Scaling the Balds

Overmountain Men
By Doris Gove

The Overmountain Men were colonists who defied King George's 1763 proclamation that English settlers must stay east of the mountains. Sixteen families settled in Sycamore Shoals, Tennessee, negotiated the Transylvania Purchase—a 20-million-acre real estate deal with the Cherokee—and established the first democratic government on this continent in 1772. (Not all Cherokees agreed to the deal; Chief Dragging Canoe besieged Fort Watauga, the first of many conflicts that didn't end until the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838. During the siege, John Sevier—-nicknamed Nolichucky Jack—saved a young woman named Bonny Kate by pulling her over the fort wall; they later married.) On September 7, 1780, during the Revolutionary War, a troop of Overmountain Men led by John Sevier passed through this gap on their way from Sycamore Shoals, Tennessee, to King's Mountain, South Carolina. They defeated the southern flank of the British Army under Colonel Ferguson, freeing the south from British domination and allowing General Washington to focus his attention on the North. More details on the Overmountain Men (and women) can be found at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton (pronounced with the emphasis on"beth"), Tennessee.

From Yellow Gap Mountain, an old road leads left down to US 19E. To the right, a blue-blazed trail goes 0.3 mile, passing a good spring, to the Overmountain Shelter, with a view of the Roaring Creek Valley. Grants and workers from L.L. Bean, the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, and Appalachian State University helped to transform an old barn into the largest shelter described in this volume. Covered cooking and eating areas occupy the ground floor, and 25 people can sleep in the hayloft (or maybe more, given the AT adage that "the shelter's not full until the last hiker comes in"). The movie Winter People (now on video), from a novel by John Ehle, was filmed partly on this site, using the barn and the great valley view to illustrate the harsh but beautiful conditions of pioneer life in the southern mountains.

After Yellow Mountain Gap the AT climbs steeply on the side of a mowed field. Look for wild strawberries in late spring and blackberries in late summer. The view to the right into Roaring Creek Valley is spectacular in the fall, with trees of all colors. The trail turns left into tangled woods and follows an old road between boulders toward the top of Little Hump Mountain. Watch blazes for a sharp left turn just before the summit, and skirt north. (If you go to the summit by mistake, enjoy the view and then backtrack to the white blazes.)

Skirt to the left of Little Hump past big black rocks with orange and yellow lichens, white blazes on posts, and a view of Grandfather Mountain on the right. Descend on steep and possibly muddy or icy trail to Bradley Gap at 7.1 miles, with tent sites and several springs. A path leads 1.5 miles left to Shell Creek and the end of a gravel road from US 19E. Follow the white blazes straight up Hump Mountain, past more boulders. Cross a fence and talk with the cows if they are here. Their job is to keep blackberries and small trees from invading the grassy bald. Climb to the Hump Mountain summit (5587 feet) at 8.0 miles The vista includes the Doe and Toe River valleys, Beech and Grandfather Mountains, and Grassy Ridge, where you started this hike. In about 50 yards is a memorial plaque to Stan Murray.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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