My next hike was the aforementioned out and back from the Cloudland Hotel Site to the summit of Bear Mountain, where I had ended my previous trek. When I started out it was quite chilly at the top of Roan Mountain, where the Cloudland site lies. And as you can see from the photo below, there is no question as to how the site came by its name.
This wasn't "just" fog. As I was driving to the site it was very evident that I was ascending into the clouds. Watching them roll past never ceases to fascinate me, but I knew I had to get on with my hike before my energy ebbed, as I was going to have a nasty descent, followed by an even nastier ascent.
The top part of the trail was beautiful, and much of it looked similar to this. Rocky trail, with either trees like these, or bushy evergreens all around. Moss was everywhere, and on this particular day, everything was drippy. It wasn't really raining, it was just a matter of condensation from the clouds gathering on every limb and leaf. I actually recall thinking how, closer to dark, or on the right day (such as Halloween) this scene might even appear spooky. So, if you're looking for a creepy place to go come the end of the month, keep this one in mind. Of course, you can't park here after the parking area closes (and there is a $3 fee to park here when it's open), but there are other ways to reach this place, as you'll learn in an upcoming post.
The photo below is just a really neat-looking moss-mottled exposed tree root. I imagine it might look even cooler in black and white, but I haven't gotten around to converting it yet. The splash of red at the top left is undoubtedly better in color, though.
So, about the hike itself...essentially, it is down, down, down, and then a wee bit of up to come back up to the summit of Beartown Mountain. There is one very wide, pine needle-carpeted area at Ash Gap that is clearly used by AT backpackers for camping. There is also a blue-blazed trail there that leads to a spring, but the spring wasn't all that exciting to look at, so I'll spare you the photo. What was exciting to look at, for me, was a huge bird of prey I rousted on my way down to the spring. It was so silent about gliding from limb to limb that I never heard it at all. It was by sheer luck that I happened to glimpse its movement out of the corner of my eye. I never got close enough that I could actually identify it, but my guess, from what I could see of the pattern on its wings, was that it was a hawk of some sort. Perhaps red-tailed.
After visiting the spring I returned to the trail and continued on to Beartown Mountain. Right near the summit I encountered a fellow dayhiker and his faithful companion, a cute fuzzy puppy. Probably a German Shepherd mix of some sort, very alert and energetic. We passed with a friendly hello, and shortly thereafter I saw that I'd passed that way before, so I could turn around, happy that I had completed another tiny segment of AT.
Then the real work began. Or at least, it began once I re-crossed Ash Gap. The ascent from there back up to the top of Roan Mountain was steep, and I had run myself very nearly out of metaphorical gas. So, I did what I always do when I wind up with my energy ebbing and a hard climb ahead of me: put one foot in front of the other as fast as I could. Which is to say, not very fast. Still, as long as I'm moving forward, I know I'll eventually reach my goal, and sure enough, I eventually re-emerged from the woods, which had grown slightly less spooky as the sun warmed the clouds away. Back at the actual grassy knob where the Cloudland Hotel had been, I photographed the board that told about that fascinating venue.
Since it was located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, and since, during its years of operation, North Carolina had been a dry state while Tennessee was not, there was a line painted down the center of the dining hall. On the Tennessee side of the line, drinking was of course permitted. On the North Carolina side, it is rumoured that certain members of the North Carolina constabulary liked to hang out, just waiting for an inebriated patron to cross the line with a drink in his hand. Ah, the good old days. Here's an excerpt from the informational board at the hotel site, showing an advertisement for the venerated inn. I found it interesting, and hopefully you will too. Remember that you can click on it to view a larger version. Some of the claims seem a bit of a stretch...but that's all part of it's charm. ;)
AT Miles covered: 1.2 (x2; out-and-back = 2.4)
Altitude gain: 810 feet
Time: no clue
Other notes: $3 parking fee