Posted by: pjbarr | April 14, 2010

To the Max

Start: Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower
Finish: Max Patch
Distance: 21.2 mi.
Trip Distance: 252.0 mi.
Side Trips: Return from Cammerer, Snowbird Mountain
Side Trip Miles: 0.8 mi.
State: North Carolina
Highlights: Mt. Cammerer Sunrise, Snowbird Mountain, Max Patch Sunset

“Nowhere else on the Appalachian Trail do I feel so strong an urge to return.” Earl Shaffer, on the Smokies during his 1948 thru-hike.

I had a big day. Perhaps my longest hiking day yet. With side trips, I put up a deuce deuce. My feet are suffering for it, though my body remained strong throughout the day. Today was like a southern Appalachian highlight reel. I had great views from a fire tower, and two 4 thousand foot grassy balds.
I awoke to discover that I had bested the resident lookout tower mouse. He had not gotten to my food which I hung from one of the metal rafters in the tower. I had observed where he entered the tower cab and plugged the mouse hole as well. I slept quite well. What a great spot to spend the night. It was like my own personal clubhouse that a kid dreams about. Perhaps this is a root for my fascination with the jobs of tower watchman.

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The sun rise from Mt. Cammerer was a dramatic way to begin the day. A fitting end to my time in the Smokies as the sun illuminated its high peaks for me one last time. Last night I enjoyed the dazzling spectacle of city lights lining the valley as I looked down upon Newport and distantly Pigeon Forge. This morning I watched a helicopter swoop between peaks as it entered the Pigeon River Gorge. It was probably a thousand feet above ground yet I was looking down on it at least two thousand feet below.
I got a somewhat late start for the big day I had planned. It was hard to leave White Rock, hard to leave the tower, and especially hard to leave the Smokies. Harvey was right.

My first 0.6 miles didn’t even count, rather just took me back to the AT. Shortly into the decent is one of my favorite trail construction features on the whole AT – a CCC built S-curving stone wall lining the outside of the trail as it winds its way through the rocky outcrops on a ridge descending from Mt. Cammerer. Earl Shaffer took a photo of this trail and rock wall when he passed through in 1948. Apparently we both found it aesthetically pleasing and appreciated the workmanship. And yet another piece of the AT that has remained unchanged in its route since its beginning in the 1930’s which I like very much since I get to literally walk in the footsteps of my heroes and all those to make the journey. There are too few original sections like this remaining. The CCC sure did a good job in the eastern Smokies has if is largely, if not entirely, remained unchanged. At the wall I took a cell photo on the rock outcropping overlooking the Big Creek Valley. It was here Allison took my picture years ago that would become my author photo used in my book and press releases.

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As I descended the Smokies main crest, I for the first time entered into spring. While I had been reveling in spring temperatures for awhile now, I for the first time entered into a forest where its floor was entirely covered in green and much of its trees had newly budded leaves. It was very exciting to see this life returning to the mountains.

I remember descending this section with Brad in 2004. It wasn’t funny then, but it is now: Brad was claiming he surely had suffered permanent damage to his knees, which were at the time aching so badly he could barely walk. Luckily, he walks limp free today, yet ironically he makes fun of me for my five percent disabled classification in my left shoulder that the insurance company bestowed upon me following its initial injury.

I stopped at Davenport Gap Shelter for water. I knew with the monster climb ahead I better start forcing hydration or (water loading) in advance of the climb. I collected four liters and I drank at least two and a half before the climb up Snowbird.
Soon I reached Davenport Gap, where Brad and I ended our 2004 inaugural hike. We were dismayed to learn we had another two miles to walk to our parked car. Brad’s nearly permanently damaged knees didn’t like that……

It was also where William Davenport concluded his 1821 survey of the Smokies crest – the first person to ever make such a journey, especially pre-trail era and probably the last to do so until Harvey Broome, Carlos Campbell, and company did it in 1931. A traverse of the Smokies range, especially the eastern Smokies, during the wild, untrailed days has always been most fascinating to me. Now that I think of it, Arnold Guyot surely completed a Smokies traverse himself in the 1950’s; though I am uncertain if it was all in a single trip.

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For whatever reason, Davenport decided that the Smokies ended at this gap and not about two miles further at the more logical Pigeon River. So adamant was he that the Smokies concluded here, he carved a stone and dated it to mark the end of his survey. The stone is still there today, though up the hill and in the woods, missed or ignored by most. The date 1821 is still very legible, though I have a suspicion its etching was enhanced in the 1930’s when the NPS reset the stone in concrete. It is a fabulous historical marker denoting the successful end to an amazing, wild journey by a brave man. And it was here my own journey in the Smokies came to an end. How greatly I enjoyed my time here, and how dearly I will miss them. But I will be back, for they are my home.

The Carolina Mountain Club maintains the next section of the trail north of the Smokies. I thoroughly enjoyed the section between Davenport Gap and the Pigeon River, much of which travels parallel to State Line Branch with several scenic cascades.

I cross the Pigeon River on a highway bridge. This section of the trail is most unfortunate, especially the first quarter mile that ascends the concrete pavement of the I-40 exit ramp before crossing under the interstate. I wish there were a long, pedestrian-only suspension bridge over the river just for hikers, as there was slightly up river near Waterville when Earl and Gene came through. The astounding continuality of the trail is severely broken here, for the first time since the start. I dearly hope this will be fixed in the future, but know that its priority will never be sufficient to do so.

Nevertheless, crossing under I-40 was significant for me. Countless times I had driven the highway into Tennessee en route to a Smokies hike. Never once on my way did fail to look down and see the white blazes crossing under the bridge and reentering the forest and never once did have I failed to imagine myself someday passing through on a thru-hike. Today was that day.

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While a better choice than over the Smokies, it is most unfortunate that I-40 had to be cut through the gorge. My hiking friends and I often discuss what a wild and dramatic place the Pigeon River Gorge would be without an interstate and if it was part of the National Park. The Nantahala Gorge would look puny in comparison. Today and in the future we still suffer the consequences of building this highway through such rugged terrain. A landslide in October has had the interstate through the gorge closed for months, including still today. It was odd passing under it with no rushing traffic overhead. It should have been like this all along, though even I can’t come up with a more reasonable western passage for American travel and commerce. After all, better than Indian Gap, where everyone crossed into Tennessee prior to the 20th century.

I opted not to visit Standing Bear Hostel. This was a sacrifice I had to make based on my desire to reach Hot Springs by Thursday night. But I have stayed there before and have enjoyed speaking with Curtis in the past. Last time in 2008, I gave him a copy of my book.

I snacked and got more water before the dreaded climb up Snowbird Mountain. On Green Corner Road, Southern caught-up with me, slightly irritated I did not arrive at Davenport Gap Shelter the previous night as I declared my intentions the previous morning. This deceit was necessary to secure my solo perch in the lookout tower. While I would have enjoyed Sothern’s company, I could not risk telling even one person which could ultimately have a result as if I told twenty people. I did feel somewhat bad, as I really like Southern. He is about my age and as mentioned, so significantly reminds me of my college roommate, Mark, that I feel we have been friend for years already.

The climb up Snowbird Mountain was long, hot, and hellacious. As if a 2,500 foot climb out of the Pigeon River Gorge wasn’t already difficult enough in the intense heat, the trail was absolutely decimated with blow downs. It was a nightmare obstacle course. And every fallen tree across the trail was always too high to go over yet too low to go under and usually too thick to even straddle. While I didn’t enjoy the climb, I still made good time and needed not to stop the entire ascent. My body can now readily handle long, arduous climbs quite well, even if my mind still struggles in advance and in duration of them.

I reached the summit of Snowbird Mountain and to my surprise and utter delight discovered the peak was a grassy bald with fantastic views of surrounding mountains, especially the Smokies to the west. I had expected the funky white FAA tower at the summit, but not these exciting, expansive views. The climb was utterly miserable and I was drenched in sweat and my clothing and pack straps had all turned almost completely white from salt. Yet the view made it worth it, especially under the circumstance of surprise. Mt. Cammerer looked strikingly pointed from this perspective, perhaps having more face prominence from this angle than any other. It looked like a tall spire, and it was particularly satisfying to know that I camped on top of it last night and that I had walked all the way here from it in only hours. This sentiment was partially shared when I viewed Mt. Guyot, its tall triangular peak looming large in the background. I had hiked off trail to climb it just two days ago and a view of it from this point made me pleased that I did.

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I could see the bald summit of Max Patch to the east. It would be my destination tonight, still 10 miles distant. I had hoped to make it there for sunset, but knew I would need to maintain high pace to achieve that goal.

I did achieve that goal thanks to hand hiking. Much of those 10 miles were without views so I remained focused on walking, though I took a snack and water break at Deep Gap and another short stop at Brown Gap to address a blister problem. I had discovered the culprit to my newest blister- an old band-aid that had remained in my sock had been stuck under a toe and rubbing it with great irritation.

The final few miles to Max Patch were literally like trying to reach the end of a rainbow. If you have ever sought out that pot of gold, you know that the rainbow just keeps getting further away. Max Patch was my pot of gold. Though the final climbs were not severe, I was convinced that I would reach Max Patch upon cresting a series of consecutive knobs. After about 5, I decided it absolutely had to be behind the next knob. To my dismay, another knob presented itself, and Max Patch curiously now seemed further away than two peaks prior. It was endlessly frustrating, though this phenomenon seems to have a way of presenting itself at day’s end, especially long hikes like today.

I finally reached the western NC gem that is Max Patch, and yes, it’s entirely in the Tar Heel state. We may share the Smokies, but the claim to Max Patch is ours alone. And what a claim it is. An expansive broad, entirely grassy bald mountain. It truly is a spectacle after emerging from hours, rather days, entirely in the wooded forest.

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I once camped on its summit with Allison, and visited it again on a short hike with my Groomsmen prior to my wedding in 2008. Walking to it, rather than driving, made it significantly more rewarding. This is the first true grassy bald on the AT. Its rolling green slopes extended down to gaps on all sides, unlike just a clear patch at only the summit as on Snowbird Mountain and several balds in the Nantahala’s.
It was exhilarating climbing to the summit. A half mile of hiking with constant views in all directions. It was difficult to focus on walking rather than looking.

I finally reached the top and with at least a half hour to spare before sunset which allowed me to set up camp. I spoke at length with a charming couple honeymooning in Hot Springs. They had hiked up to enjoy the sunset. They were my age and reminded me greatly of Allison and I. I was also very proud that they chose Western North Carolina as their destination for their honeymoon. It certainly is worthy of such an occasion, and tonight’s display on Max Patch was excellent. I gave them my card and I hope that they leave me a note on my web-site in the future. Seeing them enjoy the mountains together made me especially eager to see Allison.

I use a great amount of adjectives and hyperboles to describe the sunrises and sunsets which I have been so grossly spoiled with during my adventure thus far. I must say, that while all have been stunning, tonight’s display on Max Patch may have been the best of all. It is certainly my favorite sunset thus far. The shades of blue that each successive distant mountain ridge turned were innumerable as the sun declined above them. Both the setting and scene were surreal.

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Now the stars are out in all their glory. What a special place is Max Patch. I intend to return here with great frequency for as long as I am able. From sunrise to sunset, today has been a particularly memorable day on the Appalachian Trail.

Posted by: pjbarr | April 13, 2010

White Rock Roost

Start: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
Finish: Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower
Distance: 10.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 230.8 mi.
Side Trips: Mt.Guyot, Mt. Cammerer
Side Trip Miles: 1.2 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Mt.Guyot, Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, Fighter Plane Wreckage, Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower & Sunset, Meeting a New Friend

“I have never wanted to leave a top of a mountain.” – Harvey Broome, on White Rocks, 1956

It will be difficult to leave the The Smokies tomorrow. How thoroughly I have enjoyed my passage over these mountains that I so dearly love. How fortunate I have been to revel in this beauty in really perfect weather with clear skies over the course of my travels. I have not been neglected of a single vantage point during my time on the trail within the park. I have gone out of my way to include even more of these exhilarating places and their panoramas. I truly feel as I have sucked the marrow out of this great place, drunken in it’s splendor to the very last drop, and graciously absorbed all that this high wild range has to offer.

Knowing I had a shorter day today, I slept in and was purposefully lazy eating breakfast and packing my things. Additionally, I so love the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter that I wanted to revel in its fine amenities for as long as possible: a nearby spring, a spacious privy, sweet balsam aroma and especially its wild remoteness. Many say Tri-Corner Knob is the most remote location in the entire Park. Geographically, I have proven this false, but it does have one of the most remote feels in the Smokies. Earl Shaffer, though a different shelter made of logs but nevertheless in just about the same location, called the shelter “one of the best in the Park and with one of the coldest and sweetest springs.”

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A bear had been reported to be terrorizing this shelter for weeks and sure enough the shelter log had a story from only four days prior of a bear stealing a pack and dragging it off. The story definately had legitimacy to it: the victim left their name and address and ask please to return his belongings if they were found. Allison and I awoke at this shelter last May to find an adolescent bear inside the shelter with us. What a peculiar thing to wake up to. No bears last night, or this morning on this visit. No guinea hen either, one of which I found had taken up residence here last October on the Wolly Tops trip with Brian and Jenny. I long wondered the origins of that stupid looking bird at such a remote shelter, but it will always be a mystery – both its beginning and its end!

I have so many good memories at the Tri-Corner Shelter. I visited it first with Brad on our very first Smokies backpacking trip. There we found thru-hiker, Rowboat, who let us finish his Hamburger Helper he had cooked. So now, I prepare Hamburger Helper every single night I’m on the trail as a result. I’ve visited the shelter on numerous occasions in years past while chasing six thousand foot peaks, of which a hand full circle the shelter. Allison and I once spent two straight nights here, as well as an afternoon napping while waiting for a down pour to subside.

Last night my shelter mates included Southern, a guy who I last saw at Neels Gap, Grapevine, a guy nursing a sprained ankle, and Glynda the Good, perhaps the biggest nut case I’ve met on the trail yet. Southern reminds me of my college roommate Mark in each appearance, accent, and mannerism. For this reason I feel like I already know him. Glynda the Good is quite nice and good natured. I’ve enjoyed her company and quite frankly been enormously entertained by her. But she’s a whack-job through and through. She wholeheartedly believes in zombies, for one. I’ve learned where to find them, how to kill them, why they exist, and what club to join should I become a believer myself. She’s also carrying a pack that easily weighs in at over 65 pounds for her one month section hike. And she claims to have most every obscure disease and syndrome in the book. Since she is harmless, it has been a delight to stay with her in a change of pace kind of way.

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I begrudgingly left Tri-Corner by 10:00 am, my latest start on this hike so far. It did not take long to reach Guyot Spring. Here I turned off the trail and climbed 50 yards and dropped my pack. I bushwhacked the remainder of the way to the summit of Mount Guyot. This was at least my fourth time to the top of this peak. But this trip had a purpose: to collect a small stone from the summit and carry it with me to deposit on the summit of Mount Guyot in New Hampshire. I dug into the small rock cairn searching for just the right stone. In the process, I found a small plastic Tar Heels keychain that I had left in the cairn in 2006. I had searched for it on my visit with Allison last spring but did not find it then. I was tickled to find it now and I redeposit it back into the cairn after selecting my stone.

The bushwhack up and down was far better than my previous ascents – perhaps because I am more familiar with this mountain with each successive climb. I once feared it – the highest trailess peak in the eastern U.S. But now it is more like an old friend I look forward to visiting.
The summit has no views, only a small pile of stones with a green tarnished copper benchmark dated 1929. Harvey Broome had even seen this BM on his climb of this peak in the 1930’s and beyond. As had Earl Shaffer who climbed to this summit on his 1965 southbound thru hike as a voluntary side trip – 45 years ago. The summit once hosted a crudely built wooden surveyor’s tower – as did Clingmans Dome – in the 1920’s. Nothing remains of it today.

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Pockets of remaining snow made the bushwhack a bit treacherous, but I returned to the trail in one piece. The much anticipated side trip took less than forty minutes, which included at least 10 minutes on the summit setting up photographs. I needed not even the GPS. Perhaps I’ll bring a stone from the New Hampshire Mt. Guyot back here in the fall or next year. This is my small tribute to one of my hiking heroes, the southeast’s first real peak bagger, and first true explorer of the high southern Appalachian crest – before any trails existed and without benefit of maps. Rather, the Swiss geographer and explorer made the maps. Mt. Guyot is a fitting monument to this great man, the second highest peak in the Smokies, the 4th highest peak in the eastern U.S., and the high point of Haywood County. It is fitting that this peak has no trails; Guyot himself never had the benefit of them.

Shortly after returning to the trail, I climbed the shoulder of Old Black. I recalled memories of Dave and I popping out of the woods here after a difficult ascent up Ramsey Prong. I climbed Guyot that time, too. I also remembered my friend Bob and I leaving the trail here to descend the western spur, Pinnacle Lead to reach a peak during my 5,000 foot summit quest. That bushwhack was horrendous and we barely made it back to the trail before dark.

Shortly thereafter, I enjoyed the southern view from Deer Creek Gap. This grassy gap had cement slabs remaining from its role as a helicopter landing pad in the 1980’s where a F-4 fighter jet crashed nearby and the military flew out the wreckage. The view of the Big Creek drainage was expansive. I could see the fire tower jetting out from the summit of Mt. Sterling. Big Cataloochee and Loftee Knob were visible across the valley, as were Old Black and Mt. Guyot.

I soon came to the wreckage of that F-4 fighter plane. A few twisted pieces of metal remain beside the trail just below Inadu Knob. The jet hit the mountain just barely not clearing the crest, going in excess of the sound barrier. Both men on board were killed instantly. There a down pour unleashed on Brad and I on that trip in 2004. We ran, futilely to Cosby Knob the entire remainder of the day. While I was examining the wreckage today, I met another thru- hiker Kricket from Atlanta. He was very curious and quite appreciative for me telling him the history of the site.

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It was a long downhill to Camel Gap. A short climb followed by an even shorter decent lead to Cosby Knob Shelter. Here in 2004 with Brad, I spent the most miserable night outdoors ever. The roof leaked and soaked my sleeping bag. I shivered through-out the night and slept little. The shelter has since been renovated and appears to be a much nicer place to stay. Like Tri-Corner it has both a very proximate spring and privy. It hasn’t the remote magical setting of Tri-Corner, however.

I got water there since my sleeping location tonight would not have any. Hoofing four liters of water up hill was a worthy price for tonight’s accommodations.

Prior to Low Gap, I ran into a guy with the trail name Slow Motion. We talked at length and I enjoyed our conversation. He is the trail maintainer from Sunup Knob to Crosby Knob. Must be a tough section – steep grades each way up from Low Gap that both get ample horse traffic destruction. He thru hiked in 1974. I thanked him for his trail work.


This was my first visit of many to Low Gap where I didn’t meet another person, though Slow Motion’s encounter was only about 200 yards out. This gap with its four way trail intersection is typically Grand Central Station for Smokies hiking. I believe it was a significant historical crossing of the Smokies in the past, though I know none of its history unlike other significant gaps like Ekameetlee, Indian, and False Gap.

The climb up Sunup Knob and Cammerer Ridge was long and hot and my pack, weighed down by water, was heavy. I reached the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower at about 3:30 pm. At the tower, a friend whom I hadn’t yet met was waiting on me. Aurora, from Dandridge, she is an environmental specialist with the TVA. She contacted me late last year about fire towers after having gotten my book. She was especially excited to learn of my thru hike and offered to help if I needed it. She is deeply involved with the AT and is working to initiate an AT license plate, like the program we have in NC, for TN.

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At the tower I picked her brain about her career. She has a job that falls into one of the several career interest categories I maintain. We talked a lot about fire towers, too. She suggested putting together a pot luck dinner as a fund raiser to help my Shuckstack restoration project if I would be willing to travel to Tennessee and give my Lookout Towers Slide Show Presentation and talk. This is a fantastic idea and we hope to do this in October. Thanks Aurora! It was great meeting you and getting to talk with you. Thanks so much for hiking up to the tower to meet me and be part of my thru-hike. I’ll see you in the fall!

I’ve always wanted to spend the night in the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower. This would finally be my overnight destination today. I’ve now camped next to the Albert Mountain Lookout, atop the Wesser Bald Lookout, and in the Mt. Cammerer Lookout. I hope to camp in Rich Mountain Lookout this Sunday after my brief hiatus in Hot Springs.

Spending the night here is probably more meaningful to me than many others. For me, it is reenacting history – the countless nights that tower operators spent here while on duty. The burden of having such a lonely job but one with the best view in the world is a sentiment that attracts me to the history of the towers. In this quaint structure someone lived weeks at a time.

The Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower was built by the CCC and completed in 1939. It is a unique octagonal lookout tower with a stone base that is about 20 feet high on the NC side. This castle turret-like structure, built of local stone quarried on the slops just below, supports a wooden live-in cab completely circled with windows.

The history and stories with this tower are extensive so I will not ramble on. Consult a certian “red book” that some guy wrote on the subject of fire towers – – If I recall correctly its coverage of Mt. Cammerer is quite good.

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This tower represents and is a monument to the most successful lookout tower restoration in North Carolina and all of the Southeast. It was restored in the 1990’s by a group of guys who fundraised for the project and later blossomed into The Friends of the Smokies, the Park’s leading fundraising organization. It is the success and methodology of the project used to restore this very tower that I wish to mirror on the other end of the Park at Shuckstack.

Once known as White Rock, the mountain was renamed for Arno Cammerer, an early director of the National Park Service and promoter of the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was also known as Sharp Top, as engraved in its 1928 benchmark on a rock just outside the tower’s door.

I once considered asking Allison to marry me here, like I once contemplated Mt. LeConte. Ultimately, I opted to actually get married in the Smokies instead, and things worked out nicely.

I now have run out of fingers with which to count the magnificent sunrises and sunsets I have seen on my hike thus far. The sunset tonight from this tower was perhaps the most vibrant and intense that I have ever seen yet. A fire in the valley below set smoke into the air, turning the globe of the sun a striking deep red. It set behind a low cloud just above the horizon, and instead of just going down, it disappeared into a small linear slit that slowly grew shorter from both ends until it was just a dot before vanishing. I shall never tire of watching these grand light displays of nature from a mountain top.

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The wind sounds strong outside the tower, but I am entirely enclosed inside. I spotted the first mouse of my trip in this tower. Since I am alone here, I am his only victim. I have hung my food bag from a metal rafter in the ceiling and attempted to plug his mouse hole, but they are clever, annoying creatures and I fear I may have to endure his company throughout the night. Nevertheless, I am so excited to be in this tower and make this experience another memorable highlight of my thru hike. I’ll be eagerly awaiting sunrise in the morning. Until then, goodnight from White Rocks, and farewell to my Great Smokies.

Posted by: pjbarr | April 11, 2010

An Irresistable Appeal

Start: Newfound Gap
Finish: Mt. LeConte Shelter
Distance: 2.7 mi.
Trip Distance: 207.4 mi.
Side Trips: Mt. LeConte, Cliff Tops, Mt. Kephart, The Jump-off, Mytrle Point
Side Trip Miles: 7.5 mi.
State: TN
Highlights: Newfound Gap, Hiking with my Smokies friends, The Jump-off, The Boulevard, Mt. LeConte, Myrtle Point, Cliff Tops Sunset, The Lodge

“I sensed again, as though for the first time, the exhilaration which goes with the thin air a mile and a quarter up and the grand mystery of wind ripping through a concealing fog on top of a mountain. I have never wanted to leave Mt. LeConte.”– Harvey Broome, 1962

Steve picked me up early this morning and took me to the store for last food and supplies. Earl Shaffer came into Gatlinburg in 1948 to re-supply himself. Boy how time has changed the town since his visit. It is now a gaudy monstrosity bustling with idiots and overweight tourists. It is indeed ironic that all of this tackiness and glittery excess exist because of the Great Smokies and wilderness so opposite the over civilized town. They are two completely separate planets but still adjacent.

I’ve actually in a way held a fondness for the town only because I so frequently immerse myself in deep wilderness for periods of time in the Smokies that I find the sensory overload of Gatlinburg a delight after missing the comforts of civilization. Equate it to the effect of taking a massive chug of water after being parched for an extended period of time. The drink is restorative more after just that first large dose. Plus, Gatlinburg is quite classy if you compare it to the absurdity that is Pigeon Forge to the north.

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Steve dropped me off at Newfound Gap where to my great delight and surprise eight friends awaited me to hike. These included some of my dearest Smokies Hiking friends: Gretchen and her husband Paul, Dave and Jenny. Also were new friends I had yet to meet but came to be part of my thru-hike, including Steve Parsons and his wife, Chris and Joey. I was so excited to have these friends join me today. It was special having them hike with me, especially because I owe some of them the development of m love for the Smokies and hiking, especially Gretchen and Dave. These two people have been to my most important moments in the Smokies with me including my Smokies 900 completion on Hemphill Bald and my wedding in Cataloochee. Now they with equaling meaningfulness join me to be part of my AT thru-hike.

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Our arranged plan was to hike to Mt. LeConte, one of my favorite places in the Smokies. I would stay the night at the Shelter with the rest of the party would descend the Alum Cave Trail. I got only 2.7 miles of actual Appalachian Trail despite hiking about 10 miles today, but it was well worth the extra distance. Mt. LeConte is unquestionably one of the most spectacular mountains in all of the Appalachians.

The Boulevard Trail that connects the summit to the state line divide is an awesomely scenic trail itself. Though we hadn’t discussed it, anyone who knows me should have anticipates it ahead of time. I wanted to make a side trip to the summit of Mt. Kephart and the Jump-off.

Mt. Kephart is named for one of my hiking heroes and author of Out Southern Highlanders, one of the best and most literary respected works on Appalachian mountaineers and the Smokies. “Kep” as he was known, was one of the earliest Smokies park promoters, and thanks to men like him I now have the Smokies to love and enjoy today. This 6,000 is a fitting monument to a man so influential in preserving the Smokies. He should and does own, in namesake, one of the parks highest peaks. Even more fitting is that Mt Kephart lies adjacent to Masa Knob names for his dear friend and photographer George Masa. Masa was a founding member of the Carolina Mountain Club and though his dramatic photograph visually inspired the creating of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Kep and Masa were best of friends and even desired to be buried side by side upon death. This never came to fruition (Masa is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville) but at least these two mountains standing as monuments to these men straddle to Smokies divide adjacent to each other.

The view from The Jump-off was dramatic. Nowhere else in the Smokies does there lie such and extreme and sheer drop off of the mountain side – even more sharp and exposed than that of Charlie’s Bunion.

On our hike along the Boulevard, the views were splendid as well. We encountered some snow and ice higher up – enough to make me nervous about re-crossing tomorrow after it refreezes over. We took a long lunch break at the Myrtle Point intersection. Paul pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey and most of us took a drink. When in Rome… Gretchen pulled endless amounts of food out of her small pack and ensured that I was well fed, including bananas, chips and angle food cake.

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We crossed over the summit and made our way to the lodge. This was my 6th trip to the top of LeConte. Many people keep record of their ascents of this peak several people have over 1,000 climbs. I’d be satisfied in my lifetime with 100, but even that number would be too few times spent on this wonderful peak.

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At the LeConte lodge Gretchen introduced me to Doug, the caretaker. I found him exceptionally generous and friendly. In fact, I later hung out with him and the other Lodge crew members after dinner in the kitchen shooting the shit for well over an hour. We discussed Shuckstack and Doug offered to post about my thru-hike and fundraising efforts on his popular online blog to hopefully generate more traffic for my Shuckstack project. Thanks Doug! I appreciate your help and your kind hospitality more than I can tell you, literally.

Following an evening meal, I hiked up to Cliff Tops for the sunset. (I’ve witnessed sunset here before, but never have I seen it this intense with this clarity and color.) A man also taking in the sunset was skilled at the harmonica and playing several neat tunes. This enhances the experience – goosebumps yet again.

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Harvey Broome once wrote, “I have never gone to that cliff without exhilaration. I have never left without regret.” He couldn’t have put it any better.

Tonight I am writing my journal by oil lamp high in the Mt. LeConte lodge common room. It has been a memorable day with amazing vistas, amazing friends and amazing food.

Posted by: pjbarr | April 10, 2010

Newfound Aspirations

Start: Mt. Collins Shelter
Finish: Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg
Distance: 4.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 204.7mi.
Side Trips: Return from Mt. Collins Shelter, Thomas Divide Tunnel, Gatlinburg
Side Trip Miles: 0.6mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Indian Gap, Thomas Divide Tunnel, Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg, TN

Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten…

This morning was cold, waking up at about 6,000ft. This is the highest I have slept yet, though I will match this sleeping elevation at Tri-corner knob and far eclipse it at Mount LeConte in the coming days.

Nevertheless, I was eager to get going as I wished to arrive in town early. I uncounted more snow between Fork Ridge and Indian Gap, though because of the below freezing overnight temps it was plenty firm enough to walk on top of without slowing me down to much.

This section of trail is very dark and tunnels trough an exceptionally dense spruce-fir forest. I had hoped to see a bear with it being so thick and early in the morning thought that conditions may be right. But my lingering cough made sure to scare off any desirable visible wildlife well in advance. Though it only affects me in the mornings, evenings and after meals, I have been unable to shake it since beginning in Georgia. I know that sleeping outside in cold temperatures with ample exposure to allergens is not helping it. Ironically it has no effect on my aerobic ability while hiking, a fact for which I am thankful.

I made good time to Indian Gap. In terms of gaps on the Smokies crest throughout history this is perhaps the single most significant and important over the course of time. While it has a small historical marker most who cross here never grasp this spots sense of history. Much like, “if these walls could talk”, I say “if these trees or rocks could talk” what stories it could tell of the sights it has seen. Passing of all sorts of people over this high mountain pass – many which shaped the history of both the Smokies and even that of our country and its western expansion.

Through this now grassy gap, Indians passes for centuries in travel and trade. This route was a preferred choice because of its comparatively low 5,000ft elevation, one of the lowest spots on the Smokies crest between the vicinity of Silers Bald over a dozen miles to the east. Newfound Gap was later “newly found” to be ever so slightly lower, but the odd geography of the spur ridge of Mt. Mingus made, and still makes, Indian Gap a more direct Smokies crossing.

The trace though Indian Gap was widened during the Civil War and a camp was established in the gap. Thereafter this road was used as the primary crossing of the Smokies by western settlers. They crossed the high decide here with their wagons and pack animals, though often encountering treacherously rocky and steep conditions that still made their travels arduous. The road became known as the Oconaluftee Turnpike, and Robert Collins, namesake of Mt. Collins and constructor of the first trail from Indian Gap to the summit of Clingman’s Dome for the aid of Guyot and Clingman and company, was the roads toll keeper. Now the Road Prong Trail intersects here, and in spite of its great history, today it is a mundane grassy spot on the ridge that only I realize as significant.

Prior to reaching Newfound gap, I ever so slightly detoured to the old stone tunnel constructed under Clingman’s Dome road by the CCC. It is visible from the AT but only if you are looking for it. Despite so close to Newfound Gap and driven over by millions per year, it remains and unknown Smokies secret. Because the Thomas Divide Trail predated Clingman’s Dome Road, this stone tunnel was built for the trail to pass under. It now leads to the bring of a cliff that drops off to Newfound Gap Road, its route being obliterated when the upper leg of US 441 was constructed to enter Newfound Gap from the west as it does today rather than the east as it did formerly.

Just before Newfound Gap, I passed a tall ornately build stone wall, a retaining wall for US 441 above. In spring of 2004, Allison and I walked the few paces from Newfound gap to this point. I was a few months away from embarking on my hiking trip with Brad. She told me to remember her when I reached this point. A few months later, I did. And six years later I did again. She is with me every step I take on the trail.

Reaching Newfound Gap on the trail was another somewhat emotional time for me. While my love and fascination for the Smokies and mountains was born at Shuckstack, it was here my knowledge of the epic distance of Appalachian Trail was discovered. Somewhere between the age of eight and eleven, my family took a day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I don’t remember why at the time, but I was so excited (despite not knowing what to expect since I had never been before) that I was the first to wake up that morning and I woke up the rest of my family to ensure we left early. As the typical tourists, we drove through the park and stopped at Newfound Gap, I read a sign about a footpath right there, leading from Georgia to Maine. Since I was fascinated with maps as a child, I knew what distance this encompassed. I was endlessly intrigued. I knew right then that hiking the Appalachian Trail was something that I one day wanted to do.

When I returned home from that trip, I went to the library and checked out every book on AT hiking and camping that I could get my hands on. I even constructed a hiking trail in the backyard and walked it repetitively with my school book bag loaded with textbooks. It was at Newfound Gap that the seed was planted. Nearly two decades later that seed matured into an AT thru-hike, and for this reason I was somewhat teary eyed as I entered the gap.

It took longer than expected to achieve a hitch into Gatlinburg. Holding my sign reading “hiker to town” and with my thumb stuck out, I waited nearly 25 minutes. At one point, a van slowed down as if it were picking me up. Instead a woman got her camera and took my picture out her window. This was particularly humiliating, though my friends Lola and Bryant, who reached the gap shortly after me, got a good laugh. They pressed on through the Smokies, though I hope to see them again in the future.

A nice older couple from Cleveland, TN eventually was kind enough to give me a ride into town. Having ended several trips here at the gap before I have never once had trouble getting a ride here until today.

I stayed at the Grand Prix hotel, an old somewhat run-down but low priced and friendly establishment just inside the town limits. I found it convenient they had a washer and dryer on site. The rest of the day I spent washing clothes and gear and sorting my pack.

Steve Guptill, my old boss at the lab I worked in, and his family were kind enough to drive all the way from Charlotte just to see me, bring me my resupply box, and take me out to dinner. My friendship with Steve is one of the few good things that came out of my job at that lab.

Steve and his wife and daughter took me out to a lavish dinner at the purposefully chosen nicest and most expensive restaurant in town. They truly rolled out the red carpet for me. Dinner and the two beers were utterly satisfying and I enjoyed telling them stories of my adventure thus far. I cannot thank them enough for their immense generosity, kindness and friendship. I am very fortunate to have them as friends.

Posted by: pjbarr | April 9, 2010

On Top of Old Smoky

Start: Spence Field Shelter
Finish: Mt. Collins Shelter
Distance: 19.8 mi.
Trip Distance: 200.2 mi.
Side Trips: Tricounty Peak, Clingmans Dome, Mt. Collins Shelter
Side Trip Miles: 1.1 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Rocky Top, Silers Bald, Clingmans Dome, Mt Buckley

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me.
Good ole Rocky Top
Rocky Top Tennessee

It was freezing cold this morning. Literally. Someone had installed a large circular thermometer outside the shelter overhang, and it read in the high 20s. Putting on a freezing cold shirt that was still wet from yesterday was a most unpleasant way to start the day. It sure woke me up, though.


My decision to lay up yesterday proved to be a wise one. I escaped the remainder of the storm, albeit that it never materialized to a more intense degree than it had already done upon me when I was out in it, but I awoke to crystal clear skies today. This excited me greatly. Today I was to go over some of the Smokies most scenic places, including nearby Rocky Top. I was fortunate not only to live through yesterday’s storm, but to have such perfect weather to enjoy my favorite mountains today. In fact, I decided to take advantage of the great weather today and also make up for me short day yesterday by attempting my longest day yet – in the rugged Smokies nonetheless. But these mountains are my home court; my familiarity with them makes them less intimidating, despite their high elevation climbs and remote slopes. I decided to attempt nearly 20 miles today by going up and over Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Trail.


Because of the cold, it was difficult to get an early start in spite of my lengthy ambitions. When I did leave, I hiked through Spence Field, a high Smokies ridgeline grassy bald. In 1830, James Spence of Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the crest built a log cabin here and is supposedly responsible for clearing much of the land that led to the bald that persists today. He used it as a farm house and summer home, and a larger log cabin was erected in the Field later on. This cabin became used as a hunting outpost for decades, and I seem to recall that it was even inhabited when Harvey Broome and company hiked through here on their Smokies crest traverse in the early 1930s. Since the 1800s, Spence Field was used for a summer grazing site to take advantage of its grassy pasture. Cattle and even sheep were led here up the slopes from both the North Carolina and Tennessee valleys for decades.


Today, Spence Field has nearly grown back into forest – with only small grassy areas on the very crest of the broad ridgeline remaining, and many of these filled with blackberry thickets. The bald is strikingly more grown over than just six years ago when I first hiked through here with Brad. The difference is alarming in that short time. I speculate that Spence Field will no longer be a field by the time I have children that can hike here with me years from now. The Park maintains the balds on Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald by mowing and other techniques – this practice undertaken to preserve their historical landscape. They have chosen to not do this with Spence Field, which is most unfortunate. There is a lot more history here into which I will not diverge. Tales of murder, a Cherokee built auto toll road, and an unsolved mystery of a missing boy – this place has many stories, and it was difficult not to linger.

The sun was bright but the wind was strong and blew the cold right through my body. I resisted layering up, knowing that the steep climb up Thunderhead would warm me soon enough. This battle against the cold wind versus the overheating of my body on the ascents proved to endure throughout the entire day. Most of the time it achieved equilibrium, but often times the cold would bite at me during periods where I was stopped for lunch or a snack or even to briefly reference my data book.


I climbed to the top of Rocky Top, passing a spot Allison and I once saw three gigantic Thanksgiving-esque turkeys. During my ascent, I pulled out my mp3 player and dialed up the song Rocky Top. This was a moment I had envisioned for months in anticipation of reaching this hallowed spot in the Smokies while singing aloud to this song. The views were stunning – the best I had ever enjoyed from my three visits to the peak over the years. Most spectacular was the thick, white rime ice covering the tree tops on the Tennessee side of the crest. This made for a dazzling contrast against the deep blue sky. I knew I was in for a spectacular day. I took time to observe the carvings from the 19th century sheep herders in the rocks on this peak. It was clear that people had been reveling in the scenery of this location for centuries. On my first visit here six years prior, an elderly couple asked where I was from and they were disappointed when I told them I was not from Tennessee. “That is special for folks from Tennessee,” they told me in reference to Rocky Top. Well, it’s special to me nonetheless – probably even more so than them.


I continued my climb to the summit of Thunderhead Mountain. I was certainly glad that I was not here yesterday in the storm. I felt certain that I would have been struck by lightning. I paused for a picture with the wooden summit sign and the benchmark in the summit rock. I attempted to get a view from the highest rocks that I had achieved six years ago, but found the heath bald to have grown enough since then to the point where I could not see out on this occasion. I did make a new discovery, however, finding several rock carvings in the back of the summit rocks that were dated from decades ago. How long ago escapes my memory at the moment, but they definitely have my curiosity peaked.


While I had been here at least twice before, I appreciated being on the top of the highest peak in the western Smokies, a P1k peak and the county high point of Blount County, TN. I hadn’t been to a peak a few miles to the east, however – a nameless summit I had long deemed Tricounty Peak. Its summit was the location of the intersection of Blount and Sevier counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina. It was long a candidate as a location to the true Meigs Post – a significant westward settlement boundary marker that played a large role in the history of the Smokies – until Dwight McCarter proved the true location to be at the top of Mt. Collins, another destination of my far later in the day. After descending steeply from the upper slopes of Brier Knob, a peak I was glad I had summited long ago and needed not to make the short but miserable bushwhack to its top this time around, I reach Starkey Gap and began climbing toward Tricorner Peak. I luckily found its summit to be both open woods and only about 100 yards from the Trail and I was able to tag the peak easily. I half expected to find a pile of rocks remaining from atop this peak – history holds that people moved piles of rocks, weighing tons, to other mountain peaks in an effort to change the boundary established by Meigs Post. However, I found no rocks but was pleased to obtain a “near fiver” peak, its elevation being slightly over 4,800 peak and probably the highest qualifying summit in the entire park I had yet to climb.


I reached Derrick Knob Shelter around lunchtime. This was the former location of a herders cabin, Halls Cabin, once visited by Horace Kephart during his Smokies explorations. The shelter stands generally in place of the long gone cabin, but it straddles the state line too. I decided that if I were to still make it some 13 more miles today, I better fuel up. I obtained water from the spring on the Tennessee slopes and found the piped water source to have so much furor that it appeared like a faucet filling up a bathtub. I took nearly an hour break and I ate a Hamburger Helper for lunch. Then I ate another. Then I ate chicken salad in tortillas. Then I cook up a helping of Ramen noodles. I didn’t want to stop again to eat and knew I would need all the energy I could get to finish today’s difficult route.


Ultimately this strategy worked, as I didn’t need to stop again to eat the rest of the day excepting a few small snacks while walking. But over the next four hours, I paid dearly for the overeating. Within a few hundred yards after resuming my hike, I began suffering from stomach cramps. Eventually I had to unbuckle my hip belt and hike with the pack only supported by my shoulders and bearing all of its weight on my upper body. Several times I needed to stop and bend over, grimacing in discomfort. I didn’t overcome the agony until reaching Silers Bald.


In spite of my internal misery, I was reveling in the beauty of the Smokies. The western crest is delightful albeit challenging. Its constant undulations were strenuous but beautiful. The crest is composed of mostly open woods with a carpet of green grass that was beginning to emerge for spring. On many occasions I could see out into either side of the high divide and recognize the remote wildness of my location. While I have rehiked most of the Appalachian Trail through the park since my first traverse six years ago in years past, I hadn’t ever revisted the center section of the western Smokies. I was glad to be back.


The climb up Cold Spring Knob was more difficult than anticipated, especially with stomach cramps. It was surprisingly steep despite the rolling nature of the western Smokies. I topped out on the peak and then descended to Buckeye Gap, the location where another Smokies transmountain highway was proposed to pass through the crest. Thanks to the efforts spearheaded by Harvey Broome, the plan for the road was scrapped and the wildness and beauty of this part of the Smokies was preserved. Most people have no knowledge that this spot was so close to being destroyed and the entirety of the western part of the park decimated, but this sad vision nearly became reality in the 1960s. I will never lose gratitude for those who prevented it. Thanks Harvey.


I reached Silers Bald shortly thereafter. The view east to Mt. Buckley and Clingmans Dome was impressive. It sure was big. I’ve climbed these peaks several times, but perhaps never on a route as distant as today’s. But how lucky was I to reach it on a day with such clarity in the skies. The vistas on each side of The Narrows, a thin section of the divide connecting Silers Bald and Double Springs Gap, were tremendous. I really enjoy that section of the Trail. Upon arriving at Double Springs Gap, I found two springs as indicated in its namesake. Not surprisingly, the North Carolina spring was far superior to the one in Tennessee. Of course, I found this somewhat symbolic…


By this point of my hike, I no longer need to stop to catch my breath on long climbs up mountains. But Clingmans Dome proved to be an exception. I remember my friend Rowboat boasting that he needed not to stop on his ascent six years ago while climbing this massive peak. I wished to follow his feat, but I simply could not. I found it necessary to rest my muscles rather than my lungs. The upper portion of the climbs of both Mt. Buckley and Clingmans possess dozens of high steps which zapped my muscles. I ended up stopping with frequency, but the dramatic views from vantage point after vantage point made these welcome respites.


Atop Mt. Buckley, I could see the tower atop Clingmans Dome. You can usually see the tourists milling around at its top even from this distance. Today I saw no activity. Would I for the first time be able to enjoy the over-visited summit without people? As it turns out, yes! But not before I encountered dozens of snowpacks still remaining at this high elevation, many completely covering the Trail. I was lucky today was a cold day with temperatures hovering not too far above freezing, which kept the snow hard and gave me the ability to walk on it. Previous hikers were not nearly as lucky – as many posthole footprints extended all the way through the snow to the ground – surely sinking the hikers’ legs up to their knees and thighs. A few days from now, I’m sure the snow would be soft again and future hikers will encounter this same problem. The amount of remaining snow was a testament to the harsh, snowy winter that was suffered by the southern Appalachians – and reaffirmed my decision that to delay my AAT departure by a month as to avoid the aftermath like this. I encountered a handful of balsam blowdowns on my climb up Clingmans, too.


I reached the tower atop the Dome after taking the second side trail leading to the summit and not the first. I’ll always remain bitter that the summit and tower are not on the AT itself. They once were, and were always meant to be. The Trail was rerouted around them in 1959 during the construction of the tower, and it was simply an oversight that it was not rerouted back. What a shame. What idiocy. Decades went by and now the mistake is so long standing that it would probably take an act of Congress to fix it, especially dealing with the NPS. Oh well. I’m sure no one else cares, it is just that I’m an AT traditionalist and value the historic significance of the original route. Not to mention, why not have the Appalachian’s National Scenic Trail not go over their highest reaches, especially this being the very highest reach of the Trail itself.


A lot of folks do not like this tower because of its bizarre design, and without doubt its strange architecture does not fit in very well with its high elevation balsam forest environment. It was a product of the NPS’s “Mission 66” program to revitalize America’s national parks and built structures with modern architecture and those capable of supporting a high number of visitors. It did that I suppose – Clingmans Dome is almost surely the most frequently visited peak in the Smokies and probably in the entire Appalachians. In my research, many objected to its construction and design. One man wrote his state senator with the scenario that a bear might walk up the curved ramp of the tower and trap visitors at the top. I could only be so lucky to ever see that sight, though I don’t think it will ever happen. The concrete tower replaced a woodened CCC built observation tower that stood from the 1930s but became vandalized and deteriorated. A crude wooden surveyor tower once stood atop this peak in the 1920s. It is unfortunate that I will never be able to experience the wild and remote feeling on this peak that existed at that time. Harvey Broome reached this peak in 1917 on one of his earliest Smokies outings. The setting so had a dramatic impact upon him he wrote “the memory of that dark and closely growing timber had remained with me all my life.”


I climbed the tower in isolation, a true treat and one I had never before experienced. To the contrary, I’ve practically had to wait in line to reach the top of this one before. It was delightful to have the tower and especially its views to myself – without all the comments referring to my trekking poles as ski poles, jostling for position to get a photo, or seeing all the airbrushed t-shirts and prevalence of obesity. Most of all, the views were just breathtaking. The sky had remained crystal clear and deep blue. Mt. LeConte looks impressive as usual. I would be upon its high crest in only two days. The rugged high peaks of the eastern Smokies were both foreboding and alluring. In my opinion, nowhere else in the southern Appalachians remains as rugged, remote, and tantalizingly wild. I could easily identify the conical summit of Mt. Guyot – I would also be on its highest point in only a few days. Once again, all of these peaks seemed like old friends welcoming me back, ready to invite me in and reminisce our old times, our struggles and triumphs, our years long journey that has formed our relationship. I was ecstatic to see them again and add yet another chapter in our friendship, this one perhaps more significant than any thus far.


Clingmans Dome, once known as Smoky Dome, has many accolades. It is the highest point in the state of Tennessee, the highest peak in both the Great Smokies range and in the National Park itself. It is the highest point in both Sevier County, TN and Swain County, NC. It is also a P4k peak, and as already discussed, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail, even if it doesn’t cross the very top. Clingmans Dome has many stories of history, too. Among these include Thomas Clingman, a 19th century figure that has long held my fascination and admiration. The peak was also known as the “Mulberry Place” to the Cherokee, whom considered it a sacred home to bears. They believed bears would return to this summit during fall to hold a great party before retiring to their winter slumbers. Cherokee hunters told stories of seeing bears dancing in groups on this peak, though I was not so fortunate to see such a spectacle. I still have yet to see a bear on my long voyage, and I am still hopeful that my Smokies will end this drought soon enough.


I my departure from Clingmans Dome was spurred by the declining sun and the bitter cold I endured at the tower’s top so that I could enjoy the views. It was getting late and I still had a long way to go. I encountered huge amounts of snow between the Dome and Collins Gap. I was again lucky that the snowpacks were hard and I could walk across them, though not without the ever present risk of slipping and falling. Though I had come a long way and it was late in the day, I was still feeling strong and climbed Mt. Collins with great tenacity. I paused briefly on the summit for a photo, and gave a short look around for Dwight McCarter’s rock carving indicating the true location of Meigs Post. I did not find it but I hope to return with him someday so that he can show me and I can see it for myself. Mt. Collins is the second 6,000 ft. summit crossed by the AT. Many more were to come in the next few days.


I reached Mt. Collins Shelter just before dusk, completing 19.8 miles today. With the brief side trips today that included returning from the shelter to Spence Field, Tricounty Peak, Clingmans Dome, and the half mile to Mt. Collins Shelter, I exceeded 20 miles for the first time on this trip, over the rugged Smokies crest nonetheless. I was proud of the accomplishment and satisfied that my distance today help to make up for yesterday’s layup. I was also pleased to see Lola & SOS at the shelter tonight. I had figured that they had gotten well ahead of me yesterday, but as it turns out they had also stopped short on account of the storm at Derrick Knob Shelter. It’s really cold tonight. I’m sleeping at nearly 6,000 ft., my highest camp of this hike thus far. I’m excited about Gatlinburg tomorrow and seeing many friends in the next few days.

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