The forecast called for the only clear day for a while so that meant it was time to head up to the highest point in the park. At 6643 feet in elevation it is also the third highest place in the USA east of the Mississippi. Given that our campground is at 1400 feet and the parking lot is at 6200 feet we had a lot of climbing to do. It is only 34 miles but with all the twists and turns, meaning low speed limits, it took us over an hour to drive up there.
There is even one spot where the road loops back on itself.
The sky was clear and blue but as we neared the summit, it seems to be in the clouds.
Once we got there it was somehow clear though. Here is the view from the parking lot.
It was cold here. In the low single digits Celsius with a strong wind. We had the proper clothes in the car to bundle up but a lot of people had come up in shorts and t shirts and were in for a surprise. I even put my toque on instead of my Tilley hat.
We did two hikes here, both leaving from the parking lot. The first was a 4 mile return, 600 vertical foot, hike down to Andrews Bald. An Appalachian Bald is a grassy open area at the top of a mountain. The mountain is too low to have an alpine climate and be above the tree line. Nobody really knows what causes them.
The second hike was the 1 miles return, 400 foot vertical, paved path up to the observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome.
We much prefer hikes that climb at the start rather than on the way back but you take what you are dealt. Down we go.
In the morning the sun was still behind the mountain and the trail was rather dark, gloomy and cold. Coming back the sun was overhead and it was much more pleasant.
A lot of the trail was stone or wood steps.
There were only a few spots with any views. We were mostly in the deep dark forest. The spots in the sun were REALLY welcome.
We got some encouragement at a trail junction, showing that we were more than half way there.
I guess it gets pretty muddy here sometimes. After all the rain we have had I was surprised at how dry it was.
And out into the bald.
We found a nice place to sit and have lunch. We actually had the place to ourselves for about 15 minutes until some others arrived. While we were there only 7 other people did come. We passed by a lot of people that were heading in as we went back.
This little guy kept circling us looking for some crumbs.
The long view of our lunch spot from the back of the bald.
Staring off into the Smokey Mountains.
After a while we headed back into the tunnel.
The climb back up was tough but not as bad as we thought it would be when we came down. Being in the sun helps a lot.
The jackets and toque even came off.
After we got back to the parking lot, we sat in the car for a rest and a snack before we continued up to the top.
Probably 99% of the people that come here only do the trip to the observation tower.
A 1/2 mile length and 400 foot gain doesn’t sound like much but that is still like climbing a 40 storey building. It seemed a lot worse than our climb up from the bald but on looking at the elevation profile from the GPS the slopes seem similar. Nevertheless we powered through the climb from the bald with only one stop but we had to stop at least 3 times going up to the tower.
Pictures just do not show the steepness.
The tower at the top, that gets you above the trees for your view, is very interesting.
Great 360 degree views.
The Appalachian Trail runs right through the middle of the park and passes by the tower. The trail starts in Georgia and ends in Maine. There were some hikers taking a rest and they said that they had been on the trail for a month and gone 200 miles to get here. It usually takes the whole summer to do the entire trail.
Heading back down. The parking lot is the white splotch by Jennie’s head.
Let’s just say that sitting back in the car felt really good.
During the hour drive back to the RV, I tried to stay awake and Jennie tried to sleep but due to all the turns she didn’t have much success.
On the way I kept hearing a weird crinkling sound. I finally realized that we had an empty thin plastic water bottle with the cap on. The change in air pressure going from 6000 to 1000 feet was causing it to collapse.
It was a tiring but very beautiful day.