains for as far as the eyes could see. The clouds rolled perfectly overhead and I got that feeling again — that feeling of freedom.

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We continued hiking out and I was able to catch some good shots with the perfect light. Mother Nature at it’s finest hour on this particular day.

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It was such an interesting experience hiking out during those last 2-miles as we had previously done it a few nights before in complete darkness. Seeing how close we were to the edge, the wildflowers, rocks, and different scenery was pretty cool. Before we knew it we were back at the entrance and to our car. A girl offered to take our picture by the sign and I was glad for that.

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Another backpacking trip done. We are so thankful and I give endless praise to those that thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety. It’s not easy, but I’ll bet it is the most amazing experience in the world. Cheers to that. And cheers to Cookout milkshakes and warm showers. I have learned to appreciate the simple things in life and that is by far the best thing I have taken home from all of this.

Welcome to North Carolina!

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P.S. — Hey Mom, I didn’t use the word “endure”! 😉

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