On Friday, September 30th, Hope and I drove up to Roan Mountain, TN, to run/hike the Roan Highlands section of the Appalachian Trail. I had been on that section once before, and it is probably the most breathtaking stretch of trail I’ve been on. I hadn’t been up there in 2 years, and I was itching to get on the trail there before it got too chilly up on the mountain. This stretch of trail is a series of “balds,” meaning mountain peaks without trees. This makes it possible to see 360-degree views in some areas, but it can also be very windy up on top since there are no trees to shelter you from the wind. So this is a great stretch of trail to run/hike in the warmer months.
The last time I ran this stretch of trail it was June, and the rhododendrons and flame azaleas were in full bloom. I can’t tell you how breathtaking that was, but June is also a time when the trail is the most crowded. The last time I was up there Craig and I camped at Roan Mountain State Park for the weekend and had a wonderful relaxing stay there. I kind of didn’t feel like camping this time, and I knew about Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast from my prior visit and also from my friend, Tim Moe’s, blog. Tim has been section hiking the AT for several years and writes an excellent blog about his experiences on the trail. (See Tim’s blog here: http://tbmmoe.blogspot.com/). Mountain Harbour has a hiker hostel in addition to their B&B rooms. I had never stayed in a hiker hostel, but I was willing to try it out and see how it went.
When I started planning this little trip, I knew I had a select few friends who would be willing and able to enjoy an overnight trip like this. My friend, Hope, and I have enjoyed many trail adventures together, but we haven’t been able to do so in recent years. I was busy with all my medical issues, and Hope has been joyfully raising 2 precious little boys. I was missing our time together, and so she was the first person I reached out to. I had a few backups I planned to call if she couldn’t make it, but thankfully she said YES immediately when I asked her! I think she was craving being out on the trail in the mountains, and we were only gone for 1 night, so she didn’t have to be gone from her sweet family for too long.
We drove up on Friday afternoon after Hope got out of school, stopped in Morganton, and picked up a bag dinner we could eat at the hostel later. We then drove up the mountain on Hwy 181 and stopped at the Brown Mountain Overlook for just a few minutes to take pictures.
We arrived at Mountain Harbour B&B before 7 P.M. and checked in with Shannon and Dave, the owners/innkeepers. I had scheduled a shuttle for us on Saturday morning to Carvers Gap, where we were going to begin our run/hike. Total cost for each of us for hostel bed and shuttle was $35 each. Bargain!
After checking in, we went back to the hostel, found our room, and parked our stuff there. The hostel was full for the night, and we met the other hikers who were staying there. Gas Can from Pennsylvania was in the middle of a 2-week section hike. There were also 4 ladies from Columbia, SC, who were staying the night before heading out on a 2-day hike from Hughes Gap back to 19E. We went out on the nice porch of the hostel to eat our bag dinner and enjoy a few beers. We were joined by the 2 hostel kitties, whose job was to keep the mice out the of the hostel, I presume. They did a pretty good job as I saw nary a mouse while I was there!
When it got too cool to stay on the porch, we came inside and sat on the sofa with Gas Can for a while. The hostel had a TV with only videos (no cable), and he was watching Meet the Parents. We talked for a while with him, and he was a really nice guy!
We went to bed and slept great in our cozy little room. It got a little chilly during the night, 46 degrees in the morning. We had declined the breakfast Shannon and Dave offered and opted to eat bagels and bananas we had brought with us in the hostel as we felt like something lighter before the day of running/hiking. (Later we heard how good the breakfast was, so on our next visit we are going to make time to enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour!) At 9 a.m. we met Shannon for our shuttle to Carvers Gap, and we were joined by 2 other women from the Concord, NC, area who had driven up that morning and were going to do the same hike we were doing in 2 days instead of 1.
Shannon dropped us off at Carvers Gap, and we knew already it was going to be a beautiful day. We posed for pictures out by the big Carvers Gap sign, taking pics of each other. As we were doing so, this very nice young couple came off the trail and walked right over to us, offering to take our pic together. We talked with them for a few minutes, and they had been backpacking for a few nights on the trail together and were just coming off the trail to go home. It was obvious they were experienced backpackers, and they were so friendly to talk to. This set the tone for the rest of our day, as we spent a lot of time talking to people on the trail all day long.
When you start a run/hike at Carvers Gap, the payoff is pretty immediate there. Before you get to the 1-mile mark you reach Round Bald, and the views are already phenomenal. Keep going to Jane Bald, and the views are at least 180-degree if not more. We were blessed with a beautiful clear sunny day, and we could see for miles and miles. Around Jane Bald, we ran into a group of guys who had camped the night before in a beautiful spot. They were cooking on a campfire. I can’t remember who called out to who first, but I remember asking if they had coffee, and one of the guys said, “Sure! Come on and have some!” We went over and talked to all 4 of them and enjoyed visiting for a while. One of the guys offered me his coffee, and, yes, I drank right out of his camp cup! They introduced themselves: Jesus, Doc Holliday, Zeke, and Gadget. They were so friendly and invited us to join them at the Overmountain Shelter that night as there was a party going on there! We had to decline the party invitation, but they told us about how beautiful the area around the shelter was, so we decided then that we would take the spur trail in order to see the shelter on our way through.
We ran on and then stopped to talk to Mike and Ashley, who were out doing an out-and-back run/hike together. They were from Greenville, SC, and were missing their little baby daughter but thankful to have some time together also. We took the spur trail over to Grassy Ridge and enjoyed the view there. Hope scouted out some potential camping sites for her and Jose in the future!
We headed back to the AT and then began a section of trail that came off the balds and went back into the woods. I had already noticed a lot of flowers and berries growing along the trail and had taken pics along the way, but when we went into the woods we saw so many things blooming. It’s always amazing to see the different wildflowers that bloom practically all year long. I’m glad that I can now slow down and enjoy them!
We reached the trail intersection with the Overmountain Victory Trail and the spur trail to Overmountain Shelter. Since the guys had told us earlier about how nice the Overmountain Shelter was, we took the spur trail down there to check it out. It is nice, as far as shelters go, and there was a very nice grassy meadow next to it where hikers could set up their tents. There was a beautiful view off the front of the shelter. I can see why there is a hiker party there every Saturday night!
We headed back up to the trail and then headed on to Little Hump Mountain. Here we stopped and sat on a rock while we had a snack and enjoyed the view. We then had an even greater climb up to Hump Mountain, and, boy, my legs were on fire by this time! Hope was a trooper and stuck by me the whole way. By this time I wasn’t doing much running, mostly hiking with a little jog mixed in from time to time.
There is a nice memorial to Stan Murray at the top of Hump Mountain, and we tried to soak in the views all the way down the backside until we hit the forest. We then had about a 5-mile run/hike through woods to get back to 19E, which would take us back to the hostel. This was a very pleasant trail through the woods, and it was downhill the whole way, which proved to be a challenge for me with my sore legs and knees. We stopped at Doll Flats, sat on a log for a few minutes, and had a snack. I then “sucked it up, buttercup” and got my butt back to 19E! Hope was sweet and stuck with me the whole way. We ended up with 17 miles total, 14 miles on the AT plus an additional 3 miles on the spur trails and the hike up 19E back to the hostel.
Once we were back at my car at the hostel, we changed into some dry clothes, had something to eat and drink, got back in the car, and drove back down the mountain to Morganton! We stopped in Morganton at Jake’s Burgers and got a burger and fries, boy were they good. We took a little stroll through downtown Morganton looking for a bakery to get something sweet, no luck. By the way, I always think downtown Morganton is so cute, I would like to check out more of the restaurants and breweries there!
We were back home about 8 P.M. It’s amazing the wonderful things I can do in just an overnight trip from my house!
Hope and I are already planning a return trip, and we are thinking we want to invite some girlfriends and rent out the whole hostel for a weekend. We could do the same hike/run we did on Saturday, enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour on Sunday morning, and then plan a shorter hike for Sunday on the way back home. I can’t wait!
I am very blessed in my life with wonderful friends, and Hope is one of those wonderful people. We haven’t been able to spend much time together recently since we’ve both had different things going on in our lives, but I was glad to reconnect with her. She is a kindred spirit, and I love the way she thinks. She very much marches to her own drum, and I like to think that I do the same, so it’s great to spend time and talk with her about staying true to ourselves, doing what we think is right for us and our families regardless of what people around us are doing, and disregarding the crap the world tries to tell us to do or be.
Looking forward to the next adventure!