Jun 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm #1260558
A few members of the BPL Southern Appalachians Facebook group decided to head on up to the Roan Highlands for a brief 40 mile trip. I will only be recounting the first 20 of those miles as I bailed, for reasons covered below.
We meet at Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove. It was a long 5 hour drive from Atlanta and I arrived first. I chatted with some section hikers and the hostel owners. Soon Brad Rogers and Ray Dunham arrived. They had both done the trip before, as well as extensive hiking on the AT and other long distance trails in the Southeast. They were what I would describe as greyhounds, long lean with tons of lungs. I'm more of a bulldog, slow and plodding.
We got dropped off at Carvers gap below Grassy Ridge around 7:30, by 8:30 we were up on the ridge scouting for campsites. Balds are deceptive in that they present a flat look but the actually ground is tussocked and rutted. Grassy Ridge was a very popular destination that weekend, I believe because of the Rhododendron festival going on. After searching around and not finding any really good campsites I lobbied to push on to one of the shelters further down the mountain.
Sunset looking back down Grassy Ridge.
We took out our headlamps and hiked into the night eventually setting up in the field near Overmountain shelter, which was a very cool place. Basically a big converted barn, on the lower level of the shelter you can wake up to wee the sun rising. This place was jammed about 4 people in the shelter and 8 to 10 tents in the field. We choose the field as we got in around 11 and didn't want to wake too many people.
My MLD Grace Solo set up in the field. This was easy to setup and get tight quickly. Not much fidgeting around to get it right.
The next morning I rose early and watched the sun come up into the clearing having a hot breakfast of tea, granola and milk with some summer sausage for protein. Animal protein was something that I found I missed on the trip. Perhaps bringing some protein powder would alleviate that next time. The first thing you get to do after leaving Overmountain is climb Little Hump. And then almost immediately you get to climb 500 intimidating feet over Hump mountain. A lot of this time the trail is above treeline.
This is Overmountain Shelter from Little Hump
In the saddle between Little Hump and Hump Mountain the Forest Service has implemented a process of baldification. Because the balds were not natural and created by grazing they have to be maintained by grazing. The forest service use large herbivores.
Longhorns on top of the mountain. Very surreal.
Coming off the balds of Hump mountain the trail plunges towards 19E. I had slowed the group heading up the balds so we tried to make up some time coming off the mountain. I also snapped one of my new trekking poles which earned a Colin Flechter cougar scream from me and a few grey hairs for Ray who assumed that the sound of the pole snapping was my femur snapping.
After crossing 19E things got weird for me. Though I was relatively diligent about intaking water, I started to experience what I can only assume was excessive heat stress. A contributing factor may have been trying to keep pace with Brad, who I swear was running up the mountain at some points. Within an hour I went from happy, albeit slow, hiker to a gasping sweaty, hot mess. I was in a bad way. We had hiked 2 miles past 19E and 19E was my only bail point. After that it was 20 odd miles of up and down back to my car. I decided at this point to cut my loses and head out. I bid adieu to Brad and Ray and turned back. Sitting at Mountain Harbor Hostel I started to cramp up and basically couldn't move much or at all without some muscle in my posterior chain complaining louldy. In the coming days I would be as sore as any workout I have ever done.
The clearing in which I turned around.
Conclusions: I tested out a lot of gear. I really liked my MLD Grace. I had never used trekking poles before and I think they really helped although I've now switched to aluminum for durability. My JRB no-sniveller was almost too warm, but still an excellent quilt. I liked the looks of Brad's BPL 90 quilt. My Inov8 315's we're too narrow from my feet. I also learned that I don't need a fleece in the middle of summer in North Carolina.
I need to research water supplements and experiment with trail snacks that provide me with more energy.
But ultimately this was a limit finder trip for me. Perhaps 20 miles in a day without training was a bit much. Could I do it if pushed? maybe but I'm not sure if it is something I would like to try again. I need to learn to hike my own hike, instead of trying to keep pace with others. More experience and time would have shown me this. I believe this was also a case of hubris though. More solo hiking and time and I'll learn my own pace.
All pictures credit to Brad Rogers.Jun 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm #1623619
@bcampriniLocale: Southern Appalachians
I'm sorry your trip got painful, but it sounds like you made the made a good decision to bail and learned a few things in the process. Saw some nice scenery and fortunately it sounds like there was no lasting damage other than to the trekking pole. I was hoping to join you guys, but my schedule didn't allow it.
Brad and the SE BPL group are considerate people. I'm sure he never meant to make you feel like it was a race. Yes, some folks into UL stuff like to focus on the exercise aspect of hiking, but you don't have to. Take your time, get in hiking shape at your own pace, and enjoy the scenery. We all go out for different reasons–sometimes for exercise, sometimes for relaxation, photography, whatever.
I hope to see you out on another trip. And don't worry, I usually bring a smorgasboard of deli meats and let the speed demons do their thing.Jun 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm #1623620
I didn't mean to imply that Brad and Ray made it into a race, they were very considerate of my pace. They often waited for me. I believe it was my own pride that made me push.
And it was a good hurt.
Edit: I had a great trip despite over doing it. It would take more than that to keep me off the trail. I'm planning a couple of trips in the coming weeks…just a little less ambitious than Carver's Gap to Dennis Cove.Jun 26, 2010 at 3:57 pm #1623624
@bcampriniLocale: Southern Appalachians
Yeah, I know what you mean. I've had a couple injuries in the past few months and let myself get more out of shape than I'd like. It's hard to try not to force your body to do what you want it to. That's how injuries and stupid mistakes happen, though. Seriously, get back out there–you are "due" a better trip.
It is crazy hot in the southeast now, though. I was in Pisgah last week over 5k feet and it was 94 and super humid in the shade. I couldn't get enough water.Jun 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm #1623650
thanks for the report. in the end it is about you and what you want. thanks for sharing your story.Jun 27, 2010 at 11:37 am #1623781
was this last weekend? I went to Grassy Ridge after work Saturday and threw my bivy down about 2 am (I work until 12) and woke up to an amazing sunrise and was apparently by a whole bunch of tents I didn't see hiking in at night. I left after watching the sunrise and before anybody got out of their tents.
How did you like that climb up Hump after Overmountain? Thats a good one. They put in a bunch of switchbacks dropping down to Overmountain which I'm not crazy about.
It sucks that you had issues, but sounds like you're learning from them and its good you were smart enough to get out early and still have a great trip. I'm glad you hiked your own and didn't try to keep up with others and suffer from it.Jun 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm #1623810
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
Paul your story is interesting because I've had a couple of similar experiences. I seem to hit a wall at around 15 miles than suddenly I start to get progressivley sorer. Maybe I'm just hitting the endurance limits of my muscles.
In another case my friend and I descided to really push hard in CO and see what we could do. I did okay on the two day hike but the day after I felt really weak and eventually threw up. Right after that I felt really hungry. I think my body was starved for nutrients, in that case I think fat or suger because I'd had plenty of protein in my hiking diet. I was craving hershey bars for a couple days. A did basically the same hike again later but I changed my diet and felt much better.Jun 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm #1623827
This was Father's Day weekend. If we had been up there when you were we would have snuck in, but there weren't too many sites we could choose at dusk. The climb up Little/BIg Hump from Overmountain was intimidating to look at, but not too bad. Coming off Hump mountain my knees were shaking and my quads were burning, thought.
I wonder if you're right. I tried to do the whole balance/clif bar thing and it obviously didn't work. May have starved myself of nutrients, especially in the heat. Fats and Sugars are where it's at and one of the first thing I grabbed when I got to civilization was chocolate milk. Maybe, I'll just bring some Snickers next timeJun 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm #1623830
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
You might be right Paul. The next trip I went on (with more junk food) I felt like I was a lot better, I didn't come back craving chocolate. On my five day trip last fall I learned from my mistake and had a fairly balanced diet. I would have liked more salt and drink mixes but I was okay. I've also noticed its easier to get down energy bars and similar food later in the evening after I've slowed down and hydrated a bit. I figure thats a good time to put the nutrients in.
By the way snickers don't melt as much as hersheys in warm weather but I really like Peanut M&Ms.
If you want to try round two this summer let me know I MIGHT be free.Jun 28, 2010 at 10:25 am #1624112
Paul, thats when I was there. Crazy that I missed you guys. This was the trip posted on the Southern Appalachian Backpacking light fbook group right? I generally ignore those because I'm working 6 days a week right now. Bummer that I missed you guys. Next time though…
Grassy Ridge was packed and I couldn't find any spots when I got there, but I just had a bivy with me so I found a not even remotely flat spot next to a rock on an overlook to post up for the night.
I hope you had clear views on Big Hump. Every time I've been up there its been windy and either raining or hailing.Jun 28, 2010 at 11:19 am #1624124
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Thanks for doing a trip report Paul. You are by no means what I would consider a slow hiker, you never slowed me down a bit and never got more than 5 minutes behind Climbing up in the clearing where you turned around was the worst part. It was hot, humid, and the sun was beating down on us. I think that you had conquered the worst part of the hike, and doubt you would have had any problems on the rest of the trip, but I didn’t want to try and talk you out of heading back to the hostel as that was obviously the place to do it if you felt like you needed to get off the trail.
Brian is right about finding your own pace. The “best” pace is one where you can walk consistently all day. When I attempt really long days, I hike at a slower pace than I do when I am doing more moderate days. I can’t keep up a 3-3.5 mile per hour pace for 28 miles, but I can keep a 2-2.5 mile per hour pace for 28 miles. You just have to find your rhythm and hike your own hike.
I also try and eat something every two hours and drink at least that often. If I don’t make myself eat and drink, I always hit the wall, and can never recover. I just plod along struggling to make my destination for the night. You also might find it better during spring/fall/ and winter. It does seem that the heat and humidity can take their toll on our endurance. I was hoping for a little cooler weather in mid June, but it seems like we got mid July’s weather instead.Jun 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm #1624135
Just missed us. We we're probably at Overmountain shelter by the time you got to grassy ridge. Small World. We had great views coming up over Hump mountain, my profile picture is from the top.
I think it was the combination of bonking and realizing what would come tomorrow that made me decide to head out, at the time it seemed insurmountable and the road was so close. I keep second guessing myself but I think I made the right choice.
I think your right about pace, you've got to hike your own hike. I also think it comes with experience, something I lack, specifically when hiking solo or in small groups. I'm planning a lot of my trips as solo or small group stuff specifically to get used to hiking at a sustainable pace. Since I didn't know what I couldn't do I figured I'd try to hang with you guys. Evidently masked my fatigue well.
If any of y'all gets a chance to head out with the BPL Southern Appalachian Group I highly recommend it. Excellent group of guys (and gals) very experienced and very knowledgeable.Jun 29, 2010 at 5:54 pm #1624651
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
Roan mountain is in my top 5 favorite places to hike…lots of good memories. It does make me smile to hear someone else acknowledge the tussock issues when it comes to finding a flat AND smooth spot to camp. It can be very disappointing when you think you've found a nice, grassy spot!
FYI…the balds are not above treeline. At the top of the first bald (Round Bald) you go by a group of evergreens planted by an ETSU professor to test whether there was some inherent reason for the lack of trees on the balds. The balds are being encroached by bushes. Here is an interesting article about the use of goats to clear the balds of woody plants.
BTW…I believe you have identified one reason why I enjoy backpacking with TRADITIONAL backpackers…those 40+ packs are great equalizers!
Thanks for sharing the story with us.
TomJun 29, 2010 at 6:40 pm #1624676
@chrismorganLocale: Southern Oregon
I distinctly remember not liking that first mile or so after 19E – I feel your pain!Jun 29, 2010 at 7:50 pm #1624708
Not to hijack this thread, but you said it was really warm this last weekend. Does anyone know what it's usually like in early September. I'm planning on joining a friend who is thru hiking right now, and I really have heard great things about the Roan highlands.Jun 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm #1624761
I'd say the usual is probably lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s. I've been up there last sept and during the day it was high 80s and some years in the 50s. Just expect rain. at 6000ft you're often up in the clouds being the tallest thing around.Jun 30, 2010 at 5:50 am #1624818
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
The Highlands themselves are cool even in summer. The heat hit us as we neared US19E and on to Dennis Cove at lower elevations. The field where Paul ended up turning around in was particularly bad as it was an uphill climb, at low elevation, in the sun, and in the middle of the day. You could just feel it sapping your energy.Jun 30, 2010 at 7:17 am #1624836
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SW
The climb up that field was hard even in the snow last Feb., it doesn't look that long or steep but it does just go on and on at a pretty steep angle.Jun 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm #1624945
Thanks for the info and great trip report. Hopefully I'll be putting one up here soon of the same views!
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