Carey Kish is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, a distance of 2,200 miles over a period of 5-6 months. Entries from Carey’s trail journal are presented here (read them all). You can also follow his journey on his Facebook page.
April 9, 2015: Derrick Knob Shelter to Mt. Collins Shelter, 13.5 miles (+0.5 miles side trail down to shelter), 8:50am to 5:15pm.
It was a wild scene on top of a Clingman’s Dome, at 6,655 feet it is the highest point along the entire AT, this afternoon. Hordes of tourists were streaming up the gravel path from the parking lot below. A mass of humanity, and a bit of a shock to the system if you will for one who just walked out of the woods, having spent three days deep in the Smokies wilderness.
There’s an odd space station type tower on the summit, which is heavily forested and would provide no views otherwise. A long curving ramp way winds up to the circular tower. I declined to leave my precious pack below, so I kept it on and hiked to the top, me and all the tourists.
The views from the observation deck were pretty awesome. South to Standing Indian and Cheoah Bald and north along the Smokies crest to Mts Guyot and Cammerer. Mt LeConte the next ridge over was also in big view. Very impressive.
Sat for awhile on the bench and nibbled the bag of trail magic I’d been handed below from a nice woman named Christina, two brownies and a banana. But these weren’t ordinary brownies. Try two Oreo cookies inside plus a layer of peanut butter. Whoa, yum!
As I sat I felt more and more detached, as if I was watching a slow motion video, with the touristy types milling past in their clean clothes, their vacation hats and T-shirts and spotless sneakers. And cameras. This was a big deal in their world, a place to visit and take a photo or two before heading back to the hotel. My world was 100 yards below, a rocky and muddy trail leading north into the woods and mountains.
It was a lot to digest, but it didn’t detract from the milestone reached here, the AT high point and a fraction under 200 miles from Georgia. And if there was going to be tourist activity here, why couldn’t it be like Mt. Washington. Up there at least I could get a bowl of chili, a hot dog and a Coke. Nothing doing here on Clingman’s Dome. Oh well.
The hike to get here from Derrick Knob was nothing short of spectacular. Helped that I finally had some real strength in my legs for the first time in a week (ever since Wayah Bald). So I was cruising all morning, not going fast but just going strong. Made Silers Bald Shelter in good time, then humped it up Siler Bald (5607 feet) for some good views of what lay ahead.
It was Double Spring Gap Shelter for lunch. This a spot I want to return to for a stay. Couple of tame deer hanging around. Good conversation in the warm sun with a small cadre of other thru’s. From here the march was on.
The forest cover beyond was primarily balsam-scented fir. Not Balsam Fir but Fraser Fir. Some spruce thrown in for good measure. For the next several miles it looked just like I was hiking through the mountains of Maine. Rocky wet trail, damp mossy forest floor, and the fir and spruce. Loved it. Do miss my Maine, but I’ll be there soon enough. Sort of.
Reached the 6000-foot mark on Mt Buckley, then continued climbing along the fabulous narrow ridge line with wonderful lookout points en route. Incredible walking, great scenery, nice breeze, reasonable temps. All good. Next thing I know I’m standing at a sign indicating Clingman’s is just a quarter miles ahead. I made quick work of that.
Beyond the Dome, it was a long rough descent. Trail paralleled the auto road for a distance, some times above it, sometimes below. Eventually the trail veered away for the final climb of the day, up Mt Collins. I had plenty of water left and felt good. I took it slow and steady and knocked it off in style. A short distance down the non side I arrived at the side trail to the shelter. A half mile down and I’m there.
Stayed here in 1977, as well as Mollies Ridge and Derrick Knob. Like old home week with all these spots. Set in a nice grove of firs, sheltered like. No tarps across this shelter, nice to see the front of the thing for once. Good group here, lots of laughs while we cooked and ate dinner.
There’s even a privy here! Why is that a big deal? Because at every shelter until now there has been no privy. Yes, NO privy. At each shelter, there’s a spring down one side of the ridge and the “toilet area” is down the other side. Now, I avoided this situation the first night, but this morning it was time. I had a feeling I knew what I would find when I popped over the side of the hill. I was not disappointed. Or maybe I was.
Across the slope below me was a minefield of white toilet paper and carelessly concealed catholes. Pretty disgusting. But this is park policy. Imagine?! How incredibly stupid. So hikers must stay in the shelter – there’s no wild camping along the AT in the Smokies, but then the park does not provide a privy. Their thinking is that they would rather disperse the impact. How ludicrous. Centralized camping with dispersed crapping. I love the NPS. Brilliant minds they are sometimes.
Out to Newfound Gap tomorrow and down into Gatlinburg for resupply and such.