Days 31- 33: Rain in the Roan Highlands
May 13: Erwin to Curly Maple Gap Shelter
May 14: Curly Maple Gap Shelter to Cherry Gap
We hike an easy day (I say easy, but it is 5 miles uphill in the heat, so how easy is it? But it's all relative, and relatively speaking, that's an easy hike now) out of Erwin and then 15 miles the next day, up and over Unaka Mountain. I have music in my ear as I coast through the sweet-smelling pines. I feel light on my feet, energetic, spry. We make dinner at the shelter and chat with some section hikers, then keep going for a couple more miles until it is nearly dark. I listen to another chapter of All the Light We Cannot See. The language is beautiful, and the timeline of the story is intriguing. We find a quiet campsite in some woods on a gentle ridge, and we can see the sky changing colors through the trees as the sun sinks. I like the social atmosphere at the shelters, but this is nice, too.
May 15th: Cherry Gap to Ash Gap
It's Etienne's birthday, and we're aiming for Roan Mountain Shelter, the highest shelter on the trail at over 6,000 feet. When I ask Etienne what he wants for his birthday, he answers, "Sunshine." But alas, this is not to be. The sky is cloudy all morning and then the thunderstorms begin just after we reach the shelter in the middle of the day for lunch. We eat and chat with Honeybear and Garrett and Hales. Then we play cards while it rains and feel less and less inclined to hike all the way to the top of the mountain.
Eventually, we hike on. It rains more, but with less lightening. At the gap, the rain pauses, and I eat a cold but welcome hamburger at a car full of trail magic, put on by two thru-hikers who are road-tripping to Trail Days.
Then it's a climb up 1000 feet into the highlands, over the first small mountain and to the campsites at Ash Gap.
When you walk in the rain like this, you have to be careful for several reasons.
1. Don't slip and fall.
2. Don't step in unnecessarily deep puddles and get your feet soaked.
3. Don't lose the trail because of reduced visibility with your hood cinched low.
4. Don't step on the red efts.
The red efts are actually bright orange, about 2-3 inches long, and slow like lazy crocodiles. They freeze when you approach, or else they're simply not afraid, so you can't trust them to take evasive action. You must pay attention to avoid stepping on them. I like the red efts, and the red efts like the rain. Today I lose count of them somewhere beyond fifteen.
At Ash Gap, we set up camp in a soft rain. We cook our little pots of warm food, welcome in the damp chill. I packed out a beer and Etienne bought a fancy Mountain House dessert, so we quickly indulge in a birthday celebration before retreating to the dry-ish shelter of our tents.