Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hump Mountain Sherpa Hike

Hump Mountain – Appalachian Trail – 6-25-11 ~ 18.3 miles 

An intriguing post on my local hiking group’s meetup page: 

Hike: 19.2 miles (+/-) and 4,600 ft. elevation gain

Difficulty rating:  very difficult

Ok, sherpas…this is THE mega hike of the year!  We will start at Carvers Gap... our destination:  Hump Mtn.  This is an out & back with a 2.2 mile "side trip" to Big Yellow Mtn (bald with beautiful views) so luv muffin  can bag another peak. We will also stop at Overmountain Shelter... very cool barn & a great place to snack.  Your effort will be rewarded with beautiful views on many balds along the way... one of my favorite hikes!
As always, we will stop to snarf dinner on the way back to Charlotte.
Bring LOTS of water & LOTS of snacks... this hike will burn LOTS of calories.  And please bring a headlamp/flashlight just in case.

Impossible to resist!  I had not hiked with the sherpas since January’s Yellow Mountain fire tower hike (different one) and the MST was no longer challenging elevationwise, so I signed up for this very long day.  Remember, the AT is not close to Charlotte.  We met at 7:00 a.m., drove 2+ hours to Carver's Gap, and we were on the trail by 10:00 a.m.  After all our years of hiking I don’t know why we were surprised when we got out of the car and it was freezing.  Don’t ever unpack your fleece, gloves and hat.

Sherpa hikers ready to move

Carver’s Gap sign has taken a few bullets

Didn’t take long to warm up – first climb, Round Bald

If you want to impress somebody with the AT in North Carolina, this is the section to do that.  Wide open balds, 6,000-foot peaks, twirling Julie Andrews style hiking.  And our timing was good for some stunning wildflowers.

Flame azaleas

Made more stunning by Carolyn and me standing beside them

Gray’s lilies

Mountain ash

Bee balm



Jeff and Carolyn taking flower photos

The trail passed over Round Bald and Jane Bald, skirted past Grassy Ridge Bald (a short side trip for another day) and then dipped back into the trees for a few miles.  We paused at Stan Murray Shelter and then quickly pressed on.  The sherpas were in high gear today.  

Another couple of miles brought us to Overmountain Shelter, by trail standards a luxurious hiker haven.  The name derives from the Overmountain Victory Trail that intersects the AT here, the path followed by the Overmountain Men who traveled over the Appalachians to join the Patriot forces and marched down to Kings Mountain, NC to fight the Loyalists in 1780.  The Battle of Kings Mountain is considered a turning point in the Revolutionary War.  Danny and I intersected the Overmountain Victory Trail a couple of times during our MST hiking.

Sleeping loft of Overmountain Shelter

Covered area for cooking

Lunch break

As we were packing up to leave I took out my camera for some scenic shots.  When I turned it on I heard a gritty grinding noise that made my stomach fall.  Standing beside me, Jeff heard it too.  The lens wouldn’t move and I held a useless (new) camera in my hands.  And right then Matt took this photo.

We messed around with the camera but couldn’t budge the lens, so I put it away.  The rest of the photos from the hike are Jeff’s (well, and a couple of Matt’s and Cathy’s…stolen from their FB pages.)  
View of Overmountain Shelter from the AT (tiny dot in the center)

The trail climbed up from Overmountain Shelter…and up and up over Little Hump Mountain.  Little Hump did not seem so little.  And at the top of it we could see the real destination – Hump Mountain (center of photo). 
I was beginning to question whether my legs would make it the full distance of this hike.  It wasn’t particularly technical but the up-and-down was making me tired…and we weren’t even halfway done yet.  This was also a “comeback” hike for Matt and he was working it hard.  And Matt had done this hike before so he knew what was coming.  On the back side of Little Hump Mountain the trail switchbacked down into the trees again, then back out into the open down to Bradley Gap.  

These jaw- dropping views kept us going – Grand- father Mountain

Hawksbill and Table Rock (cat's ears formations slightly to the left of center)

Roan High Knob on the far right

Matt warned me that Hump Mountain has a false summit – you’re hiking towards a point, and when you reach it you see beyond it to the real summit, still a long way to go.  This stile was a signal that we were “getting closer.”  

At the summit of Hump Mountain we took a long, long break.  Not every day on the trail is this clear and we soaked it up.  Thanks be to God for the good health and good friends and appreciation for the outdoors that brought us here today!  I had consumed a lot of water and it wasn’t doing the trick.  Steven offered me a giant Gatorade that tasted sweeter than anything on earth and I drank most of it right on the spot.  At last we stood up, shouldered our packs and turned around.  

Going down Hump Mountain was much faster and I flattered myself in taking the lead for this short bit.  Then we climbed Little Hump Mountain in reverse, most of the group in front of me and Jeff.  As we came out of the trees we looked across the bald and saw the trail, realizing that we could cut across the bald and bypass the switchbacks to the summit.  Now, this is something we would not normally do and I can’t say what came over me…but I followed Jeff.

When everyone caught up we reached an unmaintained side trail to Big Yellow Mountain that Jeff intended to summit (Jeff is a peakbagger extraordinaire).  I had already decided to bypass this since I was skeptical of my legs holding out.  Matt opted to continue back with me while the remainder of the group succumbed to the challenge and went with Jeff, adding another 2 miles to their hike.  I regret nothing.

So Matt and I had a great getting-to-know you chat for the hike back, making the miles go faster as we jumped from topic to topic, mostly hiking and then child-rearing.  We stopped at Stan Murray Shelter for a good break, but by now we were pretty wiped out and ready to end.  Still a couple of miles to go and we toughed it out.  Mike, David and Cathy caught up to us before we reached the parking lot.  

In total the hike took 10 hours – we finished at 8:00 p.m.  Matt and I did 18.3 miles, 4,700 feet elevation gain.  The rest did 20.7 miles, 4,900 feet total elevation gain.  

And our biggest challenge was finding a place to eat!  The mountain towns shut down by 9:00 p.m. on a Saturday.  Cathy gave up and fell asleep in the back seat while we searched for food.  That Hardee’s turkey burger in Marion sure was good.  Eighteen hours after I left, I returned home to my soft bed.

One may go a long way after one is tired.  ~French Proverb

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