Scudz, arbor, the kid, wolfburger and I get into over mountain shelter late. We hiked through the misty clouds as ice built on the tree limbs stretching all around us. Over mountain shelter is an old barn, supposedly in one of the most picturesque settings (I’m sure you can google over mountain shelter Appalachian trail and find this). However, tonight, we were socked in the clouds. It was windy all evening leading into the shelter as well; wild above 5,000 feet.
The old barn has been converted into a hiker shelter, and we all lay out our sleeping bags and Tyvek on the second floor. Arbor and I explore around the area a bit in the dark as the others try and stay warm in the barn. We see many trees starting to form ice. We get back to the shelter as the wind still howls above us, as it has all evening. In the morning, we plan to hike out and meet up early with sheriff woody, who hiked the entire PCT with me this summer. He’s parked about five miles south at Carvers gap, having driven from his home in Cincinnati right after work. I’m so excited to see him! He did the AT SoBo in ’12, and has so much knowledge of the plants, fungus, and animals all around. I fall asleep excited to see him again, while my friends likely fall asleep dreaming of him kicking his head (I’ve told them many stories).
I wake up to my alarm at 6:35. It’s still dark, as the sun doesn’t rise for over an hour from this time. So much dark these days! I begin packing my things and eating breakfast, noticing how cold it is. Colder than I’ve felt yet on the AT. Soon arbor, Scudz and I are off, donned in hats, down coats, gloves, and long underwear. It’s still completely socked in with clouds.
We climb steadily, and I begin to notice ice forming on the plants. The higher we climb, the more ice we see. Soon, most everything is covered in a sheet of solid ice. It begins getting very windy, reminding me of the desert in SoCal, where it seemed at times as if it were just one continuous wind tunnel we could never escape. But this wind is cold, bitter cold! Still climbing, I turn a corner and a clear patch of sky opens up.
“Oh my god! The mountain is white!” Yells arbor from just behind me.
The whole mountain is completely coated in large sheets of ice. The endless clouds and moisture had frozen the mountain. The ice reflects the sunlight, turning sections of the mountain into a bright white. I squint my eyes and look again. ‘What in the world’ I think to myself. I’ve never seen anything like this. And before I know it, the clouds engulf the mountain once again.
Arbor and I race up the mountain, so excited to see the snow. The forest now is completely frozen. Green grass and brown trail mark the way, while all shrubbery hangs low, weighted down by the ice that has fully engulfed everything in site. The tops of the trees are a bright white, leafless at this elevation. We reach a bald, Rocky outcropping and I see sheriff woody.
“Woody!!” I yell excitedly as I begin to run.
“Twinkle!!” He responds. We give a big hug, happy to see eachother in such a grand setting.
“Can you believe this?” He says, looking all around at the ice. “It’s called rime ice!” Sheriff woody knows all things wild.
The wind is howling and the clouds are rushing over the mountain top rapidly. We get open views here and there, but only for a few seconds at a time. Everything on the bald is completely covered by nearly 4 inches of ice. It is absolutely insane! It must have just built more and more all night.
The four of us take pictures, and soon my phone and camera die from the extreme cold. I put them between my legs, rub the batteries in my hands, and get some more use out of them, being careful to keep them close to my body whenever I’m not using them, as to keep the battery warm enough to work.
We drop down to carvers gap, where sheriff woody has parked his car. It’s got an old looking AT sticker, and a fresh looking PCT decal on it. He said he stuck it on his car the day he got home. Sheriff tarts arbor, Scudz and I to mountain dews, honey buns, and cosmic brownies. I can barely get my hands to work enough to unwrap the food, and I save the dew for later.
Woody gets his Gregory backpack fully loaded and we head out through the clouds, up to Roan mountain. As we turn a corner, I get splashed with beautiful sun rays. I snap a few pictures as everyone walks by, and in less than 40 seconds the sun has burnt off the mist in the woods and the sun beams disappear. It was arguably the best sun beams I’ve ever seen, intense in saturation, and low in duration.
We get to roan high knob shelter, the highest shelter on the entire AT at 6,212 feet (give or take), and take our first real break. None of us can quite comprehend the beauty we just saw. The sun is up now, having fully burnt off the morning clouds, and the ice is melting off. It was short lived, the spectacle that was this morning, but it was on an epic scale.