Day 26: Clingman’s Dome!

Miles Hiked: 10.8
Miles Left: 1978.5
Ending Location: Newfound Gap, US 441, and staying at the Bearskin Lodge on Gatlinburg TN

Owl, Dundee and I got a late start today. The before mentioned blueberry pancakes may have had something to do with it. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and all three of us were excited to climb Clingman’s Dome since we knew the view on top was going to be spectacular. Some of the other through hikers had gotten up at six, (their original plan was 4), to attempt to see sunrise on top of it but, well you should know by now there was no way that was going to happen for me.

The climb itself was surprising easy as the trail was well maintained and the grade was gradual with multiple switchbacks. I have to admit, after hearing and thinking about Clingmans for so long it was a bit … anticlimactic. The peak of Clingman’s is topped with a very distinctive observation tower that has a spiraling handicapped accessible ramp leading up to it. The reason for it was that due to the local weather patters the peak isn’t above treeline. That may change soon as a large number of the trees were dead, killed by either acid rain or invasive bugs. It’s not a good time to be a hemlock in the South.

The view did not disappoint though. My favorite part was seeing Fontana dam. It’s amazing how far we’ve traveled in a couple of days. Wow was it windy though. On the top we met Jay who had driven all the way from Nashville to do that hike. He wanted a picture of all us through hikers and at the base of the tower offered us a ride into town. On the way down we hit our first serious ice patches of the trip, (excluding our exclusions to Waffle House at the start). Owl and I were both happy we had our micro spikes but unfortunately only patches of the trail were icy. While overall that was good, it’s a pain to walk on rocks while wearing spikes!

The last couple of miles seemed to take forever which was a feeling that everyone else I talked to afterwards also shared. Dundee and Jay both had hiked ahead of us but they waited in the parking lot along with another through hiker Max Buckeye, so all five of us plus packs jammed into his Prius. Toyota should totally use us in a commercial.

Once in town we wanted to buy Jay a beer so we quickly checked into our hotel, the “Gran Prix”, and headed over to the Smokey Mountain brewery. Two beers later, (in our defense they were 32 oz each), we abandoned all ideas of doing laundry that night and instead decided to wander around downtown Gatlinberg. I knew it was a tourist town but I was not prepared for what I saw. I’d describe it as the Estes State Park of the South, only “more” so.

Coming back to our room we discovered what a dive we were staying in. The sheets were dirty, (as they had leaves in them), there were bugs everywhere, the toilet leaked, and what really got me was, (and I apologize as this is gross), there was corn floating in the toilet. We had picked the hotel as it was the only place with on site laundry and it was listed as “hiker friendly” in our guidebook, but for anyone else reading this journal “Do Not Stay There!” I can deal with run down, but the owner was a real piece of work too as I could waste a lot of time detailing our interactions with him. Moving ahead though Owl and I decided to check into the Bearskin Lodge across the way instead since it was quite nice and the off season rate was only five more dollars a night. That was a good decision as we were able to get a good night’s sleep without having to worry about bedbugs.

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