The Jolly Roger

Two of my backpacking friends had milestone birthdays in 2021, and we had grand plans to celebrate on distant mountains in the western U.S.  But after numerous attempts to synchronize schedules, we settled on a road trip to The Camel’s mountain house near Hays, N.C. to celebrate his 60th.  Here we are pulling into his driveway after a long drive from Atlanta.

Roger's Mountain House - Hays, N.C.The Camel had neighbors over when we arrived.  So we had a few beverages with them and enjoyed the sunset from the back deck.  John and Licia headed home at dusk, then we cooked brats and chicken on the grill.  After a hearty dinner, we sat outside and caught up over beers and cigars until midnight.  The mountain temperatures were a nice break from the Atlanta heat this evening. 

Roger's Back Deck - Hays, N.C.

The Camel was up early (as usual) and was joined by Country Club who drove up from Charlotte to hike with us this morning.  Both were drinking coffee and chatting quietly outside when I got up ~8:30am. 

We had a quick breakfast, then got our gear together and hit the road for Grayson Highlands State Park – where we had a reservation to leave our trucks for the night.  You need an overnight permit to access the backcountry from here, and I’m sure it helps to manage the overuse of the forest area.  Here is a photo of us hitting the trail ~11:30am.

Connector Trail To Massie's Gap

The scenery in this area is phenomenal with 360 degree views from most of the high points.  We saw a number of day-hikers in the first mile but once we climbed over Wilburn Ridge, we encountered only a few people this afternoon.  

The Kidd near Wilburn Ridge

The wild ponies in both the Grayson Highlands State Park and the Jefferson National Forest maintain these high alpine meadows and many hikers and backpackers come here to see them.  You don’t have to look far – they are everywhere – and they are friendly.  Here’s a small heard that walked right up to us. 

Wild Ponies In Jefferson National ForestWe found a spring and a campsite near this location and pitched our tents in an open field with views to the south and into North Carolina.  For most of this Friday afternoon, we had the area to ourselves.  It was hot, but incredibly peaceful.

Campsite in the Jefferson National Forest

So we tucked in the trees to enjoy the cooler air, a few icy beverages, and some sausage & cheese.  By late afternoon, we were no longer alone – many adults with their young kids poured into the meadows.  It was interesting that most backpackers had children – likely drawn here by the numerous ponies and easy access from the Grayson Highlands State Park.  Most were camping overnight.      

A break in the trees in the Jefferson National Forest

Country Club is also a family man and has a teenage son with an Eagle Scout Project scheduled at 8:30am on Saturday morning.  So he packed up his chair and allowed us to take this parting shot.  He hiked out to the parking area ~4pm. 

Birdshooter-Country Club-The Camel

Then we settled into our campsite, had dinner, and watched an incredible sunset to the west.  There was a full moon to the east, and heavy lightening to the South – which made for some great video and photos at dusk.  

Sunset in the Jefferson National Forest

Here is our campsite as the moon worked it’s way across the southern sky – looking into North Carolina.  The temperatures dropped quickly after dark and were in the low 50’s tonight.   

Moonlight In Jefferson National Forest

And just as we were about to sack out for the evening – we got blitzed by two cows.  The first was a female that seemed irritated that we were in her pasture, and the second was a large (and aggressive) male that was hell bent on protecting her.  The male raced through our campsite and nearly took out the Camel’s tent – but we only got a shot of the cow.  It doesn’t look like much – but I promise that both made a racket!!!  I was cooking one of Roger’s left over hot dogs at the time and wondered if the cow smelled it.  After about 10 minutes, they wandered off with no issues.  So I enjoyed a “midnight dog” in peace – then we all headed for our sleeping bags by 12:30am.   

Cow Intruder!

At 8:45am the next morning, I crawled from my tent with valley fog to the South.  The group was already packed up, and the Camel and Operator decided to hit the trail ~10am.  The Kidd and I followed 20 minutes later – although we had plenty of time since our permit did not expire until 1pm.   

Back in Hays, N.C. we stopped at a restaurant and sat on a patio overlooking a large creek.  Had a hearty lunch then returned to the Camel’s house to clean up and relax a bit. 

The Camel spent most of the afternoon at the creek with his neighbors, then took me on a heart pumping ATV ride to show me his land and the surrounding forest. 

In the evening, neighbors John and Licia returned and were joined by fellow neighbors Martin and Leigh Anne.  Leigh Anne made an incredible tray of hors d’oeuvres while Martin cooked up steaks on the grill.  The dinner was phenomenal – and significantly better than the “midnight dog” I had last night.  

Around 9pm, all the neighbors headed home and the rest of us settled in to record Episode 90: Party Foul!!! on the back deck.  It turned out to a great time and kept us up until nearly 1am!!!

And thus concludes a great extended weekend with my favorite peasant – Roger (aka the Camel).  Happy 60th to you my friend, and here’s to may many more adventures into the backcountry!!!

For a video recap of this weekend and our backpacking trip in the Jefferson National Forest, click here.

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