AT Day 014: Friday April 21, 2023

Mile 186.8 +  21 miles /33.6 km

Total Distance Hiked:  207.8 miles /  334 km

Camp – Sugartree Gap – Derek Knob Shelter – Silers Bald – Double Spring Gap Shelter – Clingmans Dome – Indian Grave Gap – Newfound Gap – Gatlinburg, TN

A: 4250 ft / 1295m ~ D: 3800 ft / 1158 m 

It was not the most comfortable nights sleep. We were camped where we shouldn’t have been and we were right by the trail. I asked Hammer last night ‘ do you think we would be OK here’? He said ‘yes of course’ and then promptly fell asleep, snoring gently. I was envious of his ease, I finally settled when I saw stars appear up in the sky. For some reason I found seeing the stars strangely comforting. 

We woke early and made it the 3 miles to Derek Knob shelter around 8am. There we met around 30 or so hikers just getting started for the day. Also here were Fox and friends who passed our tent last night around 11.30pm.  I do wish we had pushed on  the 3 or so miles to this shelter. It looked very nice if a little bit breezy.  We stopped here to filter water, as the hiker staying here were breakfasting and slowly getting ready to head out. 

There was a cold wind blowing most of the morning while we leapfrogged hikers who left the shelter earlier, some who left behind us were overtaking us. It was a very busy morning heading up towards Clingman’s Dome.  It’s the most people we’ve seen on trail so far. We seem to have hit the back of another bubble. 

The hiking was challenging as the trail was rough and mostly uphill. It was nice to stop for lunch at the Double Spring Shelter. Most unusual setting being surrounded by tall pines. As I learnt later, these were mainly Red Spruce trees and as we climbed up towards the Clingman’s Dome Summit we were hiking through spruce forest. 

Clingmans Dome summit is the highest point on the AT. It is also the 200 mile marker on the trail. After all that sweaty labour of climbing to reach it, we emerged onto a paved road leading to an ugly concrete fire tower with a carpark. There were hundreds of visitors climbing up to see the views, which today were quite hazy.  Hammer thought it was quite kitschy. For me it was such a disappointment. We didn’t stay for long, eager to get off the mountain and into Gatlinburg before the storm arrived.

Park Ranger checking permits and asking about any troublesome encounters.

The descent was diabolical, steep, rocky and covered in tree roots. Especially hard as we could hear and get glimpses of a beautiful paved road alongside. Passing through dense spruce forest, the floor was littered with moss covered decaying fallen timber. It looked like it gets a lot of rain. Hammer put his foot down and accelerated away from me. We were both so looking forward to reaching Newfound Gap and getting a ride into Gatlinburg where we plan to take a day off tomorrow. But time always drags so slowly in the afternoons and today was a little bit worse. The trail just did not offer respite from the grind. 

We did eventual complete the 8 mile descent  from the Dome. 

We had arranged for a shuttle with a local trail angel and were picked up soon after we arrived at the Gap. The Gap also marks the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. We are now in Tennessee, although we will be hiking along the border of these two states for another couple of hundred miles.

We are pleased to have reached Gatlinburg. The town defies description. May try in tomorrow’s post.