After I finished my race last weekend, I was immediately thinking about this run and how I couldn't wait for this weekend to come. I have such a deep love for the highlands of Roan and have day hiked and backpacked there many times, but I had never attempted a run there. Also, after my last trip to the beautiful balds, I found out that I had missed one of them that was off the beaten path of the AT called Big Yellow Mtn. So after many hours of researching how to get out there, this weekend I was going for it! Huge pay off by doing so, but I'll get to that later.
The original plan this morning was to get up around 7:30 and then leave at 8:00 to make the hour long drive to Carver's Gap and arrive at the trailhead by 9:00. Well, getting home around 1:00 am and then having insomnia, which kept me up another 2 hours, pretty much put that scheduled wake up time on the back burners. So, eventually I arose from bed at 9:30, ate a couple bowls of cereal and headed of towards Carver's Gap at 10:10. I would be arriving at the trailhead a good 2 hours behind schedule, but at least a got some sleep.
As soon as I arrived, I shed my fleece, strapped on my water bottle, and pushed myself up through the majestic fir forest to Round Bald. It was a very easy climb and then the trail quickly descended down to Engine Gap and back up the shorter but steeper climb to Jane's Bald. Then came the long descent down the muddy switchbacks on the backside of Grassy Ridge to Yellow Mountain Gap. When I got there, I took a quick breather, a sip of water, and downed a couple of Clif Blocks. I knew that the climb going up to Little Hump was going to be quite strenuous at the beginning, so the quick rest was welcomed.
I tried to maintain a jog from Yellow Mtn Gap to Little Hump Mtn, but the grade at one point was so steep I could walk up it faster, so that is what I did for about a tenth of a mile and as soon as the grade settled back into a more tolerable 10%, I continued jogging to the intersection of the side trail that would lead me to Big Yellow. Trouble was, I couldn't find the trail once it entered back into the woods so I had to bushwhack my way for half a mile until I finally spotted the trail again. Let's just say that bushwhacking is something I would rather not do without a map. The trail was nice and it was a gentle climb to the wide expanse of grassy goodness that laid before me. This picture does not do it justice, but at least you can get a feel for what I was seeing. This was without a doubt the most beautiful bald in all of the Roan Highlands. Upon reaching the summit of Big Yellow, I let out a primal howl of pure astonishment! The views from the mountain were amazing! I could practically look down into Linville Gorge and see Grandfather Mtn and Grassy Ridge towering to the East and West of me. I stopped at a rocky area and started to assemble a rock statue at that location all while the wind was whipping through my sweat drenched cloths. Obviously, I started to get a little chilly and I figured that it was time to stop playing and get back to summit Little Hump before I turned back for the day.
It was easy going back down the side trail to meet back up with the AT. The side trail starts basically right below the summit of Little Hump, so as soon as I got back on the AT, I took a quick right to grab one more peak before I turned around. Upon reaching the summit, there is a fantastic view of Hump Mtn to the East, which is another one of my favorite mountains. If the training plan would have called for an extra 4 miles, I would have climbed to its peak as well. But, it was time to turn around and I was almost out of water.
I began to race back down the AT towards Yellow Mtn Gap to fill up my bottle and was welcomed with a pleasant view of the Overmountain Victory Shelter below me. This barn/shelter is about 200 yards from where I refilled my bottle with some cold mountain spring water and downed the remaining of my Clif Blocks; Needed energy for the 1200' climb back up to the flanks of Grassy Ridge. I was beginning to feel the fatigue in my legs from the weeks running at about this time and decided to employ a strategy of alternating walking and running on each switchback. It worked out pretty well and was greatly appreciated by my aching hip flexors. As soon as I reached Jane's Bald, I decided to take one more good look at the beautiful mountains and valleys that laid before me. I've often stopped at this spot and just soaked in what was around me for extended periods of time. This section of the AT is without a doubt the highlight of the whole trail. Well, after a couple of minutes, I raced back down to Carver's Gap to finish the day, pushing my fatigued legs as hard as they could go for the last 1.5 miles of crushed gravel trail that laid before me.
Today was such a great run in both beauty and my personal performance. Minus the time playing around on Big Yellow and the soaking in of my surroundings at the peaks, I ran 17.4 miles in 2:56:33. Pretty good considering that there was close to 3900 ft of gain throughout the run. If I can average a 10:07 mile on this run, I know I can at Uwharrie and achieve my goal of running that race under 7 hours. Here is the garmin data from the run: Carvers Gap to Big Yellow/Little Hump
Next week, the Bent Creek Gobbler!!!!