Operators: Slater K4QWZ & Erik WX4ET
WX: Dusk, temps in the low-40s and 30s.
Access/Difficulty: Normally easy, but extremely difficult this time
Path: AT from Carver’s Gap to summit, then AT to top parking lot, then access road to Carver’s Gap
Hazards: Icy version of hell
After taking a quick breather at Carver’s Gap following our activation of Grassy Ridge Bald, Erik and I initiated our daring ascent of Roan High Knob shortly after 5:00 pm. The trail to the summit is roughly 1.5 miles long from Carver’s Gap. While it’s not very steep, this section of the AT boasts a few switchbacks and has a constant slope. The ballast rocks on the trail can be rough on the ankles.
Almost immediately, we ran into patches of ice. Initially, the patches were a little slick but manageable or mostly avoidable. But after a few minutes, the minor patches turned into massive swaths of ice several inches deep and covering the entire trail. When possible, we drove our trekking poles into the icy layers but often the ice was too dense to be pierced. Despite the slipping, sliding, and darkening sky we decided to press on to the summit.
It was nearly dark when we arrived at the intersection of the AT and the short trail that leads to the shelter and summit. The trail is only .1 mile long, but the ice made it the most treacherous part of the hike. As we were finally approaching the AT shelter, Erik slipped and fell. Aside from the pain, he was OK.
We finally arrived the AT shelter and summit around 6:30 pm. We met a section hiker staying overnight at the shelter. While briefly resting next to his fire, we chatted and he offered us something to eat. We declined. He then asked if we would like some “apple pie” moonshine. Knowing that our descent was going to be hellacious enough while sober, I was hesitant about consuming an intoxicating beverage. But, I caved and took a swig, then passed the jar over to Erik who had a couple of drinks himself. Five minutes later, Erik’s pain was better and he was suddenly not as cold. I didn’t feel a thing, so I guess I didn’t drink enough.
With nightfall setting in, we decided not to use our beam antennas to save time. We quickly made our contacts and packed up. Before our departure, the hiker suggested we continue to hike southbound on the AT to the parking lot atop the mountain, instead of going back the way we came.
We began our descent around 7:00 pm, the trail ahead of us lit by our headlamps. Our journey back to the AT along the shelter trail was more of a controlled slide than it was a hike. But surely enough, we made it back to the trail and slowly but surely pushed southbound towards the parking a lot atop Roan Mountain.
After struggling across the ice for nearly a third of a mile, we came upon a side trail that went towards the access road that runs between Carver’s Gap and the mountaintop parking lot. After a very short journey, this trail appeared to abruptly end. We attempted to bushwhack to the roadway but to no avail. I would later realize we were just a few feet shy of the road.
Back on the AT, we trudged along for another quarter mile before we finally found the parking lot. All that stood between us and my Explorer was a 1.5 mile stretch of blacktop. Worn out and starving to death, we made the trek down the access road (closed during the winter) and arrived back at Carver’s Gap sometime around 9 pm.
When all was said and done, we had spent nearly 10 hours on Roan Mountain between activating Grassy Ridge Bald and Roan High Knob.
Besides a cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal from that morning, the only fuel I had was trail mix, peanut butter crackers, a banana, and water. Erik had his usual Nutty Bars. We stopped at a Subway in Hampton, where I stuffed my face with a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki and Philly Cheese Steak.
**Special thanks to David KI4AAU for contacting my dad to let him know I was OK.**