Day 1 – Monday
From Carver’s Gap to the Roan High Knob Shelter (Mile 1.5)
The original plan was to hike from Carver’s Gap on Monday to Spivey Gap by Saturday (47.3 miles). As I’ll explain later, it didn’t quite turn out that way, but I wasn’t here to knock down miles anyway. I was here to enjoy the trail for several days, and that is what we did beginning with a 1.5-mile walk on Monday afternoon from Carver’s Gap to the Roan High Knob Shelter where we’d set up camp for the night.
We left uncle Johnny’s all loaded into a single truck and headed for Subway to fill ourselves with some town food before withdrawing from civilization for a few days. Our shuttle driver for the trip from Johnny’s to Carver’s Gap was Big Old Mustard’s brother who had a good bit of experience on the AT himself. The ride alone was quite an adventure—Big Old Mustard’s brother apparently thought Carver’s Gap was closing in an hour.
Once arriving at the trailhead, we hit the restroom, grabbed our packs out of the truck bed, posed for the obligatory picture (which turned out terrible), and hit the trail. (Well, we hit the trail after we looked like fools for a few minutes trying to find where it began.)
The hike from Carver’s Gap was only 1.5 miles, but it was mostly uphill and reasonably tough after driving all day, heading out with fully loaded packs, and just shoving down a footlong Italian B.M.T from Subway. Big Old Mustard had warned me about trying to keep up with Nemo, and I soon found out why. The guy can fly up those mountains, and it didn’t take long for me to realize there was no way I was going to match his pace on the 764-foot ascent from Carver’s Gap to the shelter on Roan High Knob. So I slowed down to a pace I could maintain and tried to enjoy myself. There were parts of the trail that were like walking through a Christmas tree farm—more in smell than appearance. I was breathing hard most of the way, but knew pretty quickly I was going to have a great week.
Once we arrived at the shelter (which happens to be the highest one on the AT), we scouted out a few spots and set up camp. Big Old Mustard planned to sleep in shelters whenever possible. Mango (trail name of Big Old Mustard’s grandson) was tent camping. And, Nemo and I were in hammocks. As I leaned my pack against a tree and began unpacking, there was a bit of worry in my mind that I had forgotten something and wouldn’t be able to hang my hammock. Fortunately, everything on my four-page checklist (now you know how I got my trail name) made its way into the pack, and I had my hammock and tarp setup in short order.
Since we had plenty of daylight left after we set up camp, the four of us decided to head to some of the nearby viewing spots to take in and enjoy the scenery from the top of Roan Mountain. I think we walked four our five miles from bluff to bluff that afternoon taking in the sights. While the clouds that were slowly rolling in limited the view somewhat, the hiking was easy because we were only carrying water making it easy to cover a lot of ground without a lot of effort.
We made it back to camp just before dark, and I fired up the Jetboil to prepare my first Mountain House of the trip. I can’t remember what I had that evening, but I enjoyed all of the dehydrated meals I packed. It was dark after supper, we had hoped to start a campfire, but everything was soaking wet, and we had no luck with that. So I hung my food bag in the designated spot, brushed my teeth, took a “shower” with a Dude Shower Wipe (highly recommended), and changed into my sleeping clothes. The temperature was unquestionably dropping, and it seemed like rain was on the way. So, I was happy to climb into my hammock to discover that it was toasty warm. I laid there in the dark watching the fog roll in while pondering the day. I was thankful to be there and excited about tomorrow.
Sleep didn’t come easy that first night. From what I can tell, this seems to be a common experience for people on the first night out—not just for people who are experiencing their first night ever on the trail, but for seasoned hikers as well. The difficulty of sleep was exacerbated by a group of hikers who strolled into the shelter just after dark and needed some time to settle down before climbing into their sleeping bags. They talked and had fun for a while—which was fine, they were good guys—but it did keep the rest of us up an hour or two longer than we had planned. And of course, once that settled down, the rain picked up significantly, which kept me awake worrying that I was going to get wet. It was the middle of October and cold at 6,270 feet, and I knew getting wet wouldn’t be fun.
AND… it wasn’t. At some point, I realized that the rain was coming in a bit sideways and getting my under quilt wet. By the time I noticed it, my hammock was already a little damp as well. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad, and I was able to quickly jump out of my hammock and lower the tarp without getting drenched. I climbed back into my swinging bed as fast as I could, zipped the bug net while wishing I would have pulled the trigger on one of those Winter Top Covers from Dutch. I got my socks back on quickly and positioned myself so that I wasn’t touching the water-infiltrated part of the hammock. Although I didn’t sleep much that night, the wet hammock and under quilt were non-issues. The only discomfort I experienced was two cold feet.
The rain kept coming all night. But, after I lowered my tarp (rookie mistake and lesson learned), the rain was nothing more than a pleasant melody echoing off the waterproof nylon above my head. This was just the beginning of the rain though… just the beginning.
To be continued…