Tennessee – Clingman’s Dome

"Hey Dad, We Made It to the Summit"


Me and the Spankster got pretty chilly last night. It got down to the upper 20’s and to top things off we lost power for somewhere around 3 hours. I do have a little heater which warms the trailer a wee bit but without power it got cold fast. Spanks and I huddled together in the sleeping bag to keep each other warm until the power came back on and Spanks settled back into his accommodations (blanket on the floor of the trailer).

Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, is about 100 miles from the campground (one of the reasons I picked this place – we could make day trips to several summits). We set forth early on the morning of April 5th to nail another one. The air was cold but the sky was blue and perfectly clear, a fine day to meander through the Appalachians on up to Tennessee.

This particular mountain tops out at 6,643 feet. We are starting to get into a little more serious elevation here folks. Clingman’s is the second highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi coming in just a little short of North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell. It is named after this guy named Thomas Lanier Clingman who extensively explored the area back in the 1850’s. It is located in Great Smoky National Park which made me a little wary cause National Parks have really strict anti dog laws. We need to start a Doggie Constitutional Rights Group or something.

Driving to Clingmans was quite a bit easier than our drive to Sassafras, SC. The roads are newer and thus in better shape with far less extreme turns. The drive took us up and down, through gaps in the mountains and as you would expect, spectacular Appalachian scenery.

Coming from the south, just before entering Great Smoky National Park we were treated to the (in my opinion) terribly tacky town of Cherokee, NC. What a tourist trap. There was a roadside “Pan for Gold” place, a bunch of “Discount Souvenir Shops”, cheap “View the River From Your Balcony” motels, “Genuine Native American Arts and Crafts”, and to add insult to injury we actually saw some people dressed up as natives standing in front of shops trying to lure in the tourists. I think you can guess – we did not stop.

The National Park Service does a fine job. My experience is that they successfully strike a balance between keeping things as natural as possible while making it accessible for public use. Great Smoky National Park immediately gave me that same impression. There is a small stone visitor’s center just beyond the entrance. Adjacent to to the visitor’s center is an authentic reconstruction of an old mountain farm. The structures all just seem to blend into the setting. The 25 mile or so drive up the mountains revealed very little evidence of humans (other than the road), a few small unobtrusive roadside sides, a couple of entrances to camping and day use areas, that was it.

The final drive to Cingman’s is a 7 mile long road that just opened up on April 1st. It is closed from the beginning of Dec through the end of March……..and for good reason. Let me assure all of you that winter is not done with us yet. You northerners may be thinking, Tennessee, that’s the south, it’s warm. Absolutely not! Now, I did say that it was a clear day but at around 6,000 ft elevation we encountered some clouds and guess what? All of the sudden we were driving through snow flurries! Soon thereafter we encounter a cliff face covered in sheets of ice. Conclusion, it is definitely below freezing.

We make it to the end of the Clingman’s Dome Road to a parking lot. There were some pretty heavy wind gust going on, I could actually feel the truck moving. Spanky has a quizzical look on his face, “We’re not going out there, are we?” There were other people up there but most hopped out of their cars, clicked a pic or two, felt the arctic blasts, and got the hell out of Dodge. The parking lot is not the top – we still have a hike ahead of us!

Having spent time around mountains, I knew that since it was cold down below and we were going pretty high up, it was going to be a lot colder up there. Accordingly, I brought a fleece, a ski shell, and a pair of gloves with me. I got dressed, got Spanky out of the truck and we went for the summit. The wind was really assaulting us. Spanky had never felt wind that strong. He didn’t get it at first but quickly got used to it. Hiking up the path (pretty good incline – half a mile long) we hit a spot with ice. Spanky hesitated, he just didn’t know what it was. A few steps and slips and we were over it. The boy strode ahead like a true trooper in face of the inclement conditions. No Dog Police to be seen – we were gonna make it!

The degree of incline, the altitude, and the weather made the short hike a little bit of work. Which is good – the body warms up with exertion. The top! The top of the mountain is rounded (thus the term dome – I guess), the vegetation consists of some really gnarly looking short twisted trees. Heavy wind blasts and harsh cold conditions obviously are right at home here. The scene is reminiscent of some north east mountain tops I’ve been on while skiing. Stunted vegetation, rocks strewn about, and blasting winds conspire together to give summits like this one an other worldly appearance (my opinion anyway).

There were only a few other people at the top. Spanky instantly made friends with them. We ended up exchanging cameras to take a few shots of each other. Too cold and windy for much small talk. As if it weren’t cold and windy enough on the ground, there is a 50 ft high observation tower (big spiral ramp leading up to what looks like a flying saucer) that is absolutely exposed to the elements. What the hell, we’re here, might as well do it. We went up and I must say, “Spectacular.” An overused term but very appropriate here. Pictures were taken very quickly, Spanks was starting to shiver and I wasn’t exactly warm either.

Actually we lucked out. Even though it was bitter cold and windy, the skies were relatively clear. A few stray clouds occasionally depositing trace amounts of snow. Apparently Clingman’s is socked in a good deal of the time. So a little chill is a small price to pay to get the view. Summit number eight – done deal!

On our way home I stopped at the Mystic Mountain Coffee shop in Hiawassee to get some high speed wireless access and a cup of java. The coffee shop lady notices my desktop image which is a pic of Spanks on Destin Beach and asks, “Is that your dog?” I respond, “Yep, he’s right out there in the truck.” She looks and says something like, “adorable, cute, precious.” Hey what about me lady? Just kidding. I started to read my email and before you know it she’s handing me some slices of black forest ham to bring out to Spanky. He pretty much inhaled the stuff. So, coffee lady, if you ever read this, thanks again. Spanky and I much appreciate your hospitality.

Tomorrow morning it’s off to Asheville, NC to stay with some friends for a few days.

Thanks and I’ll update this thing in a few summits. Until then!
Ice Covered Cliff on the Summit Approach
Spanks On Top (Note Snow On Evergreen Branches)
Spanky Checking Out The Weathered Landscape
Summit View - Yep Thats Snow On Peaks Below
They Say You Can See 100 Miles From Up Here

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Spanky-
You can save some gas and hike from Clingmans on the AT to Katahdin the highpoint of Maine!! Better start dehydrating Alpo.

Ken said...

Wow! That was a great story. You should write a book:) Spanks is one hell of a trooper....or....he's thinking, "I better follow this crazy guy cause he knows where my food is." I really liked the pictures. Looks just like Florida. Hang in there dudes, winter is almost over. BTW- it is a fridged 75 degrees here in sunny Vero Beach.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you guys are having a great time, Spanks will have alot to tell his buds when he gets back to school. Look foward to hearing from you, it will be great when you are back in range. SE Ya Rick

Amy said...

Beautiful pics!! I agree with Ken you need to write a book.

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