Saturday, April 6, 2013

Grassy Ridge and the Roan Highlands - Fellwalking, Southern Appalachian Style

The grassy balds of the Southern Appalachians have sometimes been given the moniker of “Southern-Fried Tundra”, a name I rather like, but one that is also a bit misleading. While these open crests and summits can indeed have a somewhat alpine tundra-like appearance, they certainly are not alpine, and are often very near even higher peaks and ridges that are totally forested. Another term that might be justifiably used is fell. Fell is a term used in Great Britain, especially England, for an open, grassy mountain. While it is used as a blanket term to include their higher mountains, which are indeed alpine, it does not imply such, and includes lower hills that may have been tree-covered at one time, but are now open due to the effects of clearing and grazing over the centuries of habitation. The English are also a nation of walkers, and one of the terms they use for hiking in the mountains is fellwalking. I like that word too.

There is no better place to go fellwalking in the Southern Appalachians than than the crest of the Roan Highlands. There are literally miles of wide-open grassy balds and meadows here, including Hump Mountain, Little Hump Mountain, Big Yellow Mountain, Grassy Ridge, Jane Bald, and Round Bald. Spectacular views in every direction abound and my buddy Tommy and I recently started at 5,500’ Carvers Gap and hiked up the Appalachian Trail, which was still a ribbon of ice in the shade of the spruce trees on the west side of Round Bald. After coming back out into the open a couple hundred feet higher, we found only intermittent patches of snow and ice on the trail and surrounding meadows, the direct sun having melted it all away. Apparently the summits had been in the clouds the day or night before though, because the trees had a modest coating of rime. Though it soon started falling off as the morning warmed up, for a while it added a magical touch to the already wonderful scenery. We had views in every direction as we wandered over the 5,820’ summit of Round Bald, down into Engine Gap, and up again to the top of equally high Jane Bald.

Though we spent the day wandering along several more miles of scenic ridgeline, with some big ups and downs along the way, the high point of the day, literally, was the wide open top of 6,180’ Grassy Ridge Bald and its slightly lower, but more rugged southeastern subpeak. It’s an easy hike to here, and we probably spent well over an hour up here gazing around the horizon at the sea of peaks rising up from the lowlands. With the rest of the Roan Highlands all around and close up, even though it wasn’t as clear as it had been on nearby Big Bald a few weeks ago, we could also see part of the Bald Mountains, the high peaks of the Black Mountains and Great Craggies, Hawksbill and Table Rock on the rim of Linville Gorge, Grandfather Mountain’s ragged crest, Beech Mountain, and some of the peaks in the Amphibolite Range among others.

On Round Bald, looking at Little Yellow, Hawk, and Lightwood Mountains with Spear Tops, Big Bald, and Little Bald farther back.

Standing tall on Round Bald, looking at Roan High Knob.

6,180' Grassy Ridge ahead.

On Grassy Ridge, looking at Little Yellow and Hawk Mountains, with Spear Tops, Big Bald, and Little Bald farther back.

Rime-plastered tree on Grassy Ridge.

The Southeast summit of Grassy Ridge.

Balds of the Roan Highlands.

Heading back to Round Bald.

Route to Grassy Ridge. To see a larger map click here.

Hike Stats: 11.1 miles, 3,550' cumulative elevation gain
To Grassy Ridge and back only: 5.5 miles, 1,320' cumulative elevation gain

Pictures from this hike

Pictures from other hikes to the Roan Highlands:
Hump and Big Yellow Mountains - June 2011
Grassy Ridge - February 2009
Roan Mountain - June 2009
Hump Mountain - June 2008
Hump Mountain - October 2007

gpx files and maps
SummitPost page for the Roan Highlands
SummitPost page for Round Bald
SummitPost page for Jane Bald
SummitPost page for Grassy Bald
Roan Highlands Wikipedia page
Roan Highlands Nature Conservancy page

View Larger Map
Carver's Gap trailhead coordinates:

Google map for trailhead

Scan QR code to navigate to trailheads with Google Maps on your smartphone

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