Clingman's Dome, highest point on the AT

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May 27, Friday

This morning we were up at 5:50 again in search of a spectacular sunrise. I thought it would be great to watch the sunrise from the Balds near Rocky Top a few miles farther up the trail. Ate a Kit Kat candy bar for breakfast this morning so I would not have to wake all the rest with my supersonic jet engine Svea 123 stove used to boil water and cook most of our meals. This stove is very reliable, somewhat heavy, being made out of solid brass, and makes a loud blast furnace sound when burning at full throttle. It is really nothing more than a portable, pressurized Bunsen burner. At that time of the morning it would have very rudely awakened every hiker in the park and put more fear in their minds than the bear from the previous night.

The sun was mostly up when we topped out on the mountain nearest the shelter; however, the views from around the Rocky Top and Thunderhead area that morning were numerous and spectacular in the morning light. There were no clouds in the sky, what clouds there were filled the valleys below giving us that "on top of the world" feeling as we traversed the ridge high above the rest of humanity. It was a bit chilly at 40 degrees this morning at six o'clock, but later warmed up. Spotted another deer in velvet along the trail.

After twelve miles of hiking, we stopped at Siler's Bald shelter for lunch, then moved on toward Clingman's Dome. The weather held, and we had many fine views on the trail as we marched toward the highest point on the Appalachian Trail on Clingman's Dome. Clingman's Dome is almost the highest point in the Smokies, but at 6630 feet above sea level, is beat out by Mt. Mitchell, supposedly a few feet taller. There is a futuristic-looking observation tower on the top of Clingman's Dome that has a spiraling concrete walkway that takes you to the top for a true 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. There are plaques facing each of the cardinal points of the compass plus those in between with pictures of the views from that point, all with each mountain peak labeled for your convenience. The view was grand, but in some ways not as impressive as others. There were good views from the top, but I felt somewhat of a letdown. Other views we have had were better, this was just a 360 degree panorama. Sure you might be able to see farther, but the mountains don't look as cool as other places. I think it has to do with the fact that the surrounding mountains appear smaller from so high up.

We pushed on past the summit to Mount Collins Shelter for the night. This shelter is between ¼ and ½ mile off the Appalachian Trail, but the location is remote, with a feeling of wilderness complete with the smell of Christmas from the numerous Balsam Fir trees that grow in the area.

We met a thru-hiker at the shelter named Wade Skelton, who had begun hiking again at Clingman's Dome after an off-trail stay somewhere. There is public access by car to Clingman's Dome for those not willing to hike the thousands of feet up to see the view. There were many little red squirrels around the shelter darting here and there looking for food and a chance to steal ours. Once the day is done and you settle into a shelter, the boredom sometimes sets in. Jim could not find anything to do but think about eating. I suggested he build a fire since it was cold and he did not want to go to bed yet. If thru-hikers would hike during the time that they get bored sitting around doing nothing, their adventure would surely take a lot less time. The day usually seems to be rush to the shelter and then sit and be bored. A strange life. The draw of a shelter can be a powerful addiction

Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983

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