Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Roan Mountain's Chestnut Ridge Trail, In the Rain

Still feeling kinda crummy after Tuesday's salt overdose recovery, I decided not to go for a hike on the 12th. So when Friday dawned cloudy and damp, I felt I didn't dare skip two hikes in a row, and headed out toward Roan Mountain. I had decided that my next hike would be Roan Mountain State Park's Chestnut Ridge trail, and no little bit of rain was going to stop me! I packed up my lighter Gore-Tex, pulled the raincoat out and over my backpack, and hit the road.

Here, once again, is my photo of the Roan Mountain trails map. What you can't see is the reverse side, which, it just so happens, describes the Chestnut Ridge Trail as "the most challenging trail in the park" (emphasis theirs).

They. Were. Not. Kidding.

In fact, I'd say it was the most challenging trail I've hiked to date. But more on that later. I was heartened, after parking my car and suiting up in my waterproof duds, to find someone else was crazy enough to be out playing in the rain; As I crossed the road to enter the woods, a soaking wet cyclist whizzed by me and waved.

After crossing the road I traveled uphill a bit on a segment of the Forst Road Trail that had me worried -- it was nearly overgrown with underbrush -- and I reached the point where the Chestnut Ridge Trail departed. By that point the trail had become easily passable, and I read the sign saying "for experienced hikers only" with glee. Of course, I quickly warmed up and had to pull down the hood on my Gore-Tex for ventilation. And pull up the sleeves. And zip the front down a bit. Yup, this was uphill all the way, and pretty long, too -- 2.3 miles just to reach the homestead, and then I had the trip back via road yet to make. Actually, the trail does eventually level out and follow a ridgeline for a while. Of course by this point I'm soaked all the way through to my socks, and have to zip and cover everything up in order to stay warm, since my speed along the muddy trail isn't exactly hasty. But prior to reaching that pleasant little stretch, it climbs (assuming the topo lines on the park-provided map are correct) roughly 600 feet in the first half mile or so.

After bumping along the ridgeline for a while, we do some more climbing, albeit in slightly shorter bursts. Still, the overall effect keeps my level of exertion plenty high. In fact, some of the climbs near or just past the halfway point were absurdly steep. Had I been wearing proper boots, I would likely have had to dig in to manage them. Since I was wearing flexy shoes that didn't restrict my ankles, I instead subjected my muscles and tendons to some pretty extreme flexion. Probably not especially good, but I came out of it unscathed. I think.

Also somewhere near the halfway point was an absolutely huge downed tree that completely blocked the trail. I finally found a way around it on the uphill side (I would've had to go faaaar to get around it on the downhill side, a prospect which did not thrill me, especially given the slippery aspect imparted by the rain), thinking that the only other way would have been to essentially throw myself over. That is, sort of lay down hugging the tree's huge bole, and hope that I could push myself over the apex without falling in the mud on the other side. An unappealing idea, to say the least.

As I approached the Miller Homestead, I had the rare experience of spotting a group of deer -- three does and a fawn -- before they spotted me. I stopped dead in my tracks, hoping that they would stay longer that way. They did see me, though, shortly after I saw them, and eyed me warily. So long as I stayed still, they stayed put. This didn't work for very long, however, since I soon became aware of my body temperature plummeting (it was probably 55 out at most, and when you're soaked and immobile...that's not very warm). Resignedly I began moving again, and they predictably made their frightened deer noise and took off into the woods.

Coming in from the trail, I approached the Miller Homestead from above. Unsurprisingly for a cold, rainy day, there were no cars in this upper parking lot, nor did I see any activity down below at the farmhouse and outbuildings. Undeterred, I headed down the hill to the farmhouse. Not only did the sign at the upper parking area say "The farmhouse is open, come on down!" but I also had seen the signs along the roadway indicating that the Miller Homestead was open 9am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday. This being Friday, I should be in luck.

Wrong answer. Apparently their hours change to weekends only at some point around the end of summer, and they're just really slow at changing their signs. Or perhaps they don't even bother with the signs. Whatever the case, the entire homestead was utterly deserted, leaving me on my own for toilet facilities (I was sorely tempted to put the "old" outhouse to its "intended" use, but decided that might be unwise. My one act of revenge was to swipe a leaf of one of the ornamental mint plants lining the road in to the homestead, and munch on it as I hiked back down the road.

And a long hike that was, given that I'm used to less, ah, refined surroundings. But it made for an easy-on-the-legs descent (there was no way in the world that I was going to try to go down that trail, and that went double in the slippery rain), and I believe it was actually a little shorter than the trail as well.

Seeing the gate that barred the road up to the Miller Homestead at the bottom, my suspicions about it being closed for more reasons than just rain were confirmed. From there I turned left and made my way back to my car, where a nice heater kept me warm all the way home.