It was a cold January day when the neutrons and protons aligned to ignite a spark and a great idea was formed. I texted Emily with same hope as Anna “Do you want to build a snow man?” Emily is one of the few people who can see the magic in an ice crystal bursting in the light, exploding in prism of color!
We discussed all sorts of epic snow day ideas including a monumental snowy ascent on Mount Mitchell (I have a feeling this will happen one day) But we settled on Roan mountain for the ease of access to Carvers gap as it is almost always plowed and open.
With our bags packed we headed out on a drive thru the country, past the barns and past the crumbing old houses that hold so many memories of days of old, the sounds of by-gone children laughter fading into the wind, Driving thru the towns that if I were describing America to someone who has never been, this would be the picture I would try to paint in their minds.
As we went up the mountain as beautiful as it was there was a growing disappointment building, as we got closer and closer to the top and there was no snow!
It was not till the last mile the woods began to fill with snowy magic. A lovey place the woods, only trees no underbrush and that poem popped back in my mind
(I ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.)
By the time we made it to carvers gap all disappointments over lack snow was gone! Replaced by eyes filled with wonder and excitement! I looked over to Savannah the best hiking dog ever and just the expression in her eyes would tell you this was going to great trip!
All bundled up we headed up thru the spruces and firs opening up to the first bald.
The snow seemed even deeper by the time made to the second bald. No one was around, we had the mountain to our-self, we decided to take Savannah off leash for a moment as soon as she bounced off the trail, we realized how deep the snow truly was! She was having a blast bouncing up down like a fox after prey! Emily took off after her but only made it a few feet before she was face first at least two foot of snow I thought maybe she was hurt but then I heard a deep joyous laugh that filled the mountain air as she would get up and try to made it further only to be flattened again in a few feet and more laughter!
We were in the most beautiful winter wonderland in the entire galaxy and we knew it! Sometimes beautiful moments will slip pass you without your full realization. But not this time, as we lifted our joyous exaltations high up on the mountain, reveling in the moment! One minute we were stand in total awe of a perfect pine cone the next moment Emily was bolting off into the snow running, laughing, feeling alive!!! When we came to Grassy ridge, we decided take a left and follow the AT down to Stan Murray shelter I am glad we did for beautiful as the balds are The Roan has so much to offer and this side of the mountain offered even more snow, and yes, we fell more and we laughed more every time.
However, we had sat a time limit and even though I think we were so close to the shelter I could hear the memories of past campers.
We decided to turn back, not before having a snow picnic. I made some of the best salted caramel hot chocolate with real milk (yes, it was worth carrying a cook set just for this!) along some trail mix with espresso beans, Mmm. I had an orange also but it was pretty much frozen!
We had walked a little over four miles just for the perfect cup of hot chocolate and it was worth every step.
Now it was time to make it back up to the bald before sunset, we had worried going down the mountain with all that snow, how hard would be to come back up? But we were surprised how fast and easy we made back up.
We found the perfect rock for a sunset we watched in total amazement as the landscape colors danced and twirled painting a totally different picture than we had seen a few hours ago. The sky was great, but WOW it was the rest of the landscape that glowed the most beautiful glow that stole the show!
As we reclined up against our rock enjoying the break from the near constant 30-mile hour winds savoring the last rays of sun warming what little bit of our faces we dared to expose. I could not help feeling we were a little closer to the gods up here in our in own little Church.
As the last bit of the sun disappeared over the mountain and we turned to leave a young lady was standing there with a K1000 Pentax film camera the first camera I have ever owned. It is good see film is still alive!
The sun had sat but the light show had just begun as we started off this mountain. My thermometer was dipping below 25 with the wind still howled at 30mph but we were still having the time of our life.
One long frozen section of steep downhill Emily was a little in front I suddenly heard her cry out I thought she had fell but soon seen she had decided to lay on her back and sled off the mountain laughing with all the joy of a hundred eight year old’s on their first snow day all the way down, as Savannah hopped back and forth across her. It looked so fun, I tried also but my backpack hindered me from the speeds she had obtained. By the time we made it back to the first bald Pentax girl had caught up with us and walked off the mountain with us.
The trail had thawed during the day and frozen back over solid ice. Emily and I both fell numerous times, all very laughable! And we did! The moon shone brightly and Orion led the way as we arrived back at the trail head, cold, exhausted, fulfilled! Before getting into the car, I looked to the heavens one last time. The Moon, Orion, the seven sisters all gave a reassuring nod. I smiled shutting the door the gods were pleased we had Carpe Diemed the Roan!!!
We had thought about camping but decided staying in a hostel maybe a warmer more unique experience, especially with me wanting to thru hike next year I might as well go head and try one out. I had called The Station at 19E and made a reservation earlier. When we arrived around 7:30 the parking lot was already filling up.
After checking in we decided to go down stairs for a bite to eat in the pub. One of the reasons we chose this place was it was pet friendly. As we ordered some wings and went to find a table little did, we realize the vortex we had stepped into. We traveled back in time, back to when there was no such thing as Covid19. Up front there was a stage proclaiming with a sign “the Roan mountain music hall”
We soon found out it was going to be karaoke night and the place was packed with people and they were still filing in seemed like the whole town was here. The wings were outstanding! Super friendly people! Several people introduced their self’s. Even more wanted to pet Savannah. The one pool table in back had it own crowd with the most people surrounding it. It was a place you just felt comfortable in. The karaoke started, the first girl that sung was amazing but others were not so much. This helped make mine and Emily’s decision to try a few songs. Emily went first with a beautiful rendition of a Carly Simon song. She has a beautiful voice and as I sat there watching and listening to her sing my eyes scanned the room all eyes were on her as the colored lights illuminated their faces. It was one of those moments that you will remember forever, maybe even write stories about!. I noticed most everyone else were all drinking beer I thought about ordering one, most of my life I would have but, in this moment, I knew alcohol would diminish. I discovered I do not need alcohol to have fun in a bar or even to have courage to sing in front of a crowd! When it was my turn, I chose David Alan Coe “You never even call me by name” Because Me and Ali have closed so many nights with it, that I almost know the lyrics by heart. I started out very nervous but then I noticed no one was throwing fruit or even booing I started to have fun. Later on, Emily crushed Fleetwood Macs “Landslide” and I followed with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Give me three steps” by then I had loosened up enough to dance and have fun with the crowd. We were very tired from our almost nine-mile snow hike and called it a night pretty early. The hostel itself was almost like a club house for adults, down stairs in the center of the room a very wore out sofa facing a grand fire place with a gas log in it.
Board games and a few books on the hearth this was surrounded by about 16 bunk beds, next was aa closet area with all the towels and linens you may need then a kitchen area. It seemed like hostel was so stocked that even if you had forgotten something, there were some that had been donated, even town clothes. Our room was upstairs a very small partially enclosed room, walls covered with tin, a small light separating two twin beds, Surprisingly comfortable beds.
I was out very quickly but then at around 1:00 am I heard the door downstairs open I peeked down and it looked like four or five guys and a lady coming in off the ski slopes they were pretty loud but I have learned from sleeping in shelters bring ear plugs I put them in and was back out till about 4am when all the heat from the fireplace rose and it felt like it was over 90 degrees in this room I found a small fan that helped, by daybreak the skiers were gone. A shower invigorated and prepared for a new day! Finding breakfast in this town was a challenge we ended up driving to the next town over. where we found and adorable café Kaye’s Kitchen in Newland, NC. It sat beside a beautiful river park with paths, arch bridges and very cute ducks huddled in the cold. After an amazing breakfast we headed back up the mountain to explore the other side. Most all of this hike was in the spruce fir forest and it had a beauty all its own. It did not need the scenic vistas the bald afforded. As we neared the top, we hiked up to the highest shelter on the AT a beautiful log cabin with a loft nestled quietly in the snow.
after a bit more hiking, we had another snow picnic in a field of deep snow that had thawed on top then refroze with a half of a inch crust of ice so you could almost walk on it but not quite each step breaking through with a resounding thud! As we walked across, I told Emily that it reminded me of scenes on National geographic episode actually this whole trip could have been made into a National geographic episode it has been that epic! The whole top of this side of the mountain had one to two foot of snow with much higher drifts. a lot of it was a fine powder that the cross-country skiers loved. Right before leaving we met two nice guys from Tennessee that we ended up walking back off the mountain down the road with. The road had been packed down by skiers so it made for a very easy walk off.