Photo by Dave Mizelle
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My Trail Story featuring PYT

Dave Mizelle, a.k.a. PYT, shares his close call with nature while hiking in the Roan Highlands section of the Appalachian Trail.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       05/09/2019
Natalie McMillan
My Trail Story
05/09/2019

Trail Name: PYT

Currently Hiking: Appalachian Trail NoBo

Started hiking March 11, 2019

 

My Trail Story by Dave Mizelle

We were about to enter the Roan Mountain / Roan Highlands section of our AT thru-hike. The weather was looking very questionable, but we hoped to break camp early enough to beat one of the storms, and hopefully be on the other side of the Highlands when round two came through. They were calling for rain and thunderstorms for both. That night we had been monitoring the weather hourly to get a game plan set.

Waking up at 5am the next morning, you could hear the wind had really picked up, but otherwise looked good. We packed up quickly, and made our way for Roan Mountain, which has an elevation of over 6,200 feet. The climb was strenuous, but the weather worked in our favor, save some rain squalls. No big storm yet — perhaps we dodged a bullet. After a long descent, we exited onto Carver’s Gap. Since the vegetation and forest is so thick on Roan Mountain, we didn’t have to deal with the wind.

A hiker standing next to the Tennessee and North Carolina State Line sign on the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Dave Mizelle
A hiker standing next to the number 500 made of rocks on the ground.
Photo provided by Dave Mizelle

Upon exiting into the Gap, we were nearly knocked off our feet in the middle of the road. Winds 40-50 mph with gusts to over 60 mph welcomed us to the Highlands. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees. At this point, with no thunderstorms, we decided to make a go for it. It was early in the day still, around 1pm, and our goal was to make it six miles to the Overmountain Shelter. The Balds on Roan are well over 5,000 ft, with long stretches of exposure to the elements. Halfway across Round Bald, we were greeted with sleet on top of the pulverizing winds.

At this point we second-guessed our decision. Should we have gotten off the mountain at Carvers Gap? We were well prepared gear-wise, but what would come in the next two hours would absolutely drain us physically and mentally. Sleet felt like knives on our faces. Trekking poles were mandatory, otherwise we’d be knocked over. Visibility was down to about 75 feet. I was worried, and being in front, kept looking back at my hiking partner every few minutes, and saw her flailing at times. At one point we decided to just run — it was our only instinct.

I had never felt so hopeless. The mountain was having its way with us. After what felt like an eternity, we finally descended into the tree line, caught our breath, and tried to put into words what just happened. But cold was starting to set in, so we needed to keep moving. Had thunder and lightning been in play, we would have never, ever attempted to cross those Balds. Was it risky to cross in the conditions we were faced with? Yes. But at the end of the day, it was more of an inconvenience than anything else.

It’s important to stay on top of the weather situation, not once a day, but multiple if possible. The higher elevations are a different beast because things can change so quickly and sometimes for the worst. Had we been ill-prepared, it could have been a very different story. We made it out safely, just cold and wet, but with some good stories to tell. I can say just thinking about that day makes me want to warm up by a fire!

A hiker standing on a big boulder looking out at the scenery.
Photo provided by Dave Mizelle
A dark and foggy picture of trees in the woods.
Photo by Dave Mizelle

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Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the United States and attracts thousands of thru-hikers every year. Its narrow corridor stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, traversing 14 states and nearly 2200 miles (3540 km) on its way.

2200 miles      $59.99 full guide
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Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
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A trail winds through a dense and lush green forest on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon
Get our hiking guide for this area!

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the United States and attracts thousands of thru-hikers every year. Its narrow corridor stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, traversing 14 states and nearly 2200 miles (3540 km) on its way.

2200 miles
$59.99 full guide
Explore the Trail
About the Author
A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people and places and nature, which might explain why she has almost 23,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things social media/marketing-related and might be seen frolicking around Flagstaff taking photos of the Arizona Trail.