Both the trails and the views in the Smokies have been absolutely spectacular. I made a deal with a couple of other thru-hikers… They agreed to climb to the top of Clingman’s Dome if I hiked 20 miles the day before to keep up with them.
At 4:15 am my alarm went off and I woke up. I got out of the shelter and looked up at the sky. The moon was full and the sky was clear, so I somewhat reluctantly concluded that I was *really* getting up and I was going to wake up Hog and Choo Choo (the poor thru-hikers that were going to need follow through with their end of the bargain).
I quietly called to Choo Choo and Hog to wake them up. Choo Choo opened his eyes, looked at me, and said, “No!”, and put his head back down. Despite their groggy protestations, all of us were up and on the trail within 15 minutes. Even though their pace is a bit faster than mine, they took care to make sure we stayed together as a group.
Hiking by moonlight (aided by headlamps) was pretty cool. As we neared the ridge and the top, the winds picked up. We got to the summit of Clingman’s Dome a little after 6. It was really really chilly up there, but we had a beautiful view of the twinkling city lights below, and the sky getting pinker in the east. As we sat there we also got a beautiful view of a front of rain coming towards us. We watched the sunrise and then tried to get down before the rains came.
About 10 minutes later it started pouring… Yeah, we totally saw that coming! We hiked for the next couple of hours in the rain, which stopped just as we were about to get off of the trail.
We got to the road and had to find a ride into Gatlinburg to resupply. We called a bunch of hiker shuttles, but they’d all stopped running for the season. It looked like the three of us were going to have to hitchhike into town. Since it was Memorial Day weekend the parking lot at the overlook was packed. There was a woman dropping off 3 backpackers, so I asked her if she was heading into Gatlinburg and if she wanted to exchange hikers and give us a ride. It turned out that her son is a thru-hiker and she was headed our way, so she brought us into Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg was definitely a bit of culture shock after coming off of the trail. So many people and so much noise! I did manage to resupply though, and got my dose if Tennesee with a moonshine tasting and some nice live banjo music that I appreciated from the comfort of a rocking chair.