29 Miles of Hiking in the Frozen Snowing Highlands
It was just going to be another day of hiking. Sure! That’s what I would tell myself as I began my 28th day on the AT and what would become the most challenging day of hiking I’d ever endured.
The day before I had gotten to summit Beauty Spot, Unaka, and Iron Mountain in a beautiful dusting of snow on the trail and the trees. It was gorgeous. I had waited since my start date of February 15th to even see snow sticking to anything. In fact, except for a few flying flurries on Blood Mountain and a bit of ice on Cow Rock Mountain, I hadn’t even really seen signs of winter. So I really had hoped to see a dusting. Well, I got it on day 27, and in many ways it was great. I smiled like a little kid. I know I did.
So on day 28, waking from a warm bed a mile off trail at a hostel/friendly at 5 am, I was packing up and getting ready to hit the trail again. I checked the weather on some of the different Balds that is part of the Roan Highlands. It was going to be cold. 10 degrees with 15ish mph winds. Snow would stop at 9 am. It was doable. I did however decide that I was going to hike straight through to a hostel at 19E. Camping in those bitter cold temps was not on my list of things I wanted to do. So I ate breakfast and headed out ready to conquer the day and the many summits I would cross over. Half of the enjoyment for me is conquering the summit and putting it in the bag!! I would end up hiking a mile up and almost 500 ft of elevation just to get back on trail. It was snowing and cold but not too bad. Keep in mind though it was only at about 4000 ft.
So as time progressed the temps were getting colder. The wind was blowing harder. The snow was falling more rapidly. Taking the journey as it came, I just kept taking it all in. It was so beautiful. Also it was dark and eerie at the same time. The hiking uphill was keeping me somewhat warm. I actually took my puffy off and put my rain jacket on over my base and mid later. I was getting too warm. As I continued up, the trail was becoming more covered. The trees were becoming whiter. The snow was falling harder. Then I started really hearing the creaking and cracking of trees. That was disheartening to say the least. I kept going but also looking up and around to make sure nothing was falling near me. It was stressful for sure.
A few miles in and a couple thousand feet of elevation started messing with my head a bit. The creaking was becoming more frequent. My fingers were really starting to hurt more because of the cold even though I had two pairs of gloves on. My water was starting to turn from slush to straight up frozen. My back was beginning to hurt. My body was just starting to be stiff. I couldn’t stop. It was too cold to stop. As long as I was moving I was staying warm…somewhat. Another thing I wasn’t anticipating was low hanging trees. I’m 6ft and these were too low for someone 4 ft. So constantly I had to duck, but usually my pack would catch the leaves and throw snow all over me. My beard was frozen. My moustache was frozen. The buff I had around my face to protect had become frozen. You get the picture. I was miserable!!!
And then it happened. I turned a corner on the trail and there it was…heaven. the most beautiful scenery of snow I had ever seen. Was I going crazy or is this really this beautiful? I mean I did just hear voices a while back. Were they real…or was the cracking trees talking to me. We will never know BUT that wintery scene of majesty was real as could be. I had to stop walking and look all around. I had to grab my phone and shoot a video clip of this for my followers on my YouTube channel (Fortune Adventures). With all of the suffering (which really wasn’t that much) this beautiful paradise popped out in front of and all around me. I swear I heard angels singing. I felt warmth all of a sudden. A sudden burst of energy took over. The reset button had been pushed and peace took over my soul. I was ready to kick into another gear and conquer these summits.
I continued for many more hundreds of feet of elevation and many more miles. I came to the first summit which was about 6200 ft in elevation. By this time the snow was getting much deeper and much of the trail here was solid ice. As long as you could step on snow it provided traction. I slipped probably ten times but only fell on my backside 4 times. All but one of those times was when I was ducking to go under a tree and forgot to be careful. Luckily I did not hurt myself any of those times. Or maybe I was too numb to notice haha. By this time I crossed by the shelter which sits higher than any other in the AT and then began to descend somewhat. Not much further I ran into a day hiker coming the other direction. Wait. What? I’m not the only person out here. We talked for about 15 seconds. He wished me well and told me he came to go up the Balds but they were too intense for him. Ohhhhhh Great!!! That was coming next.
One thing about snow …it is white! The other thing that is white is the blazes on the trees to show where the trail is and goes. Well the white snow was covering most of the trees. So many times I had to look at previous tracks, and when I couldn’t see them, my Far Out app for the map. This meant I had to take off my gloves to push buttons…which I already did too much because I want my YouTube viewers to see what I’m seeing. Well one time…just one time…I didn’t look and accidentally took a side trail that led to a road…I thought, wait!! I’m not supposed to be at a road. So backtrack I did to get back on the AT. Soon I was at the beginning of the Balds. As I began to ascend Round Bald, the terrain and scenery changed drastically. Wide open and desolate to say the least with a healthy dose of eerie. Oh let’s sprinkle some high winds in there too.
It was so different but so freaking beautiful at the same time. I continued to summit Round Bald, Jane Bald, and the side trail to Grassy Ridge Bald. That’s now 4 summits in the bag today. I am winning!! Yes!!! Now to descend somewhat before climbing up again for the last two summits.
Do you remember Rocky 4 where he goes to Russia to train in the snow running up a mountain. Well that was the next scene for the next few miles I came down on very deep snow or thick ice to come to a “meadow” section which was so open that the harsh wind was blowing the snow everywhere. It was here I started hiking through drifts almost to my knees. That does not make for a quick trek. Let me tell you….I’m not a fan. Finally however I get through this and luckily I’m still on trail. Yay!! Now I finally take my backpack off. I grab a couple of beef sticks and try to drink what I can of the little liquid that is not completely frozen I only have two more summits then downhill. If I remember correctly it’s about 5pm. It has finally quit snowing. Obviously the weather didn’t read the weather report because it was suppose to stop snowing at 9am. The worst is behind me now though…or is it?
I come out of the saddle I was in and start ascending. I look behind me and see the most beautiful mountains with greyish clouds giving away to blue skies and sunshine. It was like a painting. I continue on for a couple miles with consistent ascending through trees. It is quite gradual. Not too harsh at all. Then as I come to the end of the trees I see this beautiful view of white snow everywhere, beautiful blue skies and the beginning of Little Hump Mountain.
Little Hump Mountain proves to be a nice gradual climb. The trenches you walk through covered with snow and ice are not too bad if taken slowly. The wind however is a different story. It is getting quite harsh. I summit. I take a few pics and video clip announcing “Little Hump Mountain is in the bag.” Now I’m getting out of here cuz that wind is bitter. 2 more miles to my last summit.
Hump Mountain…sounds like it should be bigger or badder than Little Hump. I have no idea if the elevation was higher…but the climb was much tougher. Before then it was about a mile through uneventful snowy trail in the trees. Then you come back out. One mile up to claim your 6th summit of the day. Sounds easy! Noooooppppe!!! Not only did it seem to never end, but the wind also decided to come out and play. The gusts were easily 50-70 mph. How do I know that? From many years in Florida in tropical storms I know what speed wind can knock me off my feet or at least balance. That is 70! I’m here to tell you I only fell once because of the wind that night. It almost got me half a dozen times though. Not only was the wind bitter and dangerous on my face but I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. I had two pairs of gloves on. Also the wind felt like a giant hand was pushing me backwards as I walked. I was getting so frustrated and in pain that I actually thought I was going to break down. I could hardly move forward. The tears started to come…ohh but wait…it’s too cold and I’m too dehydrated to cry. I kept pushing. Determined to conquer. No matter what..I didn’t have a choice. I finally made it to the top of Hump Mountain. It was too cold and windy but I snapped a few pics and another video clip. I got to catch the sunset from Hump Mountain. A beautiful ending indeed.
As I began to come down, the wind began to subside as the mountain was blocking its fierceness. It was getting dark. So I stopped and took my pack off to grab my head lamp and my puffy to start the big descend. It was at this time I noticed my right index finger was completely numb. My fingers and toes were in so much pain. But I was on my way down and nothing would slow me down. Two hours later of night hiking I had arrived at 19E. I could finally get in a warm bed and take a warm shower. Nearly 14 hours of hiking, 29 miles, 6300 feet of elevation, and 6 summits had come to an end. I felt like a king. A broken down king, but a king nonetheless. It was the hardest day of hiking I had ever had. I climbed Mt Whitney and Mt St Helens last year, but this took the bag. That makes the reward even bigger. It was extremely tough but extremely epic!! Now to rest I go so I can do it again tomorrow.
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