walkhighlands

USA - Roan Mountain (The Appalachian Balds)

Date walked: 13/04/2014

Time taken: 2.5 hours

Distance: 8.3km

Ascent: 350m

I had reason to visit Greensboro North Carolina in early April and decided to make the journey more interesting by driving down there from Calgary as I can't resist a good long road trip. As I hatched my plans the thought of being able to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail was high on my list, it would satisfy a personal desire and hopefully allow a meet up with friends too.

After some WH forum postings and email exchanges (and a couple of last minute adjustments) on Sunday the 13th April I left Greensboro North Carolina at 6am heading west toward Tennessee. I'd hoped to have breakfast before setting off but the hotel in Greensboro had other ideas, they assumed that 06:00 was far to early for breakfast so didn't bother with it until 07:00. Fortunately for me during the planning phase I had spoken to Andy (who I would be meeting at the trailhead) and he'd told me that I should head through the town of Boone and that it would be the last bit of civilisation on my route to the trailhead at Carvers Gap, so after being pursued by a beautiful sunrise for 1.5 hours I arrived in Boone and stopped off for breakfast. Image

After leaving Boone I still had more than an hour of driving but 2 hours in which to make it, this allowed me to stop off at a number of the various roadside pullouts and grab a few images of these wonderful mountains and their famous hazy horizons.
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I passed through some beautiful scenery as I climbed up toward the trailhead and that blue haze that I thought might be a bit of a nuisance for photography actually added to the wonder of these rolling forested hills
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I arrived at the trailhead a little early and sat on the tailgate of my truck in the sunshine. Carvers Gap sits in the 'no mans land' between the Tennessee and North Carolina borders, in the image below the 'welcome to North Carolina' sign can be seen on the right of shot, and the 'welcome to Tennessee' sign is as far away behind me, so it appears the trailhead isn't actually in either state. As an englishman I thought about planting a flag there and claiming it but that didn't work out so well for us last time.........
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After providing directions to a couple of people I found myself amused by the fact that an englishman driving thousands of miles from Canada to a place he's never seen is so readily considered an expert by the locals seeking a sunday stroll. As I was lacing up the boots Andy arrived a little early with his girlfriend Jessica and they parked alongside me.

It was great to stand here and shake hands with friends, for me that was the biggest part of the day. Our tenuous connection as a result of hiking in Scotland had established a link thousands of miles away at a trailhead on the Appalachian Trail in southeastern USA. It was a shame that Stu, Scott and Michelle couldn't make it but....maybe next time.


With the greetings over we set out heading east along the well maintained trail with Andy promising a fine lunch & beer venue for later in the day as our last minute changes had prevented us meeting up the evening before as planned.

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Markers along the trail provide information on the location and distances to shelters, highways and noted points along the way, I had mulled over a two vehicle one way hike early on but discounted it because today (for me) was more about meeting up and enjoying a steady wander in a beautiful pace rather than a route march over miles, I think Andy would have gone with a route march option if it was offered.
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The ever present haze seems to drift in and out in differing waves of density, there are a number of theories on the cause but one that makes a lot of sense is that hydrocarbon particles released by vegetation reacting with ozone molecules produce particles that scatter blue light. Whatever the reason it really does add to rather than detract from the beauty of these hills.
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Andy striding out on a side trail to the first of the 'Appalachian Balds' that we are visiting today. After 2 weeks of burgers and 'road food' the term Round Bald could apply to me, but it is in fact the name of this first lump just 300 feet higher than our start point at Carvers Gap.
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The Appalachian Balds are described by the National Parks Service as "treeless, grassy meadows that occur below timberline and mostly on ridgetops in the southern Appalachian Mountains. No one knows for certain how they came to be. Even their age is not known" It seems to be widely accepted that some were cleared for grazing in the late 1800's but that is about the extent of the understanding of the Balds. The link to the National Park Service above has much greater detail for those interested in reading further.
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Large boulders make a number of nice resting spots along the way, or for those out for a sunday stroll with the kids, the resting spots become climbing frames.
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After Round Bald the trail loses and then regains around 200 feet to ascend the next of the chain, Jane Bald. Here we begin to see the start of the large groups of rhododendron bushes that cover the area, I can only imagine what the scene would be by late June when they are in flower, no doubt an early start would be required at that time of year for anyone wanting to enjoy the view in relative peace.
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The heat level really builds once we are hiking in between the bushes, we had started the day with a nice cooling breeze which had kept us company until this point, then it just died away and the mercury went on a one way trip for the rest of the day.
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There is still colour here, even without the rhododendron blooms the new growth of other shrubs adds a splash of red to the wonderful spring scene.
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Andy and Jessica, my companions for the hike and for lunch later in the day, I couldn't have wished for better company and have extended them an invitation to my home in Canada where I promised to point Andy in the direction of some huge mountains, though at his pace I'll be taking him halfway and then resting while he runs to the summit and back!!
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The high top seen in the distance here is Roan High Knob which is reachable from Carvers Gap by taking the Appalachian Trail west instead of east to the Balds. I can't help but think the view from Roan High Knob might be improved if a Bald were to 'appear' on it.
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It's easy to see why this is such a popular section of the Appalachian Trail, not only because of it's altitude compared to its surroundings but because it affords views in several directions and is a very gentle hike, even for those of us with 2 weeks worth of road food inside us.
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To reach or destination of Grassy Bald we needed to turn off the Appalachian Trail and climb a narrow trail to the south ascending around 500 feet through rhododendron bushes
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Once on top we took a short break and peeled off a few layers before applying the factor 50 as the sun was now hammering down, the views away to the horizon were filled with forest covered hills and Smoky Mountain haze and suddenly the yearning to see much more of the Appalachian Trail had returned.
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Imagine this sea of rhododendron bushes in flower as you make your way along the trail, the sun shining and all the time in the world to enjoy it, there is no wonder this has been stated to be one of the very best hikes in the Southern Appalachians.
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It's easy to look back and think "I wish I'd gone further" or something similar, but for me hiking is about enjoying myself, seeing new things and grabbing a few photos. If you can do all of that with great company and little effort I'd say you've nailed it. Below is the map of our 'straight out and back' route.
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But........... we weren't quite finished yet. I followed Andy and Jessica down into Johnson City Tennessee where they waited whilst I checked in to my hotel for the evening. I took my bag upstairs and freshened up quickly before heading back down to find Andy and Jessica had done the same using the hotel washrooms (Kudos to Jessica for appearing from the washrooms perfectly presented in a change of clothes & hair in minutes) I'm pretty sure if the Guinness World Records people were in the area she would have had a good shot at a prize.


I was then shown some of that wonderful southern hospitality as I was chauffeured out to a marina where we sat on the deck overlooking the lake with some live music, great food and the very best of company. The temperatures reached around 80 as we sat in the shade enjoying a cold beer or 3, I really couldn't have asked for a better day. My thanks to Andy and Jessica for making it so, hopefully I can do the same for you guys up in the frozen north sometime in the future. Image

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ChrisW


User avatar
Location: Calgary - Canada
Occupation: Management Consultant - Semi Retired
Interests: Photography, Walking, Kayaking, Golf, Mountain Biking
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Mt Rainier - USA
Place: Loch Muick
Gear: Quality footwear
Member: None
Pub: Sutton Arms
Camera: Canon 5D
Ideal day out: Getting up high and seeing the world
Ambition: Get fit - lose weight

Munros: 18
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 3
Sub 2000: 6

Contact:



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Statistics

2014

Trips: 8
Distance: 78.2 km
Ascent: 3078m

2013

Trips: 9
Distance: 92.1 km
Ascent: 5308m

2012

Trips: 43
Distance: 476 km
Ascent: 22860m

2011

Trips: 41
Distance: 596.35 km
Ascent: 26477m
Munros: 19
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 3
Sub2000s: 6

2010

Trips: 2
Distance: 13.4 km
Ascent: 675m

2009

Trips: 8
Distance: 46.3 km
Ascent: 622m


Joined: Jan 25, 2011
Last visited: Apr 24, 2014
Total posts: 3822 | Search posts




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