There was a period of time where we weren’t sure where our next backpacking trip would take us. Under many considerations included Mt. LeConte, another trip to Big South Fork, or some other location that we could Google directions to. The one place we kept looking at over and over again was the Overmountain Shelter, leaving from Carver’s Gap. But we decided that we couldn’t do this alone, and so we invited a close friend of ours, Carly, to join us in the festivities.
So with a lot of research in advance, I learned that trying to gps to the starting point wouldn’t work, so I decided that I would do a Google map download. The only problem is the satellite still doesn’t know the right location to go to when you don’t have a full physical address. After heading down a random back road, we decided to head back to the Visitor’s Center for directions. After 10 miles and a few turns we made it to the starting location.
Our starting location would be Carver’s Gap, right on the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina in Roan Mountain State Park. We met up with Carly who had been speaking with a ranger to pass the time. The parking was already getting scarce but we believed that because there was a large group of older adults that many people were just here to see the sunrise and beautiful mountain views. We said our hellos, picked up our packs and took off for the trip of a lifetime.
Surviving the Balds
The start of the adventure takes us up and down through a series of balds and valleys in between. There aren’t enough ways to say how beautiful it was hiking through here. We received many compliments for our packs and that our looks of seriousness, but we joked about how out of shape we all were. Though there was a cloudy overcast but as we reached the summit to our first bald, the fog blew away.
On top of the first smaller bald, we realized that when the sun is out, one might have cell phone service for all kinds of pictures. So a quick flick of the “turn of airplane mode” so we could send some last minute photos to people so that we could continue to enjoy our disconnected weekend. After a few more photos, we continued up and down around the balds. We were headed North on the Appalachian Trail.
Heading Towards Lunch
We made an agreement that we would stop at the Stan Murray Shelter for lunch, which was an estimated 3.3 miles from the starting point. Because we were tracking distance via my gps app (Gaia Maps) and Ashley’s Fitbit, we were arguing who was more right. Overall, I trusted in my gps and within .15 mile we arrived at the shelter, starved and ready for lunch. When we arrived, a couple was currently occupying a small space taking pictures by the shelter of a salamander. We began our pepperoni, cheese, and crackers lunch while resting out backs from the weight of our packs. After about 10 minutes, the couple is replaced by a small group of backpackers who thought of the same lunch plan as us. A bit of conversation showcased to us that this would be the first group of individuals who would be sharing the barn with us.
We finished our lunch, packed our bags back up, and hurried out under the midday sun.
After a couple more miles, we reached the intersection of the Appalachian Trail, the Overmountain Victory Trail, and the trailhead towards the Overmountain Shelter. At first we were concerned it was correct because the slope was angled and the brush was high. None less, we followed the trail into a big opening to see the barn in the distance. We arrived at the shelter, currently occupying our party of 4 (the 3 adults and Riley of course), 2 tents in the field, and a father/ son pair. We hurried up the ladder to claim our space in front of the window for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Because we had time to kill (it’s only 3 in the afternoon), we set up our hammocks and enjoyed some much needed rest. Several people shuffled through, claiming space upstairs and down. Our friends from the lunch made it not too long after us. As the barn began to fill, we decided our fun was over, and tore down our hammocks to allow space for other guests. Little did we know it would be a full house.
AT Mountain Party
After a while, we sat out in the field, enjoying a quick snack and playing with the dog when group after group began to arrive. Most of these groups began setting up tents, 4-6 at a time. The field became quickly filled with tents, ENO inflatable chairs, and loud people. By the time we began to start dinner, it was becoming a full house.
We enjoyed the likes of chicken flavored ramen with beef jerky added in. This combination provided plenty of filling for our long day of hiking. As we were finishing dinner, a Boy Scout troop arrived and became our next set of guests upstairs. It became quite clear that the barn would be full tonight.
As the sun began to set, people’s energy levels began to rise. Bags of wine and beers showed up everywhere, and people began to enjoy the works of the woods. One of the groups even brought in a brand new toilet seat for the privy. After it’s christening ceremony, the group set up a large bonfire for the likes of everyone to enjoy. Music was playing, people were laughing, and a good time was definitely being had. After all this excitement, we slowly made our way to our sleeping bags to get some much needed rest so we could be ahead of the curve. At final count, we had estimated the following facts:
- 19 people were sleeping upstairs, plus Riley,
- 10 people were sleeping downstairs, and
- estimated 30 people were in tents or hammocks in the field and the woods around the barn and field.
An estimated 60 people were sleeping under the same moon in the same area.
The Grand Escape
After hearing the late night party into the wee hours of the night, we woke around 6 am to start breakfast and catch the sunrise. A few people joined us as we enjoyed oatmeal with the hopes that it would stick better than our attempts of dehydrated eggs. As we quietly packed our bags, a few more people woke as we were starting our morning on the trail. Despite the large elevation climb out, we made good time heading out. One of the hardest hill climbs was from the shelter back to the other shelter. We never really stopped as we trudged through the still muddy ground. A short break rejuvenated the bones, and we simply trudged to the summit of the balds. At this point, we knew were were in the final stretch, so we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The balds on exit day could show you the world as the sun was out.
As we were attempting to reach the final summit, we took a stop at a large rock so we could catch backup with our speedy puppy. A passerby took our photo, and we decided to keep pushing to reach the end. And of course, Ashley has this uncanny ability to reach her 3rd wind and lead the last 3 miles out, as we traditionally hike in an order of me, Riley, then her. We reached our cars, drank tons of water, and turned our cars on for some A/C to relax us as it started to get hot. The gift shop was worth a stop at the Visitor’s Center and I can’t wait to return!
The Wrap Up
Finishing the hike gave us approximately 11.1 miles with 9.5 hours of moving time. The next time we come here, we are thinking about hiking from Carver’s Gap to 19E which passes an area a few miles from the shelter that has long horn steer grazing the field. This hike is also closer to 20 miles depending on route options.
My wife truly enjoyed using her brand new Osprey Ariel 65 AG and I deeply appreciated my new modifications to my Osprey Xenith. I contacted customer support and they sent me a brand new yoke harness and hip belt. The harness needed some buckles stitched in via webbing, but was 10x more comfortable with thick padding. The new hip belt actually allowed for the pack to rest on my hips, but was a bit short so it bruised my hip a bit. All in all, we love our Osprey packs and can only recommend them to others!
I hope that this trip encourages you to keep the adventure alive this year. Whether it’s hiking, motorcycling, canoeing, or driving across the nation, find your sense of adventure and live it everyday.