Rain on Roan (May 1)

The night is warm so I keep my tent’s rain fly open overnight.  I like being able to see through the mesh to the sky and stars above.  Around 3am I wake to the feeling of tiny pin-pricks on my face.  It is raining slightly, just enough to make the tent damp for packing up later.  Ah well.

I sleep until dawn, then start packing up.  I hike a couple of easy miles, then begin the very long ascent up Roan Mountain.  The path is beautiful, winding through spruce-fir forest, which is good because the climb starts to feel endless.  I’m still climbing as the heavy rains begin to fall.  There are so many times that I’ve walked through passing showers that I don’t put on a raincoat until I’m already damp.  Ah well.  At least since I’m climbing I stay mostly warm.

I see several bright orange eastern newts on the trail.  They seem sluggish in the cold.  I’m starting to sympathize as the miles drag on.  Rain is one thing, but rain with wind gusts gets uncomfortable quick.

Roan Mountain stands over 6000 feet high, the highest I’ve climbed so far.  Unfortunately, the elevation adds to the chill factor, and on this rainy, windy day, I start to feel it.  At this point I start dreaming of reaching the shelter on top, Roan High Knob, soon.

Roan High Knob shelter stands a short distance off the trail, and the rain has begun to turn the path into a creek.  I lose hopes of keeping my feet dry.  As I hike, I look up again and again, often to see only more trees and upward climb before me.  Finally I truly can see the shelter before me.  I’m happily surprised to see only a few other hikers huddled inside.  Enough room for me to squeeze inside too.  This shelter is unusual in that it has four walls and a door, which helps block wind but also makes it very dark inside.  We all eat our lunches in the dark, just happy to escape the weather for a while.  Plus, we always have to laugh when the weather is so miserable.

Most of us want to continue on to a shelter 7 miles away called Overmountain.  This is appealing because it is actually a barn, which offers plenty of space inside for wet hikers and wet gear.  What is not appealing is putting on wet rain gear again to face the wind and rain.  The path down Roan is rocky and has turned into a fast moving (shallow) creek in several places.  I make it down off the mountain and begin to climb Round Bald.  As is to be expected, we are all exposed there.  I have to work for every step as the wind threatens to blow me off the path.  The wind howls and pushes the rain so fast it starts to sting my legs through my pants.

When I get to the next copse of trees I decide to look at my guidebook again.  I have a sinking feeling as I page through the book.  Sure enough, I see I have written, “bad weather rest day- exposed” for the next several miles.  The trail will continue to climb over Jane’s bald in the miles to come.  I have to laugh thinking of the fact that I am doing the very thing Warren advised us not to do.  After much deliberation, I decide to turn around and head back 2 miles up Roan.  I know I could make it if I continued on, but I really want to see these balds on a clear day.  I can tell the views could be breath-taking.

As I head back down the trail, I pass several hikers pushing on through the almost comically bad weather.  I yell my explanations when they look at me, confused as to why I’m headed south now.  Even though I feel silly for walking 4 miles needlessly, I feel happy thinking I won’t miss out on good views.  The weather is to be clear tomorrow.

Finally I make it back to the shelter and start preparing for the night.  I feel very grateful for my 0 degree sleeping bag at times like this.  Those of us at the shelter cheer when we see the rain finally stop and the sun start to peek out in the evening.  Everything is damp but also beautiful, with the rain dripping from limbs above and golden sunlight filtering through fir branches.

We all chat as we make our hot stove dinners that night.  We have all our clothes on and I’m still shivering.  I get in my sleeping bag early for the night, hoping tomorrow will bring a warmer day.

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