Friday, 15 June – Highest Point on the AT
|Destination: Clingmans Dome||Today’s Miles: 16.4|
|Start Location: Spence Field Shelter||Trip Miles: 208.5|
After six last night, an older Polish couple, who currently live in Chicago, came in. They had reservations at Russell Field Shelter but it was closed because of aggressive bear activity. With only two other people in the shelter, I did not have to move to my tent. They built a fire but were very considerate and quiet. I did not hear any bear activity and was glad not to see one when I got up about midnight to go to the bathroom. No mice that I noticed either. The Polish gentleman did snore though. All in all, a good night’s sleep. They were still asleep this morning when I left the shelter about 6:30. I had a sixteen mile day planned ending at Clingman Dome, elevation 6,658, the highest point on the AT, higher that Mount Washington, NH, at 6,289. I was as low as 4,435 feet before starting the climb but I did have a reward waiting for me, Dolora was meeting me and we are spending two nights in Gatlinburg. I can do without the Gatlinburg part, it is like the boardwalk at the beach. I was looking forward to seeing Dolora and a day and half of rest after a nearly eighteen mile day and a sixteen mile day.
The morning was pretty uneventful. Being out so early, there was a lot of dew on the grass which soaked my shoes and socks. Each time they dried out a little, there was more wet grass. The only hiker I saw was standing in the middle of the trail on his cell phone and I had to shout “Excuse Me”, to get his attention so I could pass.
The afternoon was a little busier. I passed a Boy Scout Troop of about five with two adult leaders who did not look like they were enjoying the hills. I stopped at Silers Bald Shelter to find the spring to refill my water and chatted with a nice young couple who were staying at the same shelter as the Boy Scouts. They let me know that there was water at the next shelter nearly on the trail. Yeah! Saved me carrying two pounds of water uphill for a mile and a half. I saw a deer, a turkey and a turtle today and fortunately no bears. I have gotten into the habit of banging my hiking poles together before I round a blind corner. Sort of an improvised bear bell. I wonder why? There were about four guys at the last shelter when I filled my water. They told me about a tenter who had a bear at his tent last night. He was not supposed to be tenting, the shelter was not full. I do not know if he had his food in his tent with him… A little later, I came up to a park ranger chatting with two hikers. He asked to see my camping permit. He had spoken to the hiker with the bear encounter.
The last mile or so of today was tough. It was steep and out in the sun. The temperature at Clingmans Dome was 71 but in the sun going uphill with a thirty pound pack, it was warm. Most of the earlier part of the day was pleasant in the shade with a slight breeze. The heat is probably the hardest part of hiking at the moment. That is why I try to get ten miles in before noon.
I arrived at Clingmans Dome about 3:15. Dolora had sent a text that she was there and down by the parking lot. We had been to Clingmans Dome in November to meet Trail Snail. I had forgotten about the half mile path to the parking lot. I met Dolora. Not sure how I smelled, I got a kiss but no hug. A park ranger at the gift shop at the bottom wanted to know if I was the hiker who encountered the bear in his tent. After telling him no, he gave me a small pack of Oreos. Snacks! We got to the car and chatted with another couple about hiking while I changed out of my shoes.
Then it was off to the Hampton Inn in Gatlinburg. The hotel has a pool and hot tub where I plan to spend some time tomorrow. The room has a tub with a whirlpool but that will have to wait for tomorrow as well, too tired. We carted our stuff to the room and settled in a little and it was time for dinner. I did eat a bunch of watermelon that Dolora brought. Fresh fruit. Dinner was at the Park Grill with a great salad bar, trout for Dolora and ribs for me. Checked out the outfitter next door to the grill and a short walk to find ice cream. Downtown Gatlinburg is pretty much a crowded tourist trap, Believe It Not Museum, Mirror Maze, Miniature Golf, Car Museum, Moonshine Tasting, etc. We are downtown because it is convenient, close to the park and food. Early to bed tonight in luxury.