Hiker heroes, Tales from the Trail

Surviving the Storm-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named

July 16, 2016

The trail through Roan Mountain range straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, and takes us up to one of the highest points on the Trail at 6285 feet. Dense forests and boulder fields would make the ascent nearly impossible were it not for the efforts of another Trail Legend named Bob Peoples. He organizes teams of volunteers to help maintain and improve sections of the Trail and even build new shelters.

I tried to remember this as I made the grueling climb to the summit at Roan High Knob. Several false summits had me thinking is was nearly there, only to find that more mountain was waiting above me. Pooch and I breached the low cloud ceiling, paused long enough to put our pack covers on in the hopes of keeping out some of the condensation, and kept hiking. AC/DC was telling me about “Dirty Deads, Done Dirt Cheap.”

By the time we crested Roan High Knob the cloud mist turned into rain. I stopped for a second to consider staying at Roan Mtn shelter (the highest shelter on the AT) but decided I had plenty of energy left, and the cool temps made for quick hiking.

The descent to Carver’s Gap was gorgeous. Coniferous trees crowded around us as the trail twisted and turned. Bob had rubberized mats placed and packed with crushed stone and soil to create wide shallow steps as we twisted and turned in a gravity assisted stroll. My hat was streaming rain.

At Carver’s gap, Pooch was and I split up so he could meet up with a few family members that drove out to take him to dinner. I switched out of my soggy socks and into my Vibram Five Fingers (Monica calls them my “Monkey Feet”) and began another series of ascents, this time over several grassy balds.

The trees and rocks were gone, so the wind and rain were free to push me around. The temperature dropped near freezing.

View from Grassy Bald during the same season last year.

View from Grassy Bald during the same season last year.

 

This is the view near the summit of Grassy Knob this year.

This is the view near the summit of Grassy Knob this year. I think the grove of trees behind me is where Jem tried to set up her hammock to ride out the storm.

It was cold but I was having a blast. I passed a group of 4 guys huddled in a small grove of trees, ” Is there a shelter nearby where we can dry out and get warm?” one of them asked. “There is a small shelter about 6 miles north of here. You might be able to dry out there.”

“Screw this. Let’s head back to the car. We can get some beer and be back at my place in an hour,” one of the shivering hikers said. They were about a mile from their car, and sounded like logic was going to prevail, so I pushed on.

The wind became ridiculously strong and biting. My cheeks and nose became numb, but so long as I kept moving, my core felt warm. After cresting the third bald, I dropped into a grove of trees. The wind was blocked so the temperature improved, but the muddy runoff turned the Trail into a sloppy stream. I caught myself before falling several times and began to intentionally mud surf my way down the trail. Laughing at myself, I decided that if I were in the Boy Scouts, I would totally deserve an AT mid surfing merit badge.

Showing off my muddy Monkey Feet while it was still fun to play

Showing off my muddy Monkey Feet while it was still fun to play

Unbeknownst to me, Pooch caught up to me after a particularly awkward recovery. I stumbled and shrieked (this time an embarrassing girly squeal), trying to keep my butt from getting muddy, but ended up soaking my arms and legs even worse.

The rest of the hike was not nearly as much fun. Everything that wasn’t in at least 2 waterproof bags was soaked. We were cold. However, we’d decided to hike to the Overmountain Barn and pushed past the tiny shelter on the way.

Arriving at Overmountain Barn to dry off

Pooch (pictured) and I arriving at Overmountain Barn to dry off

The loft of the barn was littered with hikers that had stripped down and buried themselves in their sleeping bags. The only light came from gaps in the wooden walls of the barn and a few portable stoves of hikers making dinner. Modesty wasn’t a consideration as I shed all my clothes. Kinda proud of the rivulets that flowed off my pants and shirt as I searched for a nail to hang them from. And thrilled to see that the clothes and sleeping bag I’d stored in compression sacks had remained dry.

I later learned that Jem had also chosen to hike through the storm, but was several hours behind us and forced to endure much worse conditions. She explains with animation, “I saw this ring of guardian trees and thought, I can’t go any further. Surely these trees were put here to protect me. I’ll set up my hammock here and bury myself in my sleeping bag till the storm passes.” It didn’t work. “I eventually looked down at all my fingers and we agreed that all 11 of us were gonna survive the night. I packed up, and put on my puny headlamp since it was already getting dark, and hiked. An eternity and a half later, Thank you Jesus! I saw a little reflection from another tent and a flat spot that wasn’t as windy and set up again. Once the sun came out, I realized that I was only a few hundred meters from the shelter. And best of all…I still had all my fingers!” She clapped and bounced a little as she celebrated her victory over what we all later agreed was to be called the “storm-that-shall-not-be-named.”

 

 

Jem. Long after recovering from the “Storm-that-shall-not-be-named.” Felt like a fitting name for the storm, in honor of Harry Potter and Voldemort

10 Comments

  • Reply Steve Adams July 17, 2016 at 3:42 am

    Sounds tough, Gabe. I loved that section north of Carvers Gap and had wonderful, though cold, weather. It is always interesting to read about the hike from a different weather day. Keep on, keeping on.

    • Reply Gabriel Burkhardt July 20, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Will do Steve, and looking forward to reading the latest of your 3 books!

  • Reply Monica July 17, 2016 at 3:53 am

    It seems like this is the kind of environment to discover ur limits, pushing as much as u can. I’m not surprised that u can do so much more than u thought. So maybe there are no limits ! 🙂 Happy hike!

    • Reply Gabriel Burkhardt July 20, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks for your continued support Love, and for the patience as I slowly make my way north to Maine.

  • Reply Scott (aka Dad) July 17, 2016 at 7:32 am

    That is a great story Gabe. I love to read about your adventures, especially about the new sports that you’re inventing. Mud surfing will soon be a recognized trail sport. Keep enjoying the trail and remember to smile through every difficult part. I know that you have what it takes to make it all the way! Stay safe.

    • Reply Gabriel Burkhardt July 20, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      That’s such a great idea Dad! Recently I’ve been thinking that a future season of Survivor should have a hiking theme, and a mud surfing challenge would be a cool addition. I’m a bit busy for the next few months, so maybe you can get in touch with Jeff Probst to get the ball rolling??

  • Reply TLE (TallLankyEngineer) July 18, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Fun to hear about the storm again :-). Is Jem the one I met the morning I joined you on the hike (the huggy one)?

    • Reply Gabriel Burkhardt July 20, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Absolutely! Jem is an amazing Trail personality isn’t she?

  • Reply Stretch July 21, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    One observation: you have the same hat on Grassy Bald, but last year you had duct tape on the bill. None this year…which may be why it is coming apart??

    • Reply Gabriel Burkhardt August 2, 2016 at 7:40 am

      Ha! This poor hat really is falling apart. I’m going to have to retire it after this trip…

    Now it's your turn to play!

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