As we neared our entrance point the sky cracked open and beautiful shafts of sunlight caved through the clouds. The subtle rays were enough to beckon us into the cold fall air. Tomorrow signaled the first day of October, and we wanted to be sure we were the first ones on the mountain. I began to get excited as we pulled into the gravel parking lot, gazing upon the beautiful, color laden mountains that were about to lay at our feet. As we stepped out of the car we were instantly greeted with hostility as the cold air bit into our skin.
The air was much cooler than expected, probably in the high 40’s. In an odd way I was excited about the cool weather, as I got to put my new tent to the test tonight on top of the Roan Mountain Balds. The wind was pushing against my body with an aggressive persistence. At first I began to hesitate, but we were here and we were going up that mountain. My faithful mountaineering partner Jason threw on his pack, as did I and we began the climb. Originally we had 6 people in the group, but all but the two of us had dropped out due to the weather.
The mountains were already changing from forest green to a collage of green, red and orange. The trial wound through tall evergreen trees and looped around massive boulders scattered throughout the beautiful mountain ridge.
As we made our way into the higher elevations the trees began to fall back revealing the powerful winds that were previously hidden. Our bodies were already cold and the sun was already falling behind the crawling mountain line. As we stomped down onto the peak of the first bald we were introduced to an amazing sight. The clouds had covered the sky like a soft fluffy blanket, but in the far distance of the horizon across the rippling mountains you could see their end, revealing a warm glowing sunset just beneath. One word, beautiful, although still not enough to describe such a well-orchestrated miracle only seen from 5800 feet.
We continued to climb across the second peak, even higher into the sky. The temperatures continued to stumble as the air thinned. The wind had become confident in its superiority and began to punish us for entering its territory. Slamming against our bodies the wind began to howl as we forced our way onto the next peak. The clouds were now fog blowing against our faces, leaving a cold harsh chill on our bodies. I began to sway sideways as the wind pushed harder and harder. My backpack swayed and strained my shoulders. I was cold, and out of breath but I knew that if I stopped I would only get colder. My clothes were beginning to become damp from the moisture in the air. Droplets of water began to trickle down my gear.
Even the sun now had evacuated the area, leaving us on the third peak alone and dark and wet. The wind was terrible, and our bodies were now freezing as the temperatures fell below 40 degrees. Our bodies dripped water from the moisture. We threw on our ponchos in an attempt to stay dry, but it wasn’t helping. Our headlamps were useless as the clouds simply reflected the light back into our faces. It was clear we had to camp, and soon but the wind was far too fierce at the peak. We had to find somewhere inside the tree cover down below or we would be hammered all night. We crossed the final peak and began to descend into the mountain line to try to find cover.
Another hour had passed and we had made it into the trees. The woods were too thick to put down a campsite, and the wood was too damp to even hope for a fire. The clouds now above were dropping rounds of wet ammunition onto our bodies. My hands were numb, and my face hurt from the cold. The sky was now completely black. Our headlamps were on but due to the intense fog I could not see but a few feet in front of me. We were becoming desperate for a camp site, but there simply was nowhere with enough room that would shield us from the persisting wind.
Or legs were becoming tired, we were about 3 hours into the woods, and the cold, and rain was getting the best of us. I lumbered forward, scanning the forest for any potential camping location. I looked left, nothing, right, nothing. On and on we pushed hoping for anything at this point. Again, left, a quick look down to check my footing on the trail, then back up and right.
I stopped, and grabbed Jason’s attention. I did not see a campsite; instead I saw a few pair of eyes looking at me just in front of me in the fog. My bright light could not penetrate the fog enough to tell what it was, but it was plenty to reveal those eyes watching me with an eerie calmness. My first thought was coyotes, or maybe wild boar. Jason aimed his bright flashing into the thick sheet of fog. The light was just enough to reveal the subtle outline of a few small fawns. They didn’t seem to mind our presence at all, and nonchalantly turned and continued on their way.
A little shaken, we decided to say a quick prayer, that we would stay safe and find a campsite soon. We began to walk back on the train, and maybe 20 yards later we found exactly what we need. A wide open camping spot sheltered by the trees. There was even a fire pit, not that it would be of any use tonight with all the rain. Our prayer was answered almost immediately. How amazing.
Our bodies ached, and our hands had no feeling left in them but we quickly pulled out the tent and began to pitch it in the darkness. The wind blew the tent around as we worked making things even more difficult. We eventually got the tent staked down, and guyed out without letting to much rain in. We piled into the tent and quickly shed our wet outer layers and crawled into the sleeping bags to try to retain some of the warmth that our bodies had generated from the long hike. It was working, and a sense of relief fell upon us.
We prepared a nice hot meal, and began to organize things inside the tent. I had chili, which Jason had a nice military MRE. It wasn’t enough to completely replenish us, but we were very thankful to have something in us, helping us get warm. The rain continued to fall, and even picked up. We began to settle in and finally warm up.
That’s when we heard the voices calling out in the woods…