|Turk's Cap Lilies near Clingman's Dome|
The hike began innocently enough. Although there was considerable fog surrounding this peak limiting the view, the early morning was pleasant and the air was cool. The AT is different from most of the trails in the Smokies--rougher, more challenging in spots. This section descends the face of the highest peak in the Smokies and does so using lots of log or rock steps with some steep drop-offs which were hard on my bad knees. With the help of my hiking sticks, I made it down fine and was busy enjoying the wildflowers that were growing along the trail. Since the views were obscured by cloud cover, I focused on the flowers. Turk's cap lilies were the surprise for me--they grew prolifically along the trail and because of the heavy humidity and literally being inside the clouds on this morning, they were dripping moisture from their anthers. Droplets of water clung precariously to the ends of these pollen production facilities surrounded by bright orange flower petals speckled with brown which recurved back away from the anthers exposing them to the pollinating insects that might pass by.
|Bee Balm and other wildflowers blooming at Double Spring Gap Shelter along the AT|
The AT through this area was an absolute obstacle course with roots, rocks, and dips that seemingly tried to trip you up. At several spots the foliage that surrounded the trail had completely overgrown the trail necessitating the use of our hiking sticks to push back blackberry vines and other vegetation out of our way. A machete would have been nice at a couple of spots! But we pushed on believing that we were nearing the end of our hike, approaching the spot where the AT would cross Newfound Gap Road and we would find our other vehicle waiting for us.
|Where we finally turned around! Not a happy moment!|
When we made it back to the smaller shelter, which turned out to be the shelter at Siler's Bald, we snacked and rested. There were two young guys there who had cleared out the brush and were carrying water up from the water source. Funny, this shelter no longer looked abandoned and desolate. After a short rest, we then trudged off to the next shelter which was approximately 2 miles on up the trail. From there we would have another 2.5 miles to the end of this nightmare. We kept telling ourselves that we could do this. I tried not to think about what those last couple of miles would be like trying to ascend Clingman's Dome as tired as I was. I remember looking up at one point when the slope of that mountain came into view and actually whimpering out of despair because it was so very high, and I was totally drained of energy.
|Views from the AT near Clingman's Dome|
At 8:43 pm we made it back to our car--dispirited, disheveled, and blistered, but thankful that this ordeal was over. We had spent 13 miserable hours on the AT instead of the 5 hours we had planned. Lessons had been learned the hard way but that will be another post. We had been severely tested, and I wasn't very proud of how I had responded, but we had survived.