I didn’t know I’d be climbing mountains of ice, but I did it anyway.
I’d been wanting to hike the Smokies for years and as I was ascending the mountain range, I began to remember why they called them “The ‘Smoky’ Mountains”.
My climb up started well enough from the Fontana Dam, but the rain easily swept in as I rose in elevation clouding my views for the rest of the day – dang! But, after weathering the rain for the night, the Smokies graced me with two beautiful days in a row. My two highlights on these days were Rocky Top and Clingman’s Dome.
Rocky Top (apparently no relation to the popular song) was climbed on my second day in the Smokies. I was able to see Lake Fontana, where I’d left 20 miles ago – I always think it’s neat to be able to see where I’d come from and, also, to see where I’m headed.
I was able to get a little bit of phone service up on this particular rock. I used this to my advantage as I took pictures of myself from different angles on this mountain and sent the portraits to various loved ones to show them how awesome my life is. If you didn’t get one of these, it’s nothing personal; it just means I lost the phone signal before I got to ya – promise!
The following day (my third day in the Smokies), I decided to climb up Clingman’s Dome who boasts something like a 6,600 foot elevation – not only the highest peak in the Park, but the highest on the Trail. To make things even more daunting, 2.2 trail miles up and 4 miles down to the next shelter were encased in 2-inches of ice. This was definitely the most difficult thing I’d attempted in a long, long time. It took me 2 hours to climb to the summit where there was a tower built to offer views above the tops of the trees. Beautiful views too, going for miles and miles and all around. I was able to call my friend up there to greet him a happy birthday. Highlight of my day, it was.
If climbing the ice to Clingman’s summit was difficult, descending and trying to find the next shelter was even more treacherous.
My eyes were pealed and stuck on the ground looking for anything I could use for frictional purchase: some snow, a level footprint, a rock peaking out from the ice; even wet roots were looking good. There were several times where my best option to proceed was to sit on my butt and slide down. One time, while attempting to come down a frozen waterfall, I carefully stepped down and was quickly turned about and slid 10 feet backwards while somehow keeping on my feet. On more than one occasion I thought to myself how I would never recommend this portion of the hike to anybody.
After safely getting through my third day in the Smoky Mountains, the weather decided to return and I found it difficult to find nice views to reward my climbs through the hail, sleet, and rain. I was a little bit disappointed. But, as I was a mere 4 miles from exiting the park, the clouds parted and the sun came through in time for me to perch myself on a rock on the side of the mountain (as is my wont) to properly bid adieu to the great Smokies. It was almost as if the Smoky Mountains were saying, “Sorry, Two-Sticks, for that inhospitable precipitation. Here’s one more kick-ass view for the road.” Thanks, Smokies. I’ll take it.