Backpacking The Appalacian Trail – Roan Highlands, Day 1 – Carvers Gap to Overmountain Shelter

October 14, 2017

While I’ve done a lot of day-hiking so far this year, I haven’t done any backpacking. Now that Summer has ended, I figure that it’s the perfect opportunity to get out, sleep under the stars, enjoy some cooler weather, and possibly take in some early Fall colors.

I decided that I’d plan a trip for this past weekend. Come Saturday, I loaded my gear in my car and settled in for the three-and-a-half hour drive from my house in upstate South Carolina to a section of the Appalachian Trail that starts at Carver’s Gap. Carver’s Gap is about ten or fifteen miles north of Bakersville, NC and is situated right along the state line with Tennessee.

It’s a popular destination for both day-hikers and backpackers alike. The main paved parking area was completely full and people had begun to park their cars along the side of the road. Fortunately, I was able to find a space in a secondary gravel parking area not too far away.

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From the gap, if I had gone south on the A.T., the trail would have climbed more than 700 feet to the top of Roan High Knob. At 6,285 feet, Roan High Knob is the highest point on Roan Mountain. Instead, for this trip, I’d be heading north on the A.T. towards the Overmountain Shelter, where I would spend the night. During the first half mile or so of my hike, the trail gained about 300 feet in elevation and passed through a cluster of Spruce and Fir as it made its way to Grassy Ridge.

Grassy Ridge is a very long and expansive bald. In fact, it’s the longest expanse of bald in the Appalachian Mountains. It has few trees, lots of thick grass, and offers great views in all directions.

There are three peaks at the top of Grassy Ridge. Jane Bald, at an elevation of 5,807 feet, is one of them. The other two are Round Bald (elevation 5,826 feet) and Grassy Ridge Bald (elevation 6,189 feet).

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The temperature at the beginning of my hike was in the upper 60’s to maybe 70 degrees. Because the sun was shining brightly, it actually made it feel slightly warm. In anticipation of this hike, two or three weeks ago, I bought a broad brim straw hat that I had found on clearance. While it doesn’t make much of a fashion statement (or perhaps it does, just not necessarily a good one), the hat in reality functioned pretty well and did a good job of protecting my face from the sun.

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The flower in this image is a variety of Goldenrod. Not long after taking this picture, a couple of men came up fast behind me and passed me on the trail. I tend to be quite competitive and I don’t particularly like being passed. I thought to myself, “darn it, I’m lollygagging too much”! I immediately kicked it into high gear and took off down the trail after them. The guy that was in the lead and setting the pace, appeared to be in his early 20’s. Even though the terrain was at least moderately steep and rugged, he was moving along at probably close to 3.5 miles per hour. While I tried not to get too close and make them feel uncomfortable, I refused to let them get completely out of my line of sight.

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About three miles later, I arrived at Yellow Gap and followed the blue blazed trail that would lead me down to the Overmountain Shelter. Just before arriving at the shelter, I passed through an open area that has soft grass, fantastic views of the valley, and makes for a great place to set up a tent. The area fills up with tents pretty fast though, so if you’re planning to go, be sure to get there early to claim your bit of real estate.

The Overmountain Shelter is actually a two story red barn. It’s been converted to a shelter and is one of the largest on the Appalachian Trail. The upstairs is spacious and offers the sense of security that comes with having four walls and a roof over your head. The downstairs has two platforms that could easily sleep between six and eight people total. I chose to sleep downstairs. Because it’s open on one side, you have the added benefit of lots of fresh air, proximity to the fire pit, and all of those great views.

This picture was taken from right in front of the shelter as the sun began to set. If you look closely at the trees, you can see at least a hint of the oranges, yellows, and reds that are indicative of the arrival of Fall.

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A couple of the other men at the shelter had been gathering wood for a fire. I pitched in and together, we collected and broke down enough wood so that we had a pile large enough to burn for several hours. We even had some wood left over for the morning.

Around the fire, perfect strangers became fast friends. We talked and laughed about all manner of topics. Three continents were represented in our small group of eight or nine people. Besides North America, there was a couple that had immigrated from Europe, and another couple that had come from South America. One man and his wife are originally from Polland. He is an Engineering Professor and specializes in Artificial Intelligence. He had carried in a pack of Kielbasa and a bottle of vodka and was generously offering to share them with the others. I didn’t partake, but I have to admit that the Kielbasa was a bit tempting.

By about ten o’clock, we all said goodnight and headed off to our respective perches. On this first day, I had hiked 6 miles from Carver’s Gap, had climbed 1.070 feet, and had descended 1,801 feet. Now, I needed to get a good nights sleep because the next day would prove to be much more strenuous.

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