The Roan Highlands: AT Days 26-28
Uncle Johnny’s Hostel to Iron Mountain, 23.0 miles
A solid night of sleep in the comfy bed in the cabin had me fully energized and ready to begin my day at 6:45 AM. Leaving the hostel, the AT gradually ascends back into the mountains through rhododendron forests, not changing any scenery until 8 miles in, when the trail descends through pine forests down to Indian Grave Gap.
The AT climbs up to 4,400 feet to the summit of Beauty Spot Mountain, another grassy bald summit with spectacular views. The next climb for the day was Unaka Mountain at over 5,100 feet; which was an easier climb thanks to the series of switchbacks to the summit. There were no open views at the summit, but stunning spruce forests with a thin blanket of snow covered the summit, making this awesome setting a must-stop for a lunch break.
From there, the AT climbs and descends a few smaller, unnamed peaks before arriving at one of the few “summits” of Iron Mountain, just over 4,100 feet. There were some flat spots perfect for my tent here, so I decided to call this low-key scenic spot home for the night. No one else would camp here for the night, making for a chill solo evening eating and writing in my tent before getting an early night of sleep in preparation for my big day in the Roan Highlands the next day.
A frigid-cold morning had me breaking down camp and hitting the trail in a hurry. It’s mornings like these that have me missing my relaxing mornings back home with fresh ground coffee, my laptop, and my couch. My mood improved greatly by the time I began heading down the trail, as it always does with not-so-pleasant mornings like these ones. The day started off with a warm-up climb to the top of Little Rock Knob, before a gradual descent down to Hughes Gap Road.
Hughes Gap Road marks the beginning of the long, 4.5-mile, 2,200-foot climb to the summit of Roan High Knob. I downed a caffeinated Clif Bar and made my way up the mountain, switchback by switchback (a comment on Guthook claims there’s 30, which sounds about right). The summit of the knob was covered in amazing pine forests with a small blanket of snow covering the ground.
A descent down to the crowded Carver’s Gap marked the beginning of the famed Roan Highlands, a series of massive grassy balds, each one offering 360-degree views. An easy climb up Round Bald was first up, followed by Jane Bald.
The AT meanders its way through a scenic forest for a couple of miles before reaching Little Hump Mountain. I always thought it would be pretty sweet to camp on one of these balds, so right near the summit, I found a perfect flat spot right off-trail with a view to call home for the night. There was very minimal wind that night, making for a warm, cozy night in my tent after watching the sunset from atop the summit.
It was a windy morning, but not nearly as windy as the previous morning. I quickly broke down camp and was on trial by 6:30, catching some amazing sunrise colors from the summit of Little Hump. The forecast was calling for rainstorms, and being on the exposed ridge during intense rainfall and high winds didn’t sound enticing to me.
The AT descends off Little Hump Mountain down through the forest for about a mile before beginning the long, steep climb to the summit of Big Hump Mountain; the final Bald of the Roan Highlands. Just as I crested the summit, the wind started whipping and the rain began to fall. The views descending Big Hump were unreal; no amount of rain or wind could take away from the experience I was having. If anything, the gnarly weather was fitting for the hike on this particular bald and made the experience more enjoyable for me.
I descended safely back into the forest, and a gradual 4-mile descent down to route 19E led me to The Station at 19E, arriving just as the rain started to really come down. The hostel was the perfect spot to take a near-o day to rest and resupply for my next stretch to Damascus, Virginia.
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