One of the mistakes I made on this trip was related to sleeping. Having watched the weather reports closely, I believed the low temperatures in the evening were going to be in the 60s, even at elevation. Given that my sleeping bag is rated for 25, I opted to just bring a sheet with me to cut down on weight. Well, what I brought was much too thin, which resulted in an uncomfortable night. I will be sleeping in full rain gear the rest of the trip!
I was greeted in the morning by a beautiful serenade from the birds in the forest. Truly stunning. I was able to hit the trail just after 8:30am, and was greeted with a pretty easy first four miles, and the trail had dried out nicely. Still a forest walk, with continued nature sitings (snails, salamanders and fungi) to keep me entertained.
I reached Little Rock Knob at lunchtime, resulting in the best view of the trip, thus far.
The hike down to Hughes Gap was uneventful, noteworthy for being the lowpoint before a 2,200′ slog up to Roan High Knob, the destination campsite and highest point on the trip (6275′). Another mileage confusion ensued when the sign at the gap indicated I had 5.5 miles remaining while my mileage chart indicated 3.3! It ended up being 4.5 miles based on my GPS, which might be indicative of recent trail re-routing around the Ash Gap area. (I did read later that it was modified.)
I stopped in Ash Gap for a much-needed break and water. There is a huge campsite at the gap, capable of hosting dozens of tents for a large group. After leaving Ash Gap for the climb, the trail re-routing was evident, and more than likely appreciated, given that it probably resulted in a more gradual incline.
After the 1000′ gain, I reached the Roan High Bluff, where the Cloudland Hotel used to exist. This was a really neat area to drop the backpack and explore (as well as a parking spot with a real bathroom and water supply nearby!!). Not a bad place to camp with the amenities, but I wanted to make it further to the Knob and camp on it. I did enjoy my visit and views from the Bluff (I can see why it was popular back in the day) and did snap one of the most interesting photos of the trip.
On the way to the Roan High Knob, I ran into a couple day hikers from the Bluff for the first people of the day. Not much further, the trek up to the Knob appeared, and on the climb up I smelled smoke from a campfire. At the shelter, a father and son from nearby Banner Elk (Phil and Julian) using hammocks were all set up for the night. It resulted in a really nice evening by the fire discussing the area and each other’s hiking experiences. The Knob is a really neat area, which sort of reminded me what Sherwood Forest might have looked like with pine trees and boulders all around.
After spending a couple hours with Phil and Julian by the fire, I got up to return to my tent. However, the Knob was immersed in either fog or a cloud, resulting in quite a challenge for me to try to retrace my steps back to my tent (200′ away) when you couldn’t see 20′ in front of you! It was a little tenuous, but the reflective rope of my bear bag helped me identify my tent.