AT (Hughes Gap to Nolichucky river), 2/11

Feb 25-27, 2011

28 miles

Another hard winter both weather wise and with other (non-backpacking) extra-curricular activities.  After the great Upper Paria River trip in mid November I/we just couldn’t get it together to get out again until this trip.  We had several trips in the works but they all ended up being canceled either due to really crappy weather or other conflicts.  Finally Bob and I managed to pull this one off and it will have to be my last walk of the winter season, too much going on from here on into full spring.

While we have gone over Roan several times, headed south on the AT, we always stopped at Iron Mtn. Gap and had not done the section on down to the Nolichucky river.  We had walked down to the Nolichucky from the south in 2008 but this last section had eluded us.

We left the house at 5:30,  as always, and drove through some heavy rains as a strong front blew through the state.  We arrived at Uncle Johnny’s hostel at 9:45 and the weather was trying to clear and the rain mostly past.  For $50 they shuttled us up to Hughes Gap.  We chose a Hughes Gap start instead of Carver Gap, on the other side of Roan Mtn., because the walk over Roan is not that interesting and the steep plunge down the north side of Roan is a knee buster.

As we got out of the van at 11:00 the winds were blowing so hard we were almost knocked down.  We made good time up over Little Rock Knob where the views were pretty good even in the overcast conditions and the wind was really howling.  You can see Bob’s jacket billowing, the rhodo leaves blown backwards and Bob protecting his hat.

We slipped into the Clyde Smith shelter for lunch out of the wind as the temps were in the high 30’s.  While we have walked this section it is a nice rolling walk over the ridge with some new side hill trail.  We got to Weedy Gap where there is an old orchard but it was too early to stop for the night, so we headed on across Iron Mtn. Gap to the next water at Cherry Gap shelter.

Still over cast and it started out a warmer night than we are used to (30’s), we had a good fire and the usual festivities.  12 miles today and saw only one section hiker.

We woke up midway through the night with completely clear skies.  26 degrees in the morning and we took our time getting on the trail as we didn’t have a huge day planned.  The big climb of the trip was up the side of Unaka Mtn. (5180′) where there was still some good drifts of snow in the shady spots.

It was still cool on the top of Unaka which is covered with a spruce fir forest.

As we dropped down the side of Unaka we saw a field that we thought was The Beauty Spot and decided it was a great place for lunch in the now warm sun.

Fir covered Unaka on the left, Roan Mtn. and ridge on the right.

You could see all the way down to Hump Mtn. at the northern end of the Roan massif, 40 trail miles or so away.

After lunch we walked on down the ridge and into the real Beauty Spot.  It is right on a forest service road and can be heavily used on the weekends but the road was still closed for the winter and we had it all to ourselves.

This is looking south including Big Bald and other peaks the AT goes over.

We walked on down through the bald and got great but hazy views to the east of the Black Mountain Range with Celo Knob on the left and Mount Mitchell in the middle.  You can see the Nolichucky river in the bottom right.

From Beauty Spot it is essentially down hill all the way to the river, 10 miles away.  We began the long, warm, dry descent to Indian Graveyard Gap and then onto Curly Maple Gap shelter.  We pulled into the newly refurbished shelter and again had it to ourselves.  12 miles again today and we only saw three NOBO thru hikers.

Very warm in the 50’s during dinner and the low did get to 39 degrees sometime in the night but we woke to the high 40’s after it clouded up.  A short 4 mile walk on down to the river and we were back to the car by 10:00.  Lunch in Asheville and home by 2:30.

A nice leisurely trip to end another winter hiking season, surprisingly nice section and views.  As usual a perfectly timed walk with the near perfect Bob and now he will will have to find some others to keep him company.

A note on trip planning. You will notice that many of the trips Bob and I do in the winter try to take advantage of a just passed weather front.  We many times head in just as the front has passed the area and the conditions are not perfect but improving.  This gives us the best chance of good weather and views the following days.  Many times there are only one or two good days between winter weather systems and sometimes we are hiking out in deteriorating conditions but know we have dry clothes and a warm car to get into at the trails end.

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