Note: I need wifi. I’ll update with pics over breakfast.
My alarm went off at 5:00 to remind me I committed to summit Clingman’s Dome for sunrise. The problem was that I wasn’t going to leave my sleeping bag. The thermometer on my bag (in my tent) read 30 degrees. There was a sheet of frost/ice on my rainfly – it was stiff to the touch. I slept on til 7:00, hoping sunrise would warm things up a bit.
The problem with sleeping in gaps between mountains is that sometimes the sun rises parallel to the ridge you’re sleeping on – meaning that, while it was full-on bright outside, the sun still had to rise above Clingman’s Dome to illuminate Double Spring Gap.
I emerged from my tent to break camp wearing everything I own – that includes full rain gear AND socks covering my gloved hands. It should have taken me 30, maybe 45, minutes to ready myself to hike – this morning took 2 hours. I’d do something, then pace around for 5 minutes trying to warm myself up. I finally left camp to summit Clingman’s Dome at 9:00.
The hike up to Clingman’s was well-maintained and very hikable. When I got to the top, I understood why. The AT runs parallel to the trail visitors take to hike from the parking lot to the top of the mountain. I ran into so many folks deviating from the beaten path, if only for a half mile, just to officially walk on the AT. It was kinda cool.
When I got to the dome, I dropped my pack and spread my saturated-but-thawing tent in the sun to dry. Keep in mind, I’m knee-deep in tourist central. I raced to the top of the tower to take the obligatory photo and promptly returned.
After a trip to the privy and gift shop, I was elated to find Savage and Canuck waiting by my pack. They were ready to make it to Gatlinburg for a resupply. Unfortunately, they still had not heard from Kool-Aid or Kodak – still hoping all’s well.
It was 2:00 by the time we were ready to go. We set off with greater ambitions, but decided to use daylight to our advantage and hitch out of Clingman’s Dome at the first place possible – Fork Mountain Trail.
We hitched a ride with some college students from Chicago, kind enough to take the three of us to Gatlinburg. They dropped us off at the N.O.C. – yes, the same outfitters I had lunch at a week ago. This was their flagship location. I was able to snag a new dry bag for my tent (the wet, icy tent soaked through its stuff sack and saturated my bag) as well as a Mountain House Pad Thai meal – a trail classic, reserved for special times.
While at the Gatlinburg N.O.C., I reviewed the shuttle schedule and saw some familiar names slated for an early morning departure – Medicine Man, Moon Boots, Shaggy, Owl. We had friend in town! That settled it – we checked in to the Grand Prix Hotel (my grandparents probably thought it was nice in the 60s) and headed off to find our friends.
We actually ran into them around 5:00, just in time for dinner. The eight of us (we picked up a Swiss-German, Clutch) feasted. After a moderately successful resupply at Walgreens (our only option), we headed back to the hotel room to relax.
It’s late and I’m packed up, ready to go first thing. Shuttle leaves N.O.C. at 10:00. A townie told me there’s a proper Southern breakfast a few blocks up the street – given my new appetite, I’m already stoked.
Tonight in the hotel room, before Savage and Canuck went to bed and I to the balcony to type this thing, the three of us marveled at the fact that, aside from a food resupply, we didn’t really need to be in town. I mean, I did need a dry bag for my tent, but I could have made do until Virginia (hammock season). I didn’t even need to do laundry – still plenty of clean(ish) socks and undies to get me through to Hot Springs, NC, still another 4 hard-hiking days ahead.
The point is that I’m learning. The fires have been put out. I’m totally confident in my gear and can’t wait to lighten my load once springs hits. That’s still weeks, WEEKS, away.
In all, I am still having an amazing time. Today was the first day I met a large group of tourists. The questions they asked were the same questions I asked myself eleven months ago when I committed to doing this thing – “Why?” or “What about bears??”.
I am having the time of my life.
Breakfast: Sorry, I was too cold to eat
Snack (Clingman’s Dome): beef jerky, breakfast mix, 2 packs dried instant oatmeal
Lunch: half gallon of lemonade, pork rinds
Dinner: combo fajitas, side steamed broccoli
Late-Night Snack: half-pound of Canuck’s peanut M&Ms
Grand Prix (total room fee, $15)
Walgreens (resupply $44.15)
Dinner (Bailey’s fajitas $12.98)