Today I passed over the highest point on the whole AT, Clingman’s Dome at 6655′. It’s all downhill from here they say (it’s not). And I officially entered Tennessee.
Left camp at 7:30 to cover the remaining 1200′ and 5 miles before the midday heat.
And then I could see the observation platform built on top of Clingman’s Dome so people can see out over the trees.
The trail off the AT to the tower is not marked, annoyingly and bizarrely, so I went 0.2m too far and had to come back. But I got there at 10:30 so it wasn’t too busy with visitors.
I went down the tarmac road 0.5m to the visitor’s centre where there is a store. Incredibly they don’t sell cold drinks other than water for $4.50 and no snacks of any kind! Just coasters and sweaters and blackberry jam. Really weird. It must be a deliberate strategy to keep smelly thru-hikers away, another example of the uneasy relationship between the AT and GSMNP. They could make waaay more money off us than the $20 permit fee if they sold Coke and ice cream here! Anyway I dumped all my trash in the trashcans so maybe it was worth the 1 mile, 990′ trip. Or not. Suffice it to say, I was deeply unimpressed.
One upside of the high elevation was a data signal, albeit erratic. I was able to get online, update this blog and get emails. I spent about 80 minutes there all told.
Pushing on it was mostly descent now and my ankle was feeling strong enough to push a bit harder and get some momentum going instead of placing every step. The temperature was hotting up but this side of the dome there was much more shade than before so it wasn’t interfering with my hiking as much today.
I must have overdone it, hiking closer to my normal pace, because on the descent towards Newfound Gap my lower leg, including my left ankle, got extremely painful over a period of about 5 minutes. Like, really sore. Even to simply have my foot on the ground was painful. This made me rather unhappy (this is a précis of what I felt. For my American readers: this is English understatement). I stopped and took off shoes and socks, put my feet up on my pack and had a lie down for 30 minutes.
Big Cheese and Shaun who had been in the shelter last night came up and rested with me for 20 minutes. Big Cheese offered me a spare ankle brace he had. I thanked him but suspected it might be the brace causing this new problem since the main pain was where some swelling was which was located right above the brace. I sincerely hoped it wasn’t a new shin splints injury as there probably wasn’t any coming back from that.
Eventually I limped on with the brace off. It was very painful to begin with but after 30 minutes calmed down, helped by some stretching. Once I had descended to Newfound Gap I got a picture of me officially leaving North Carolina behind for good [later edit: not actually true: we follow the border of NC and TN for many days yet].
The water fountain that should have been here was broken. I was nearly dry and there were still 3 uphill miles to the Icewater Spring Shelter for the next water source. Blimey.
I was in a pretty poor mood by now but pushed on. Soon I met an older gentleman who called himself ‘Old Geezer’ who asked me to pass on a message up the trail for a person to bring down his pack. Ok. After a quarter mile I see a guy coming down and repeat the message. It obviously is the right person because he turns around and runs back up the trail. Runs. Goodness me, I was hobbling at 1mph and he runs.
Eventually he comes back with his son in tow carrying two packs. And eventually of course they both return back up the trail meaning I have been lapped or something. Anyway, the man is Courtesy and his 12yo son is Ian. They have both section hiked the Georgia part of the AT and are working their way north over the months at weekends and holidays. They were supposed to be a 3 with Geezer but his knee gave out and he decided to turn back.
Courtesy and Ian kept me company until we got to the shelter. Courtesy is a funny guy and kept my spirits up.
The shelter is in a nice position with good views at 5939′ and a resident deer. The vibe was mellow tonight with 4 or 5 other older hikers including a nice guy called Pea-Paw. Or rather it was mellow until 7:30pm when a guy came in in a state of high dudgeon saying a big black bear had eaten his pack when he left it behind to pee and he couldn’t scare it off and it had roared at him. He demoed the roar twice and beat his poles on the shelter to show his own part in this. High dudgeon but no photos – the camera was in his backpack. True, there was a small rip in it.
I waited until sunset and went off to stealth camp. Since this shelter is only 3 miles from a road I’d better get an early start in case a ranger patrols early.