Thursday, July 5, 2012

Carver's Gap to 19 East

It was almost an epic day. Almost.

I first experienced "the humps" as a thru-hiker in 2009. It was epic. Admittedly, my experiences along the Appalachian Trail eventually taught me that hurricane force winds can just happen in the mountains without the accompaniment of tornado's or lightening, but I didn't know this at the time. Rather, my first experience will go down in my mind's history as one of the most terrifying experiences along the trail. Still, I  have had the desire to re-experience the humps in good weather. I had seen photos, read blogs, and had been told stories about the beautiful panoramic views that the balds (Little Hump and Hump Mountains) offer. It was these, the fairytalesk stories that I wanted to experience.

So today was the day, July 5, 2012. Cori and I packed our bags and headed out to Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast in Roan, TN. Here we  would leave the car for the afternoon and be shuttled up to Carver's Gap by Terry, one of the Inn's owners, for a small fee of $35. A fee totally worth it compared to the alternative of taking 2 cars and shuttling each back and forth.

We began our 13.5-mile hike a little later than we had hoped. By the time we stepped foot on the trail it was almost 11am. It was hot but not overbearingly hot like the previous weeks had been. There was barely a cloud in the sky. There was a slight wind, just enough to keep help cool  down but non-existent enough to remind me that the thermometer was continuing to rise. It was perfect.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The first five miles to Over Mountain Shelter were nice. I've had the pleasure of hiking this five-mile section a few times over the past three years and have always had good experiences. We had Dudley, a Pyrenees/Lab mix with us for the day.

Photo & Video 
Sharing by SmugMug

Given the semi-hot conditions and the terrain we made an extra effort to make sure he didn't overheat. We hiked slow, taking frequent water breaks, and enjoyed the panoramic views from Round Bald and Jane Bald. We reached Over Mountain Shelter just after 1:00pm where we stopped for an extended break to eat lunch, and let Dudley sit in the shade to cool down. As we ate, we had a 180-degree view of the up-coming climb, and unfortunately a possible approaching storm. Clouds were beginning to build and quickly push their way over the tops of our intended path. Nothing too ominous but big enough to catch our attention.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We packed up and headed North. As I stepped back onto the trail it was hard not to remember what my last experience had been like if only to note how contrastingly different this hike was turning out to be. After making our way half-way up Little Hump Mountain Cori had me turn to see the view behind us, Over Mountain Shelter nestled in a backdrop of the three previous balds we had just hiked over.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We continued forward, going up and over Little Hump. It was becoming exhaustively hot. I was soaked with sweat and the heat appeared to be taking a toll on Dudley as well. As we hiked down Little Hump Mountain and into Bradley Gap we stopped at a watering hole to let him cool down. It was here that we could see the dark sky looming through the trees. There was thunder in the distance. Cori and I began discussing what our options were. We were about mid-way through our hike. We had no shelter to take cover in. There was a mile and a half of exposed mountain behind us to the closet shelter and nearly three miles of exposed mountains in front of us until we would reach treeline again. The debate; sit still, wait it out and see what happens or move forward. It was hard to tell exactly what it looked like from where we were so we decided to hike to the end of Bradley Gap where the trail leaves the trees and extends upwards over Big Hump Mountain. From here we (in theory) could be able to tell where the storm was and where it was headed. In reality, the decision wasn't so easy. The storm was coming from the west. We were head north. It was thundering behind us. We couldn't see rain anywhere. We sat down in the middle of the trail and starred ahead at the climb we would have to make.

 Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The view point is actually quite deceiving. It looks like a simple up and over, but luckily we had had the experience to know that the climb wasn't as simple as it appeared. It was nearly three miles from where we were sitting to Doll Flats with nearly two miles of that being on top of an exposed ridge line. I was leaning in the direction to go. The thunder seemed distant enough and the clouds were still high and moving quickly. Judging how overcast the sky had become it was possible that once it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We were loosing time by sitting still. Cori felt uncomfortable. And just as I had spoken my peace it thundered overhead. We headed back underneath the trees to a campsite just up the trail.

I put my rain jacket on and began to mentally prepare myself to sit out a thunderstorm. The wind was howling through the trees and it was beginning to rain, fat rain drops. The kind of rain drops that are part of some hellacious terential downpour. This is going to suck, I thought to myself. I kept hearing what I thought were trees banging together from the wind in the woods behind us. Damn, that's loud, I kept thinking; and slightly weird. Soon, the knocking trees were followed by men's voices coming from a direction where a trail did not exist. What the heck?!!? Cori and I looked at each other, puzzled. "Look, just so we're both on the same page. If some guys come walking out of that forest and offer to let us take shelter in their tents during this shit I'm not going. You understand?" I said to Cori. She grabbed the mace out of her pack and put it in her pocket. She understood. Just then two of the most hillbilly looking country men stepped out of the woods. My mind raced. We were both were thinking the same thing. There were campers we had just passed up the trail. We grabbed our stuff and booked it to their campsite. After a semi-dramatic entrance, Cori explained our situation and asked if we could wait out the storm near them for safety purposes and they welcomed us with open arms.

The group was part of a Wilderness Camp and they were on their second day out. We chatted for awhile, with thunder over-head. It rained, but never down-poured. After an hour of sitting there the sky ahead looked like it was beginning to clear and the thunder was more distant and less frequent. We thanked our hosts and moved back to the trail. We reached the end of Bradley Gap and starred back up over Hump Mountain. It was now or never. We took off. It was windy, but not so windy that it was hard to stand up-right, and it was still raining big fat rain drops. We were nearly a mile into the climb up Hump Mountain when it thundered. Fuck. This mountain totally has it in for me. Cori was ahead of me and stopped and turned around. "Just go!" I yelled. "We need to get the heck over this thing!"And we went.

We were lucky. The storm was never directly overhead, but it was always close enough to remind me that one of us could be zapped off the mountain at any minute. We made it to Doll Flats by 6:30. We had three miles to go, all of it under tree cover. Thank goodness. We reached the car by 7:30, slightly damp but most importantly, we made it alive.

Admittedly, this experience went far better than my previous one, but it still far from the fairy tale hike that I'm dreaming of.

When we finally made it home we hopped online only to discover the massive power outages that eastern Tennessee was experiencing as a result of severe thunderstorms that passed through the area around 4:00 in the afternoon; AKA the storms we were hiking in. 

It was almost epic. Almost. 

No comments:

Post a Comment