If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it just might take days for me to describe all the incredible views and memorable moments while attempting the Triple B Challenge(Bold, Breathtaking and Bald) as a part of the June Jamboree, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy's annual celebration. This particular hike covered 14.3 miles across the longest continuous stretch of grassy balds in the world...that's right, the world. It's located on the North Carolina/Tennessee border in an area where SAHC has protected almost 20,000 acres of globally significant, rare habitat and incredible views. Views that live, breathe and wrap around you like a hug from Mother Nature.
I was in a group of twelve that began at Carver's Gap(elev. 5,512 ft.) around 8:30 a.m and strolled through blooming flame azalea and Rhododendron on our way up to Round Bald(elev. 5,826 ft.), one of many amazing views we would get to see on this hike. We continued a little further down through Engine Gap to Jane Bald(elev. 5,807 ft.) before heading back down to Yellow Mountain Gap, an elevation change of about 1,500 feet and rested briefly before heading up to Little Hump.
The ascent to Little Hump was a fairly steep climb that started on the edge of a tree line before eventually opening up to one of the most beautiful stretch of mountains one could imagine. From there, we could see Little Hump in the distance. The boulder-sized rocks provided us with places to sit while grabbing lunch and admiring breathtaking 360 degree views and a batch of small trees offered a quiet, shady spot to rest before heading further up to Hump and continuing the rest of our journey.
This was my first time hiking up to Hump Mountain and I found myself stopping every couple of steps in order to turn in all directions and take in view around me. On top of being a steady climb to 5,587 feet, Hump provided some of the most memorable views of the day. Kristy Urquhart(Associate Director) said it best when we reached the top of Hump. "You have to remind yourself to turn around and look at where you've come from because sometimes the views looking back look better than the views looking forward"
At the top of Hump Mountain is Houston Ridge where a plaque is placed that honors Stan Murray, founder of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. It commemorates his legacy to the Highlands of Roan and the Appalachian Trail. This also represented the end of our climb but not the end of our hike. Our descent down to 19-E from an elevation of 5,587 feet eventually required hiking through thick canopy and occasional stretches of rock riddled paths before hearing sounds of cars and trucks traveling on the interstate where our shuttle was waiting to pick us up.
After a short drive back to our cars, we met up with those who still remained at the conference center and raised a pint of Highland Brewing's "Little Hump" Spring Ale with fellow hikers, staff members and donors to help celebrate not only our achievement but to all the other wonderful activities that make up the June Jamboree. Since our hike began before all the other hikes and ended long after, Carl Silverstein(Executive Director) decided to go through the presentation that highlighted SAHC and their most recent accomplishments for those of us who missed it earlier in the day. It made me feel so proud to be a part of this organization.
I've lived in Western North Carolina my entire life and have hiked and camped throughout the region thanks to a family that taught me the importance of being a steward of the land. This enabled me to experience and enjoy all the rewards from giving back to it. But it wasn't until I met my wife did I truly appreciate the significance of what is involved in preserving these special places for future generations to enjoy. The amount of people(members, donors, staff & volunteers) and the amount of work that is involved in making sure that these areas and others remain protected is incalculable...until you join SAHC. Then you get to experience the people, the purpose and the properties that it represents.