July 6, 2014

I Love the Balds

 Big Hump Mountain in the Roan Highlands.  (Photograph courtesy of Beth Hemann.) 

From Jane Bald along the Appalachian Trail to Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP), I love hiking to the balds. 

What is a bald? Balds are mountain summits covered primarily by thick vegetation of native grasses and shrubs which are found primarily in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. Normally a heavy forest growth would be expected in such an area. There are two types of balds in the Appalachians: grassy and heath. Grassy balds are blunt summits covered by a dense expanse of native grass. Heath balds are normally along narrow ridges and mountains crests where the soil is highly acidic and there is heavy drainage. Click here for more information on the origin and dynamics of the Appalachian balds. 

Why do I love hiking to the balds? Typically, it is a challenging hike due to the elevation gain, and once you've reached the summit, a spectacular 360-degree vista of the surrounding mountains. Here are some bald hikes I recommend:

Three balds in one hike:  Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald, also known as the Roan Balds.  

This 5.1- mile "in and out" hike begins at Carver's Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.  Two of my favorite blogs, Appalachian Treks and brendajwiley.com, include more information and directions to Carver's Gap. 

After walking through a dense forest of hemlocks, you reach Round Bald at 5,825 feet elevation.   
Jane Bald, which is the second bald on this hike, offers a great view of  Round Bald and the trail you just completed at 5,820 feet.  

The view of Round Bald and Jane Bald  from Grassy Ridge Bald at 6,189 feet.  Both Round and Jane Balds are on the Appalachian Trail (AT). However, the AT veers to the left before reaching the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald. 

If you're lucky enough to visit these balds in mid to late June, the flame azaleas and rhododendrons should be in full bloom. Nearby to Carver's Gap is Rhododendron Gardens, offering more scenic views of flowers and mountains.   

Baatany Goat Project is helping to maintain the natural beauty of the Roan Balds: 

A major problem currently facing the grassy balds is woody plant encroachment. Over the last century, 75 percent of the grasslands have been lost. The Baatany Goat Project hopes to reverse these trends by using Angora goats as an experimental management tool. Goats like to eat the invading woody plants and they are good at these high elevations. They are grazed in moveable paddocks, and once the the desired grazing results have been achieved, the goats are moved to another area of the balds. The goats are sheared, treated for parasites, quarantined, and fed a seed-free food to keep them them from bringing weed seeds into the project area. The project area is about 79 acres lying along 1 mile of the Appalachian Trail corridor from Jane Bald to Grassy Ridge. Click here to learn more about this project. 

Adopt a goat and help save Roan Mountain's grassy balds.  

You can also adopt a Great Pyrenees guardian dog which protects the goats. 

On a recent Roan Balds hike, I ran into a Baatany Goat Project volunteer who was hauling supplies to Jane Bald in advance of the June 25th arrival of the goats. I had the pleasure of chatting with him and learning more about the project. Because I love to hike these balds, I hope to sponsor a goat. (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

For more information on the Roan Highlands, Rhododendron Gardens, and Roan Mountain State Park, click here.  

Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald are the only balds in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park currently maintained by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. 

The 2.4-mile "in and out" hike to Andrews Bald  is on the Forney Ridge Trail which starts at the Clingmans Dome Parking area.  (The Clingmans Dome Road is closed December 1 - March 31st.) 

Flame azaleas on Andrews Bald display their natural beauty from mid-to-late June. 

Andrews Bald was named for Andres Thompson (slight spelling change) who was born in 1823 and herded cattle up to the bald in the 1840's.  (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.)

You can learn more about the azaleas of Gregory Bald by clicking  here (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

The clear vista from Gregory Bald onto Cades Cove. 

Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains in the Roan Highlands are also considered grassy balds: 

The summit of Big Hump Mountain is 5,587 feet in altitude.  I've hiked the 8.4-miles "in and out" from Roaring Creek trailhead to this summit three times.  Does this prove I love the balds? 

I hope my next visit to Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains will be on an Appalachian Trail section hike in the Spring of 2015. (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Descending Big Hump and looking onto Little Hump Mountain during my second trek to the Roan Highlands in July 2013.  (Photograph courtesy of Beth Hemann.) 

The mountains are calling: 

Flame azaleas at the Roan Balds. (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

This picture captures a few of the reasons I love to hike the balds--the peaks and valleys of the mountains, the colorful flora and fauna, and the intensely beautiful sky. Gaze at this photograph for a few moments and perhaps you'll understand why I hope to return to the Balds and "Keep On Hiking."  

Special thanks to several hiking friends who helped  make these hikes and photographs a reality:  Wayne Chambers, John Rowland, Bob Butterfield, Beth Hemann, and Patricia McAlpin. 

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