Sunday, July 7, 2013

Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge

Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge
On Tuesday, July 2nd, my family and I did the hike across Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald. We were staying at our mountain house on Powderhorn Mountain (near Boone, NC) for the week of the Fourth of July and our relatives from Pennsylvania were visiting. Amy had done this hike before I had met her, and it was on the list to be included in the book. Amy and I will be in Boone in a couple of weeks to visit some of the Balds around the area, but we decided that I could do the Round, Jane, and Grassy trip while I was up here over the 4th in order to collect extra field data, ease our persistent schedule, and share the experience with my family.

My mom, my dad, my brother Ryan, and our dog Baci were the hiking companions on this trip. My brother Connor was at home in Greensboro working an internship and Marissa had decided to go to Tweetsie Railroad with my Pennsylvania relatives.

We left at 10:40 am. The three Balds, Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge, were located on Roan Mountain, Tennessee and could be accessed from Carvers Gap, which the phone navigation system estimated to be a 2 hour drive from our house. The drive to Carvers Gap utilized numerous back roads and we ended up getting lost somewhere in Avery Country, NC. At one point, there was about a 5 mile stretch of road on which Ryan counted 14 Baptist churches. We eventually got back on track an arrived at the trailhead around 12:30, sun shining.

The complete hike was a 2.5 mile stretch along the Appalachian Trail that traversed all three of the grassy Balds. Eager to get out of the car, we started the hike right away, not even bothering to pack a lunch. The first Bald, Round, was completely visible from the parking lot. The trail climbed up the side of Round and initially became enveloped in a wet hemlock forest, which eventually opened up for the first stunning views of the day. We immediately knew it was worth the effort to get here. Already at 5,800 feet, we were at a much higher vantage point than we were used to in Boone, and the views said it all.

It didn’t take long to reach the summit of Round Bald, from which the scenic panorama of the surrounding mountains was nothing short of spectacular. My family agreed that it reminded us a little bit of Alaska. The air was so fresh and Baci was having a field day, literally, as he bounded happily through the grass. From the summit of Round, we could see Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald ahead; however, Grassy Ridge Bald was engulfed in a heavy cloud.
On top of Round Bald
                 We made our way along the A.T. down Round Bald and into Engine Gap, which separated Round from Jane. It was here that we were surprised by a colorful patch of flame azaleas in full bloom. We were not expecting to see flame azaleas on this hike, as Amy and I had been when we hiked Gregory Bald, but this element of surprise made the experience all the more exciting. We took lots of pictures, and Ryan and I even tried one of the gall fruits that grow on the flame azalea plants; Amy and I had confirmed that they were edible, but only after we had seen them on Gregory Bald, so I hadn’t tried one yet. It tasted a little bit like watermelon.

Just as we arrived at the summit of Jane Bald it started to rain, without warning. We ran for cover under a thicket of tall rhododendron bushes and waited for the rain to stop. To fill the time, I broke out the black licorice I had packed from the Mast General Store. Eventually the rain lightened and after weighing all the factors, we decided that we would hike on. The clouds had settled in, though, and we could not see farther than 15 feet in front of us.

We made our way down the other side of Jane Bald, ducking in an out of rhododendron bushes in compliance with the spurts of rain that the skies released every few minutes. We saw a person in a bright yellow raincoat running down Grassy Ridge Bald in full speed and laughed at ourselves as we continued that way.

It looked like the skies had cleared by the time we started hiking up Grassy Ridge, except for the clouds that enshrouded the very top of the Bald, which had the highest elevation of the three peaks, at 6,200 feet. We began to see the beauty of the wildflowers and plants around us. There was an abundance of a ripe red flower with a beautiful pattern on the inside that reminded me of a tiger. I later learned that it was the endangered Gray’s Lilly that only grows in a few locations and is in bloom for a very short period of time. We were so fortunate to have come when we did for the flame azaleas and the Gray’s Lillies-two amazing species that are hard to access at exactly the right time in exactly the right location.

A tunnel of rhododendron, which rose higher than our heads on both sides of the narrow trail, led us out onto the top of Grassy Ridge Bald. It was a vast grassy meadow soaked in clouds, making for a surreal experience. We talked to some other hikers and took a break on a large boulder. Before we started hiking back, pockets of clouds cleared, and we were able to get some good pictures.
When we first arrived on top of Grassy Ridge Bald

My family in the distance, on top of Grassy Ridge Bald

On the way back we were greeted by yet another surprise. Hiking down Grassy Ridge we could see across to a fenced in area full of goats grazing on the edge of Jane Bald. Although it was right beside the trail, we (including Baci) had completely missed it when we had passed it the first time, due to the heavy fog. I remembered one of the readings that Amy had sent me about a goat project on Roan Mountain:

Researcher Jamey Donaldson along with students from East Tennessee State University have “monitored plant growth both where the goats have grazed, as well as in plots left as control, where no grazing has occurred.” This experimental project intends to find how goats can be used to restore “plant diversity and growth on these balds.” We observed two watchdogs, whose names are Baxter and Bigdog according to the website. We even saw a student measuring plant growth outside of the fenced-in area.1

Try to find Bigdog
We made our way back towards the car, taking one last moment on the top of Round Bald to glance back at Jane and Grassy Ridge. We reached the car around 5 o’clock and drove home, completely satisfied with our day.

1 "Baatany Project -- The Goats on Roan Mountain." Baatany Project. N.p., 2013. Web. 07 July 2013. <>.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nicholas! Thanks for the terrific post. I'm planning to do this same exact same hike in two weeks with my 5.5yr old Whippet. Did Baci have any trouble with the trail? (i.e., were there any difficult scrambles over large boulders? was the trail particularly rocky & rough on his paws?) Though my dog is very active, this will be his first big hike at a high altitude and I'm not sure how he'll fare. Any advice/tips you could share would be greatly appreciated!