The Smokies are a National Park that encompasses both Tennessee and North Carolina and the AT actually straddles the border between the two states. I hated the NC portion of the AT so much I consider ALL of the Smokies to be only in Tennessee and you cannot convince me otherwise. I say this because you can tell an immediate difference in the condition of the trail when you enter the Smokies. The grades are gentler and the trail itself seems in better shape.
The views are as advertised and you think oh that’s why they call them the Smokies!
Today I went on a side trip to the Shuckstack. You can see it from Fontana Dam and it gives you perspective on how far you’ve walked.
The Shuckstack is an old fire tower next to the ruins of a caretaker’s cabin.
It doesn’t appear that the tower has been maintained in any significant manner which gave me some reservation about climbing it. I did it anyway with the possibly misguided thought of well you’ll probably never get to do this again. So I went for it….very carefully.
Today was a rough one, so I didn’t get very far. The day started out rainy and windy which also put a damper on my progress. When I ascended Rocky Top there was zero views, just more wind and white fog everywhere. Despite this I still feel good about my climbing. I see a difference now and can get to the top without stopping.
Today was a Julie Andrews hike. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the GD bees were buzzing. It was a total movie moment.
In the higher elevation the forest turned Alpine and looked like the Pacific Northwest. I kept getting confused about where exactly I was hiking.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the AT with and elevation of 6658 feet. The climb weaves in and out of cool mossy forest and rocky hills baking in the sun. At the top is a tower for you to admire 360 degree views of the entire Smoky range. Seeing where I came from and knowing that I actually walked that far was another special change of perspective.
From this point me and Uncle Tiger tried to hitch into Gatlinburg without much success. Finally we got a ride down to Newfound Gap where we found more options to get down the mountain.
Gatlinburg is a weird tourist trap of a town. It’s like Panama City Beach in the mountains. Everything is old timey and log cabins. The strip has these weird animatronic attractions to get you to shoot guns.
I was more interested in the bed I slept on. It was DRY, LEVEL, CLEAN, AND STAYED THAT WAY ALL NIGHT!!! So I mostly spent my zero day wallowing in the comforts of civilization which included sleeping when I wanted, indoor plumbing, and soap. It’s the little things.
I got back up to Clingmans Dome with some severe reservations. That bed I spoke of earlier was still as comfortable as the previous day and I’m really missing flushing toilets. It seems every time I go into town I get tempted by the lures of civilization.
But when I get back on the trail I remember why I started this and forget about the inconveniences.
Today the walk was just as beautiful as going up Clingmans. The woods were soothing with the bird song and soft green light. The air created a soft blanket that felt like an outdoor hug. I really like the Smokies so far. Also I made it to Mile 200.
Today started out a little rainy but then once again the Smokies deliver with the views and the good hiking. There was a little side trip to Charles Bunion where I crept to the outcropping and DEFIED DEATH WITH MY BRAVERY! Nah, really it was just a little bit of careful maneuvering. (I promise I’m not being an idiot, Mom).
The ever present threat of thunderstorms dogged me all day. At one point in between mountains I was treated to an amazing meteorological show of rain sweeping through a far off valley.
I’m kind of sad to be leaving the Smokies. They’ve been what I thought Hiking (with the big H) should be like. A little bit of drama, a mix of challenges and pleasant strolling, and of course The Views.
Today I took a side trip to Mt Cammerer to see the fire tower built by the CCC in the 1930s. Unlike the Shuckstack this tower has been renovated and kept up.
At the fire tower I decided to eat a Payday in which the peanuts kept falling off. I noticed an inquisitive nose in the crack between the building and deck so I moved the peanut closer. This little mouse darted out and claimed his prize.
Also some dude bros arrived to the tower after me, one of whom was trying to tell the story of how FDR died. All I heard was “Colorado” and “bedpan” and knew this guy was speaking of some other President. It went something like this:
Dudebro: Yeah FDR was dying in Colorado and the nurses…
Me: FDR?! As in Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
DB: uh… (now looking at me like I’m a weirdo and probably wondering why this red faced sweaty chick loves FDR so much)…yeah?
Me: (very authoritatively) Because FDR actually died in Warm Springs Georgia of a sudden stroke.
DB: Well maybe it was Eisenhower?
Me: I don’t know anything about Eisenhower.
DB: uuuuhhhh… yeah so anyway blah blah blah….
So I guess have to back and thank all the school field trips to the Little White House for informing me about this one thing so I could shine bright and tell dude bros what’s what. I hope I haven’t spent all my FDR currency too soon.
On my way to Davenport Gap shelter which is nearly then end of the National Park, the sun dappled through the green leaves. Little pops of white and purple dotted the slope and a cooling breeze drifted through the canopy.
And then in all this sweetness I kept twisting my ankles on the damn rocks. A fitting goodbye from Smoky Mountain National Park.