The Roan Highlands are section of the Appalachian mountains in the upper eastern corner of Tennessee that I have wanted to visit for several years. The AT crosses over a 15 mile section of high altitude natural balds, which offer stunning views and and amazing display of wildflowers. I decided to make it happen, so I set a date and invited some family and friends.
After a couple months of planning and helping various family prepare for for the trip, it seems there are things you just can't control. My dad and younger brother weren't ready to go for our planned departure on Thursday evening, and the three of us ended up leaving Chattanooga hours after I had planned to arrive at our trailhead, whic was still a five hour drive away. Yay.
So we drove through the beautiful moonlit night, arriving below Roan High Knob as dawn stole into the sky. My oldest brother, one of his friends, and the friends father had arrived the night before as planned, and were camped on top of High Knob. So we set out on the trail, deciding to meet up and fix breakfast with them.
The section of trail up to High Knob is well traveled, but was sublime in the early light.
It is always haunting to find remnants the past lives and history of these mountains
The AT is a highway through here, but oh so beautiful still.
We arrive at the top in an enchanting light, and find our compatriots still at slumber in the old cabin shelter.
We roust the crew awake and set to fixing breakfast after some brotherly teasing and heckling. Our broken fast was fabulous and extravagant thanks to my brother, Nathaniel, humping in a cast iron griddle!
Eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage, and coffee were consumed eagerly :) Jonathan and his dad did not complain about the results, though asked where the dutch oven was for biscuits.
Some of you will be glad to know the plan all along was to go back to the cars and visit the Rhododendron Gardens before continuing on, so the griddle did not make the 20 mile trek with us, Lol!
After a quick stop at the car, where a couple people reevaluated and ditched some extra weight, we visited the Rhodo Gardens.
From there, Nathaniel and I shuttled a car to the Mountain Harbour Inn on hwy 19E at the end of our trail, while Dad, Jonathan, his dad, and my youngest brother headed towards Grassy ridge from Carvers Gap. Once N and I arrived back at Carvers, the afternoon was advancing.
The day was glorious, we enjoyed the surroundings, and I continueally stopped for photographs, but were still able to maintain near a 2mph pace.
I kept thinking there had to be some Hobbits or Elves around here somewhere ;)
N and I crested Round Bald, and see that the rest of our group had only made it to Jane bald below us, meaning they had been covering less than a mile an hour. This did not portend well :(
Here is Jane bald below, with the imposing climb up Grassy Ridge. The scale here is very deceiving; everything looks much smaller and closer than it actually is.
The views down Round Bald and across Jane Bald were stunning.
I was delight to find that we had timed our trip almost perfectly for the Catawba and Azalea bloom! The Flaming Azaleas some of the prettiest I'd ever seen.
This yellow Azalea was less common that the Flaming and pinkish ones.
The trail began to get steeper up Jane.
And then it just got crazy steep!
You couldn't ask for better to look at while you pause to catch your breath
Such rich colour!
Nathaniel and I quickly caught up with our group, and I find my youngest brother, John, was leading the pack :)
Though he had done one short over-night trip with me before, this was his first real backpacking trip, and he was loving it!
After catching up, we learn that Jonathan's dad, Walter, was struggling a bit with the altitude and steepness of the trail. He was determined to continue, and I decided it would be best to observe and keep hiking on to our camp for the night. I knew we would have to re-assess our plans, but wanted to see how the rest of the day went first.
While stopped on a break for Walt, who should arrive but Patman! I knew he planned to come out and join us, but it was great to see he made, and a delight hanging out on trail again.
On the way up Grassy Ridge, the trail is almost one long series of Rhodo tunnels, which I just love.
The landscape is so wonderfully different and seemingly foreign on these unique highland meadows!
The Rhododendron that grows up here, called Catawba, is different than at lower elevations and has deep red or purple flowers, whereas others are white or pink-hearted.
We suddenly pop our on the summit of Grassy Ridge, and realize we had taken the spur trail without even realizing it. Patman pulls out his map and studies it, and was slightly perturbed at such an oversight :)
Nathaniel arrived at the top, and the three of us decide to continue further to scout out a location for camp. Patman had been told of a perfect grassy saddle off the northeast side, with a good water source and marvelous views.
This was looking back to the south, with Round Bald backlit and shining.
Grassy Ridge is one of the most deeply beautiful and beguiling places I have ever been.