Day 18: Almost at the Top

Beating the Rain

Brian and I were up at 6:00 am and hiking by 6:30 am in a light rain and with wet tents in our packs. This morning, Cold Pop Tarts and Clif bars while we hiked took the place of hot oatmeal and tea in camp. We hoped to catch the 9:30 free shuttle at the Clingman’s Dome parking lot. Everyone agrees that bigger rain is coming, making it a perfect day for a zero in Gatlinburg.

Only 4.5 miles separated us from Clingman’s Dome, which is both the 200-mile point and the highest elevation point on the entire AT. We broke off at 4.4 miles, saving those milestones for what we hope will be better weather after our zero day. This morning, the Dome was totally socked in, with visibility of less than a few hundred feet.

The climb from Siler’s Bald to Clingman’s Dome started out pleasant enough, but the trail builders apparently wanted hikers to feel, not just know, they were reaching the AT’s high point, so the last mile was a repeat of yesterday’s rough climbs. We did catch a perfect Smoky Mountain sunrise during the climb – a layered orange horizon, with ominous blue-grey clouds above and retreating blue ridges below.

A Walk in the Woods

The highlight of the walk was the conifer forest on the Dome, the first of its kind so far. It had a very different feel than any of the other woods I’ve traversed along the AT so far. These are not the woods of Spring or Summer. These are the woods of winter and faerie tales, dark and foreboding. Unseen witches and ogres lurked behind distant trees, waiting to entice victims into their hidden lairs.

The grey skies and cold drizzle only perfected the image. Everything in these woods is being eaten by moss and ferns. It is a forest made for and by decay. Every branch dripped with moss. Every stump was blanketed with deep green fur. Beyond the thick branches, no horizon exists. Even if I could see through the dense boughs, the surrounding peaks and valleys would have been lost in drifting mists, leaving only ghosts of mountains and glimpses of what might have once been views.

How can anyone not love the woods?

Gatlinburg & Feeling Old

The ride into Gatlinburg was not nearly so magical. The van was overstuffed with young, exuberant hikers. For me, it was like being stuck in the 20-something exhibit at the zoo. After the quiet of the conifer forest, my senses were overloaded with “Dude, this,” and “Bro, that.”

Mousefeathers was the last to squeeze into the van. Last night, during his brief stopover at Siler’s Bald Shelter, he was telling a story about “some old guys he camped with…they were like, 62 or something…why are they even out here?” Brian and I smiled at other, and I called out to Squirrel!, “Hey, Squirrel!, is 62 old?” He replied, “I think I remember being 62, and it wasn’t then.” It isn’t for me on most days. But on some of this week’s climbs, it just might be.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Siler’s Bald Shelter (Mile 195.5)
  • End: Almost Clingman’s Dome (Mile 199.9)
  • Weather: Grey, wet, and cold
  • Earworm: Camptown Races…Doodah, Doodah. Go figure
  • Meditation: Sovereignty & Decision Making
  • Plant of the Day: Conifers
  • Best Thing: Conifers, moss, and ferns (2nd place – lunch in Gatlinburg)
  • Worst Thing: Rain




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Comments 5

  • thetentman : Apr 27th

    Hey old Dude, great post. Thx.

    Youth is wasted on the young.

    Hike on!

    • Jon : Apr 27th

      Glad you liked it!

  • Veronica Irene Keddy : Apr 27th

    I love following along with your journey and learning a little about the trail as you go. Maine is coming, and maybe I can leave some trail magic out there for you, Brian, Mousefeather, Squirrel! and the others when you get there.

    • Jon : Apr 27th

      M&M’s preferred! See you in Maine!

      • Mike Nixon : May 3rd

        Hey there, been missing your posts…for some reason I haven’t been getting the e-mail updates. We drove through the GSMNP while you were there. Our daughter coaches a volleyball team, and they played in Sevierville this past weekend. We drove from Cherokee to Tn on Friday…and I was wondering where you were…apparently pretty close. So glad your knees are better! Keep up the good work, and stay safe. And, this:

        “How can anyone not love the woods?”


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