29 JUN 14
Roan Mountain trip: Day 1
Iron Mountain Gap (TN 107/NC 226)-Clyde Smith Shelter
Miles today: 6
One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night.-Forrest Gump
I woke up late (of course), got situated and headed out of Charlotte late (of course), and instead of getting to Mountain Harbour Bed & Breakfast (and Hostel) for my shuttle scheduled between 1100-1200, I got up there at 1245. Ran into a healthy rainstorm around Hickory, but once I got to the B&B, it was relatively clear. Big puffy clouds were aloft, but it was dry. Walked up the steps to the B&B, stated my business, and was greeted by Shannon. Great name. I asked her if there was somewhere I could change into my rain pants. She said to go over to the hostel, and she would meet me in the parking lot.
Once inside, an older lady (former thru-hiker Vagabond) showed me to the bathroom. The hostel was an old converted barn, and looked exactly like the pictures on the internet- quaint, small, rustic, but clean. I really liked the open loft with bed upstairs. Got changed, mentioned casually to no one in particular that I may stay here in the future, and was on my way. During our drive to Iron Mountain Gap, Shannon mentioned that she had a hunch that I was in the military, just by the way I carried myself; pretty straightforward, no nonsense. I took that as a compliment. She showed me some of the mountains that I would be traversing, but I didn’t pay much attention- I’m not good at getting oriented from the ground in a car traversing windy mountain roads.
We finally arrived at the trailhead at Iron Mountain Gap (MI 362.1; elev 3723’) at around 1330. I was eager to get moving as I was already almost an hour behind schedule, and had to get to Clyde Smith shelter tonight. Pack was donned (raincover on just in case), said goodbye and thanks to my namesake, and headed across the street. Felt that special feeling once I saw that first white blaze- Hello, old friend; what do you have in store for me this time? An uphill climb? Of course! Thanks, Mr. Trail!
The ascent north started out relatively tame, but only 10 minutes in I knew these damn rain pants were gonna have to come off. Then I hit the steep grade that I knew was inevitable. Soon the climb got to the point where I had to take a break every 40 or 50 steps. Remember, I have been doing jack and s***for 7 weeks since my last trip. Saw numerous red efts that I kept hearing about. Red efts are actually the Eastern (or Red) Newt. In their terrestrial phase (before they go to live in the water), they are called efts, and the forest was littered with them. Snapped a few photos, then to take my mind off the burning sensation in my legs, I started counting how many I saw. I stopped the count at 33.
A few minutes later, I came upon a rather odd looking boulder and figured it would be a good place to duck behind, so I could change out of my sauna pants into my regular convertible hiking pants. I kept the legs on as bugs were out and I wanted no parts of my skin touching some random tick-infested brush. Looking around the boulder I saw a couple TP blooms. TP blooms are partially decomposed wet toilet paper in trail lingo- in some places the forest floor near shelters is littered with these left by inconsiderate hikers. Carefully watching each step, I came out of my rain pants, felt a fleeting moment of embarrassment standing in the middle of nowhere in my undies, and got my hiking pants on. My rain pants were stowed, pack donned, and I was on my way.
It started sprinkling, so I threw my rain jacket on over my head. At 1615 reached a clearing and saw a rain-washed sign describing how to get to the Greasy Creek Friendly. It’s a hostel, but the owner Cee Cee decided that “hostel” sounds too much like “hostile”, so she calls it “friendly”. Unfortunately, her neighbor has a reputation as being less than pleasant, but I wasn’t going to go down there to find out. The guide mentioned a spring, so I was looking to replenish my water. In the area (Greasy Creek Gap, MI 366.2 elev 4034′) there was a tent site, the AT, an old jeep road, and what seemed to be another trail. I was getting confused about which direction to go. Went one way and realized it was not where I needed to go, so I doubled back around. A light rain started falling at first, then grew increasingly harder. I decided to seek refuge under a stand of rhododendrons that were thick enough to stave off some (but not all) of the rain.
Eventually I got my bearings and was getting ready to head out at 1540 when it started. Raining. Buckets. The rhodos didn’t keep me completely dry by any means, but it slowed the rate at which I was getting drenched. If you’ve never seen a rhododendron “bush” in real life, they’re more like small trees that grow between 10-15 feet high, and in many spots on the AT you’re enclosed in a tunnel of rhododendrons. Couldn’t help but think how miserable I’d be if I were at work on a field training exercise in the woods, but #1- I’m on vacation, #2- I can leave when I want, and #3- I knew it was going to rain & (tried to) mentally prepare myself for it. The rain stopped about 10 minutes after it started, so I headed down towards the spring.
The blue-blazed side trail was absolutely flooded- akin to fording a small creek. Fortunately there were enough rocks that I was pretty much walking on top of them and not so much in the water. This would be one of only two times I was glad to be walking on rocks during this outing. My Merrell Moabs are waterproof, and I was happy they kept most of the water off my feet. The gaiters were a different story; they didn’t help much so my socks got drenched from the tops down to my ankles.
Another 2 miles and 500 foot gain in elevation brought me to the blue blaze trail for the Clyde Smith Shelter (mi 368.1, elev 4514’). It was a pretty good hump, partially due to my being soaked from head to toe, but more so because my body is trying to get accustomed to this sudden abuse. I had run into 3 twenty something hikers; a female and two males carrying gallon water jugs (water jugs? really?) who’d said they when they left the shelter, 3 guys had just arrived there. Great. Now I’m thinking I may have to share a dark wet shelter with 3 rapey murderous mad men tonight. I thought of what my friends & family would say “Oh no, you’re actually going to sleep in a shack out in the middle of the woods with strange men?” Ha. Maybe, just maybe, I’m crazier than whoever else is in the shelter. Who knows.
I proceeded down the trail and met the occupants- 2 guys in their mid-forties and a 24 year old with braided blond hair adorned with beads as decorations. I absolutely love hiker trash. They had pretty much had spread all their stuff out around the benches, but quickly rearranged all of their gear and made a little room for me.
The shelter has two elevated sleeping platforms, one of which was right under a leak in the roof, which some previous hikers tried unsuccessfully to repair with duct tape. I had some Mountain Home Mexican Style Chicken and a Slim Jim for dinner while pondering what my sleeping arrangements would be. The top platform with the leak was definitely a no-go, there were only really two sleeping spaces left in the shelter, and my tent was too tall to fit underneath the unclaimed platform. My last resort was to set it up underneath the awning, between the sleeping platform and the benches. It was a tight fit, but I managed to get it in there, albeit with a shoe-sized rock underneath. One of the guys volunteered to give me a hand setting up my tent.
Here’s where I feel conflicted-I HATE playing the role of or being treated like a damsel in distress, but there are a lot of genuinely good folks (and gentlemen) on the trails, and I have learned to be gracious enough to accept help when offered. Unless the person offering help is creepy. Luckily, such was not the case, and this gentleman offering his assistance was simply a hiker helping out another hiker.
Coincidentally, during our conversation, the guy mentioned he has an uncle that owned a muffler shop on Raeford Rd in Fayetteville. Small world, huh? He’s a long distance running coach from Lexington NC, and he & his friend were taking Mr. Braids on his first backpacking trip. They started from Carver’s Gap and were going SOBO toward Erwin, TN. Never got their trail names, if they had any. I have to work on that; asking for trail names when I meet people.
The entire time from when I set up until when I finally shut my eyes for the night it rained.
1745: it’s raining
1840: still raining
1955: still raining
2130: still raining
2215: raining still
Noticing a pattern here? It slowed down a few times, but never stopped. It rained for 6 hours straight. Literally- it did not stop raining until 2230. We were all joking that we just wanted it to stop raining for 10 minutes so we could hit the wood line without getting soaked. As soon as that was mentioned, it would rain ferociously, as if in spite of our desires. Then there was talk of bailing out. The guys were contemplating calling Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin for a pickup tomorrow. I was thinking “screw this crap, I should call for a ride so I can wait this rain out for a day.
Checked my phone one last time before I shut it down for the night. Saw a voicemail from Mountain Harbour. I wonder what they could want? Why would they call me an hour after dropping me off? Maybe I left something in the car…maybe I….OH S*** DID I LEAVE MY KEYS IN THE CAR??? After a frantic search through all my gear, guess what? No keys. I couldn’t get enough of a signal to listen to the voicemail either. I bet that’s why they called. I HOPE that’s why they called. Okay, my enthusiasm just bottomed out. This is a bad omen. A deluge on my first day, AND I lose my keys.
Speaking of bad omens, I guess when my Camelbak leaked water all over my pack & seats in my truck when I dropped Zoe off it was a sign of things to come.
My motivation level was on “E”. Yuck. I’m wet, miserable, and thinking I may have made a mistake by being bullheaded & coming out here when there was 100% chance of rain. Maybe I’ll bail out at Hughes Gap tomorrow, stay at the hostel for a night, and come back in a day. Maybe I won’t. This is going to suck tomorrow- nothing but rain (100% chance again) and a big freaking mountain to climb in the afternoon. My head was hurting, I was dehydrated, and just KNEW my bladder was going to summon me awake sometime after midnight, but I finally dozed off listening to a couple episodes of Frasier on my iPod, wet and tired.