by Aaron Ibey

Mountain High Stargazing

Article originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of A.T. Journeys Magazine.

WHEN WE ARRIVED AT ROAN KNOB Shelter in the middle of the night, it was dark as could be, and we could only see as far as our head lamps could shine. This is the highest shelter hikers can stay at on the Appalachian Trail, sitting a little higher than 6,270 feet above sea level. When we finally reached the old two-floor cabin within a dense alpine forest, nestled upon the summit of Roan Mountain in North Carolina, within the blink of an eye the Trail transitioned from robust rhododendron forest to sparse silhouettes of pines that greeted us to winds that stung our faces.We crept up each switchback going up the south side of the mountain, trudging through the fresh snow pack. The moon was completely gone that night — we had planned this out methodically so we could stargaze at the summit.

As I was setting up my camera to shoot the night sky, “Puma,” my hiking partner, wandered out to get a glimpse of the sky I was obsessing over. The long exposure tracked his beam from his headlamp as he plodded around the cabin. This scene reminded me of a fairy tale describing an old witch’s house, with the boarded-up windows, dirt floor, and eerie attic. Yet, this was our home for the night, our shelter, keeping us out of the harsh elements of a 10-degree January night.