Roan Mountain is the highest point on the AT after Clingman’s Dome until one hits New Hampshire. The shelter has the unsavory reputation of being the coldest shelter on the entire AT as well. Most folks look forward to putting Roan behind them, with good reason.
So, we made the absolutely brilliant decision to hike away from a shelter towards Roan on a day where we kept waiting for the ‘rain that should be coming down right now.’ Guess what?
Yup, it rained on us for hours once we left the shelter.
When we arrived at Roan High Knob shelter we were wet and muddy and the shelter was stuffed with other wet, muddy, smelly people – and the smell of mouse pee. After changing into dry clothes we decided to tent.
Despite the fact that the rain stopped an hour before we thought about setting up our tent we were not happy the next morning. After sleeping quite warm and ignoring the howling wind all night we woke up to a frozen nonwonderland. Apparently the howling wind we’d ignored all night was about 10 degrees and laden with sleet. Everything we owned was encapsulated in ice.
My shoes had been soaked and coated in mud – they were now also so frozen that it took 10 minutes to wedge my foot into one of them. Jess’s were the same.
I went to get our food bags down. The knot in the paracord was too frozen and my fingers stopped working on my first couple of attempts to untie the knots. (Food bags are hung from high branches at night if no cables are available – this prevents a bear from stealing your grub, decidedly something undesirable to occur should your food be stored in your tent with you.) The third time I bashed the knot with a rock until the ice was crushed and I could untie it. The rope was frozen to the branch it was draped over. It would have been funny if I weren’t worried about frostbite from the temperature and wind. After a long while of snatching the rope at different angles and trying to melt the frozen junction with foul language it finally released and I got our bags down.
On a normal day I can pack our tent away in 5 or 6 minutes. It took me st least 10 just to get the frozen pole out of the sleeve. Then I had to rub the pole joints until the friction melted them enough to separate and fold. And it took about half an hour to get the frozen tent into its stuff sack. My hands kept giving out. I was seriously worried about frostbite, moreso than the entire time I worked as a freezer selector.
Our wet clothes from the previous day had been hung on trees and draped over bushes. Frozen solid. I couldn’t even force my socks to bend. I had to stash them in their frozen shapes. We finally managed to get some breakfast and move out. The wind pursued us down the trail relentlessly. We were the first ones on the trail.
A bit over a mile down the trail we came to Carter’s Gap. It has a parking lot and a restroom so we headed over to try to call for a shuttle out of this hell. Unfun and unsafe.
No luck. Verizon offers a lot of false hope. On this occasion as has happened several other times we had 1-4 bars of service but no calls would go through. As we were trying repeatedly to make calls a wonderful thing occurred.
Some people pulled a table out of their vehicle and started laying out food.
I have to talk about ‘Trail Magic’ for a bit. It’s not magic but it sure does feel magical when you’re on the receiving end. There are kind souls who go out of their way, sometimes incredibly so, to provide snacks and meals and all sorts of supplies and support to hikers. I have had them walk miles of trail just to meet me out on a mountain to hand me a piece of fruit or some candy. The people who do this regularly are often called Trail Angels.
These folks had traveled from several states away just to give out food for a weekend. The wind was harsh though. We got a couple of things from them and chatted a bit while privately despairing that we were stuck on this windy mountain and in no shape to hike 14 more miles down it with plastic grocery bags in our shoes keeping our socks separated from our slowly thawing shoe liners.
After five minutes one of the ladies produced warm breakfast burritos. Mmmmm. That helped a bit with the shivering. About time that we finished those a consensus was reached among our benefactors that it was too cold, windy and miserable to stay in the parking lot to do their thing. They were going to move to the bottom of the mountain and set up where the trail crosses hwy 19.
We begged a ride down with them. Along the way I called Mountain Harbour. They have a hostel and a B&B. The only available spots were the Jefferson room or tenting in the yard. I took the room, despite it being higher than our normal price range. We had heard that this place had a breakfast that is ‘the single best meal on the trail.’ This is where we wanted to be. And we needed a better reset than tenting in the yard.
We rolled in about 9:45. It wasn’t even checkout time yet.
Shannon, who I had spoken to on the phone, was putting away breakfast leftovers. She found us some plates and made coffee, using the excuse that she wanted a cup. It was awesome. I had a half dozen different things to eat.
Despite the fact that check-in is at 3, by 11 we were in our room. The one with a Jacuzzi tub. And a bed so tall that it had (and needed) a ladder. And heated bathroom. And fireplace. Etc. You get the picture.
Once we got into the room we went to work on our wet gear and clothes. Laundry was handed over to be washed. My socks clanked when they went into the washer. No joke. Loudly. I heard it in the next room. The tent was set up to dry and gear was spread out in the sun and wind.
In the afternoon we took the shuttle that they run daily for supper/resupply. Resupply was very limited. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was all the calories lost shivering. But even after three plates of awesome food at Mountain Harbour I was really hungry.
So I ordered the Holy Cow. This is a meal of a burger. Three patties, three pieces of ham, three slices of cheese, six pieces of bacon, two onion rings, chili, lettuce and tomato.
When I got done with the burger I had an ice cream cone for dessert.
The next morning we got the full breakfast, not just the leftovers. Oh my lord, can Mary cook. No repeated dishes from the previous day and everything was awesome. AGAIN.
So I ate four or five heaping plates, had a half dozen glasses of juice and several cups of coffee for good measure. It was the single best meal I have had on the trail.
When we shuttled out to resume our trek after breakfast I was fully reset and ready to take on the world.