Before we head full into cold weather, here’s a sunny memory to tide you over until next year. For the June Jamboree this past summer, a group of around 50 people joined together for a beautiful day of hiking and exploring in the Highlands of Roan, celebrating 40 years of conservation with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. In addition to the classic Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge hike, Yoga on the Mountain, Kids in the Creek, and Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens, this year we also featured another strenuous challenge hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail. Our Former AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR & Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, helped co-lead the Challenge Hike, and here is her story…
“Early on the morning of the Jamboree, 16 people met to embark on our 12-mile, intensive Challenge Hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan. We all piled into cars and shuttled our way to the Appalachian Trail along 19E in Tennessee. It was 8:00 am and people were yawning, still waking up — but before we knew it we were at the trailhead ready to begin the day. Hikers trekked into the woods and steadily climbed steep rocks though a canopy of trees for three miles, taking our first group break at Doll Flats.
As we sat down to rest, we all tried to guess our current elevation, eventually learning that Doll Flats rests at 4, 560 feet. Sufficiently rested, we gathered our packs and headed off single file southbound along the AT.
The trail wound in and out of the trees until we reached the base of Hump Mountain, where we became fully exposed to the 360-degree views. The sky was clear, the breeze was cool and everyone was thrilled to see the surrounding peaks. We continued our ascent to the top of Hump Mountain (5,587 ft) where we congregated to hear a brief presentation from our Stewardship & Conservation Planning Director, Hanni Muerdter.
“This property was slated as a potential site for Beech Mountain Resort,” explained Hanni. “SAHC’s founders identified Hump and Little Hump Mountains as priority concerns in the early 1960’s, and they were protected by the early 1980’s.” Turning to take in the open surroundings, we all realized how lucky we were to be sitting amongst these protected peaks.
It was 11:30 am when we reached Hump Mountain, so we decided to push forward and hike to Little Hump for lunch. You could see Little Hump straight ahead in the distance resting at an elevation of 5,459 ft. It seemed like it would be a simple 2 mile stretch, but the AT takes a sharp left and zigzagged us through a thicket of trees with no site of the balds around us. As the trees became shorter and the sun became brighter we eventually made our way to the top of Little Hump with a few rocks and scattered trees to provide us with shade for our lunch. We were all happy to rest at this point. One of the hikers, Bev McDowell, brought food to share with the group — the hot ticket items were the chocolate bars that she kindly passed around.
Once we ate and stretched we got back on our feet heading southbound toward the Red Barn shelter and the intersection of the AT and Overmountain Victory Trail. Along our descent the fields were filled with wild angelica. It is a species of plant that is tall and creates large compound white flowers. This section of the trail took us a little longer than expected because everyone was taking photos of the beautiful fields. We took a short break at the AT intersection for a group shot and then kept hiking toward the Stan Murray shelter. After a long steady hike to the shelter we all regrouped and began our descent into the National Trails Tract, where the post-hike celebration awaited us.
Slow and steadily we followed Elk Fork Branch that started as a small water resource but progressed into a stable stream. We bushed whacked for nearly 45mins down a steep and slippery terrain till we connected with an established trail on the National Trails Tract. The hikers were able to walk out onto large rock slabs in the center of the creek to check out a few waterfalls more closely. After a couple hikers took a quick dip in the water we all hiked down to the post gathering on the National Trails Tract where snacks and drinks awaited the tired challenge hikers.
The day was an overwhelming success for all of the hikers. The views were endless, the weather was perfect and the company was joyful. The beauty of the natural grassy balds is unlike any other and they are always enticing hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to come back to the Highlands of Roan.”