With loved ones thousands of miles away, Uwharrie and I embarked on a marathon run across the Roan Highlands for Thanksgiving. We drove for an hour up to Yellow Mountain Gap on Wednesday afternoon to camp at the Overmountain Victory Shelter along the AT. Many hunters were out and about on this second day of deer season.
An earlier sunset meant we had little time to gather firewood to cook dinner. We hopped out of the Falcon, packed up and hiked to camp. Soon the silence, disrupted only by a crackling fire and bottle cap’s hiss of Highlands Cold Mountain Winter Ale, enveloped the evening. I relaxed in my down parka and gazed out across the valley and up into the heavens. Clouds crept in from behind Yellow Mountain.
Tossing and turning, I awoke in the predawn darkness to the sound of a cold rain. I considered our options and soon fell back into a fitful sleep. Near dawn, we packed and hiked a mile down to the car to eat a quick breakfast of bread with pumpkin butter and switch into running gear. The weather was typical mountain weather: unpredictable.
As we ran to Carvers Gap, we entered into a world of rime ice where a thick morning frost would linger all day. We encountered a few more hunters who appeared frozen to the tundra in thick camouflage ponchos and blaze orange caps. The skies soon parted and early morning sunbeams exploded onto thousands of herbaceous ice chandeliers, a glorious sight. We had made it to Carvers Gap, 5.5 miles in just over an hour, destined for a good day.
Our out-and-back route would explore the way The Dogs and Cats had accessed Roan High Bluff from 226. My plan was to somehow find our way down to Broad Branch Rd. then retrace our steps to summit three 6ers on the return trip. Thanks to Mark and Anne, I had a fairly good idea of how to go despite my crummy map.
We followed the Cloudland Trail out to the High Bluff in what was indeed a land of clouds. Here atop the Bluff, I pondered the feasibility of bushwhacking south down the steep ridge. Surveying the thick spruce and ice-encrusted cliffs, I promptly thought better of it. We backtracked on the Cloudland Trail for less than a quarter mile and then bushwhacked east hoping for a fire road. We soon joined the road, leaving it at a switchback to make our way into the Broad Branch basin.
In three hours we had hit pavement on Broad Branch Road. A fellow from the development that we had trespassed through cautioned me about hunters. I wished I had something orange to wear. I found some pink flagging and tied it around my head. Now definitely a target, I clicked my stopwatch and we started back up 3000’ or so to the Bluff. In an hour and a half, we were there.
The visibility had improved dramatically, we enjoyed the panorama and marveled at what we had just gone down and come back up. The wind made loitering here unpleasant, so we hurried on to Roan High Knob. A few folks were out and about enjoying a beautiful holiday in the highlands. Here we filled up with spring water before traversing over to Grassy Ridge Bald. I clicked my stopwatch for a 2:55 split from Broad Branch Rd.
We lingered for a bit longer to enjoy the wonderful views from our last summit of the day. I savored some honey stinger chews and then we took off down the trail to return to the car in just over 7 hours. I’m thankful we made it back safely and didn’t get shot. I’m thankful for a healthy body and the privilege to live in the Southern Appalachians. I’m thankful for all my friends and family and their continual love and support.
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