Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/12/08 – Day Three – Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail/Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap – 8.5 Miles
We woke up today to natural light around 7:30 a.m., ate a quick breakfast and packed up camp. I was a little apprehensive about hiking today since yesterday seemed so difficult, but I had a short hike planned, not very strenuous, and I could take my time. I was going to try out my new trail runners one more time. Jim was very happy because he had plans to ride his bike today up and down Clingmans Dome Road while I hiked.
The day was clearer than yesterday’s start. We left my car at the Newfound Gap parking area and arrived at the Clingmans Dome parking lot at the more reasonable hour of 9:30 a.m. It was extremely windy, though, and I wondered if cycling was a great idea. Jim and I parted ways at the parking lot – he was heading back to Charlotte after his bike ride and I was going to Gatlinburg to meet Danny after my hike. As I got out of the car I realized that I had left my hiking poles in my car at Newfound Gap – too late to retrieve them, but I felt it would be okay – it would have to be!
I started up the half-mile Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail, which is simply a way of getting onto the AT without joining the masses on the paved trail to the observation tower. The views were magnificent and I was struck by how many seemingly healthy spruce firs there are now. The gray spikes of spruce fir trees killed by the balsam woolly adelgid insects are not so stark with the new trees growing in. I wonder how long the healthy trees will remain healthy?
I followed the AT around behind the observation tower and started on the mostly downhill trek towards Newfound Gap. The trail is very worn and rocky and felt surprisingly isolated, although it often comes within earshot of Clingmans Dome Road, and I did not meet any hikers until I was past Road Prong Trail. At a couple of places I turned around and could spot the observation tower back up on Clingmans Dome.
The wind continued to blow forcefully through the spruce-fir forest and I found myself humming a tune I had not thought of in years “Listen to the Wind Blow” on Sesame Street. I used to sing this song as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. This is the child that is now a freshman in college and on this particular day she was auditioning to join a winterguard team, so I was already thinking about her, and the strength of that memory of singing and rocking was so powerful that I’ll admit I shed some tears as I hummed and walked along. I miss you, Laura, and I’m proud of you. Time goes so fast, people, so make sure you are doing something that you love doing and will enjoy remembering.
I had no qualms about hiking alone today because (1) I was very close to the road and (2) Doug, the Park maintainer guy, had told me that no bears were this up this high at this time of the year, remember? But hiking alone is still…well, lonely. I kept feeling hot, then cold, then hot, then cold, and I finally learned to regulate my temperature simply by wearing and removing my hat. Hat on, hat off, hat on, hat off – I felt like the Karate Kid. Here is a photo of my hat and me on the AT (hey, that rhymes!) I like it because we look like the Statue of Liberty.
Small tragedy on the trail: at one point I realized that I no longer had my hat. It was not on my head and not in my pocket. Hmmmm…well, I couldn’t just leave it, it’s my favorite hat. So back we go – did I mention that this was at the top of the only uphill I had to do all day? Only about five minutes of back tracking and there lay my hat on the ground. We were very happy to be reunited.
Along this section of the AT there are numerous blowdowns of dead spruces and fir trees. I am curious as to whether most of them went down in one weather event. At first I took photos of the uprooted earth at each one, but they became more frequent and the root systems became larger and finally I just couldn’t fit them into the frame. You gotta see them to believe them. Overall, I loved my hike today and would recommend this section to anyone as being an easy and accessible shuttle. Heck, you can hike it both ways if you like (I suggest going up from Newfound Gap first and then back down. I’m a big fan of getting the “up” over with early.) And everything felt great – my shoes, my legs, my lungs. I didn’t even miss my poles. What a difference a night of rest makes.
Back at Newfound Gap, I joined the chaos of people in line for the bathrooms and then looking at the jaw- dropping view from the parking lot. Jim had left a note in my car that he had completed his bike ride (“crushed it”, meaning he did really well) and was on his way home. Then I headed to Gatlinburg, where Danny had reserved a hotel room (can you say “shower”??) for us to recover in comfort before venturing out again tomorrow. I got cleaned up and then hurried over to Elkmont to meet Danny coming off of an all-day hike in the area. The plan was to leave her car at that same spot overnight, and we would end up there once again at the end of tomorrow’s hike.
I got to Danny’s car, opened my trunk, set up my camp chair and was just beginning to have a snack when she came walking out of the woods – perfect timing! I was glad I had not dawdled in town. We spent the rest of the evening preparing for tomorrow, going over maps and routes, eating a terrific meal at The Trout House and strolling along the boardwalk atmosphere in Gatlinburg in search of ice cream (found it at Mayfield’s.)
All together now – another great day in the wonderful Smokies!