Monday, July 30, 2007


Saturday was supposed to be a warm up to a hike taking FHB to Abram’s Falls in Cades Cove Wednesday, both in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. However, if you believe a relief map completely, you may find yourself sitting on a log somewhere along the trail feeling as though you don’t care if you ever make it out or not!

The Appalachian Trail (AT) was our destination, since I have wanted to walk on it since I began hiking a few years ago. Ron chose what appeared to be a rather low level of climb up from the Clingman’s Dome parking lot to where the trail intersects the AT about ½ a mile from the Dome’s top where the tower sits (see the cloud shrouded tower photo).

Most tourists take the ½ mile, or 30-minute walk, on an asphalt walk up from the parking lot to the dome that is, naturally, smooth. The route we chose is essentially a rocky creek bed only about 12 inches wide, and, on this day, full of running water! The temperature was around 57 degrees, which was a lifesaver to me, and the mountain was completely wrapped in a cloud mist, with frequent sprinkles of rain.

Had I chosen to wear my rain gear, I’m not sure I would have made it back. The heat would have roasted me from inside! Instead, I walked short-sleeved, to remain as cool as possible. This was only one of the extra chances I got Saturday!

The picture of the four of us, Steve, Corey, Ron, and me was taken where the parking lot trail intersects with the AT. Had it been a clear day we would have been witness to beautiful mountain vistas, green valleys, and fresh mountain air! However, with the clouds around us, we could only see about 10 to 20 yards on each side of the trail.

Heading out toward Clingman’s Dome, I thought the rough hike up, over sharp rocks, through water, and up steep grades was almost over. I figured once we reached the top; saw the tower, that we would start a gentle decent back down to the highway where we left the second vehicle. But, oh hell no, my day had only begun to be agony!

Let me say here, that Ron is blaming himself for taking me on a more advanced hike than I should have been on after two recent surgeries, the addition of 10 pounds I probably put on waiting to heal, and the fact that we were somewhere around 6,600 feet in elevation! I have assured him that I had at least two opportunities to select alternative routes or hikes. However, I was determined to hit the AT, even if it was only about 4 miles of the total 2,174 miles! I did reach the AT, but with much less grace than I had intended!

Ron, our usual guide, did not know the trail “down” was actually up for more than 80% of the way back. There were log and rock steps for almost unbearable durations heading down, with sharp rocks, slick roots, slimy rocks, and deep walked-out trails full of oozy mud that sucked at your heels with every step.

Not being in the best of shape, as evidenced by the photo, my legs soon tired of constantly stepping up onto, what seemed like never ending, log or rock steps. The trail continued to ascend; when it seemed to me we should be going down! We either passed “in shape” older guys running up toward us, or pack laden young people heading “to the top and beyond!” One old guy told us he planned to make 70 miles Saturday…I say “Bullshit!

Ron and Steve eventually pulled off about ½ a mile ahead of Corey and me. We communicated with walkie-talkies and they began to wonder where we were. Corey, hanging back with his dad, expecting him to die any minute, radioed and asked how much further. We were already 2 hours into a 4-mile hike! Ron radioed back about 2 miles. I blurted out “Oh shit!” and Corey relayed, “That’s a big 10-4 and an ‘oh shit’!

My legs became rubbery and then I got a cramp in my left thigh. I knew then I was dehydrated and loosing much needed salt and electrolytes!

I forced myself to eat half a granola bar and several salty pretzels, and downed it all with suck after suck of water from my backpack water bladder. Finally, I felt somewhat better and with Corey’s constant coaching, what he’s good at, I stood up and put one tried foot before the other until Ron and Steve came back and met us about .2 of a mile from the car. Ron took my pack and we all headed out!

I can look back on it now and say I’m glad for the experience, but man, at one point I wanted to call in a helicopter!

I didn’t even want the “end of the trail beer” I was so tired, but I downed one and ate two slices of pizza at the Smoky Mountain Brewery.

I got home at 7:30…about 12 hours after leaving, took a hot shower and went to bed. I woke up around 9:30 Sunday morning, thanking God for sparing this old, fat, out of shape man!

Only 2,170 more miles to go!


Castaway said...

way to go... what an awesome adventure you've begun. each time i've opened a magazine or pamphlet with the fold out maps of the entrie applachian or adirondak trails i've thought how great it would be to make that level of committment!


Anonymous said...

You made it Dad! I am proud!!! Love, son

Mushy said... made a comment!

Thanks for hanging back with me.

I hope things worked out with me sometime and let me know.

Lucky Lady said...

That brought back some good memories when I was young and lived in tennessee I so remember that walk up to the dome and then we went up all those steps to the top,and we always went camping in the smokey mts. its been years but for a minute it was like yesterday-thank you

Jose said...

Doctor told me I have to start exercising more and maybe lose a few pounds. After your stories I feel like taking up on hiking, but Phoenix is not even close to your neck of the woods. Hiking in the desert is like... nah I'll melt.

david mcmahon said...

G'day Mushy,

Having read so much about the Appalachian Trail in literature, it was wonderful to see pictures of it here.

Nice father-son interplay, too.

Where would we be without our children?

Take care


BRUNO said...

Call me next time, and I'll "take up the rear" in one of those six-wheeled ATV's, so's I can drag-back the carcasses, hunter-style....!

phlegmfatale said...

That sucks, that the hike got harshed for you, but I'm glad you got to go. The photos are wonderful, and I love the look of those slanty rocks. I hope I get to hike some on that trail someday.

Suldog said...

Good job, Mushy!

Have you ever read "A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson? It's about his attempt to walk the entire AT. He's an excellent writer, one of my favorites, and extremely funny, too. You should check it out - I'm sure you'd get a boot out of it.

Rachelle said...

Reminds me of an experience I had a camp. I wasn't *supposed* to hike because of my neck/back but we got lost on the way back from an activity. Of course, it was a shortcut.... yup. Not. YIKES!!
I can feel your pain!!
but you did it, and isn't it beautiful up there!!
Thanks for the pictures, it's someplace I've always wanted to visit with my Scottish roots.

Becky said...

I give you lots of credit for getting through that, esp. after having recent surgeries. My bum knee really starts to bother me on hikes that are longer than a couple of miles b/c of those rock/log steps and being so uneven that my leg will suddenly jolt one way or another.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Goodness Mushy, do you EVER stay still? Wonderful pictures, especially the misty one. What a eautiful corner of the world.

Scott from Oregon said...

that is when I rediscover religion-- I bend over and say "oh god!" a lot...