A day hike of Appalachian Trail in Smoky Mountain National Park

I was so looking forward to going back to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer. This plan, of course, was if my relocation went according to my timeline. The dissertation gods were vengeful and spiteful this summer, and so I never got my re-treat summertime trip…. I am going to just have to wait for that spectacular firefly light show another year. Then, I might even get some more time to do something I loved: hike the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps I’ll make a drive out for a weekend and maybe will get lucky spotting some late autumn color. But first, I must finish the dissertation draft!

A day hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail

Two summers ago my Alabama family brought me up to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smokies for an RV camping trip. We sucked in all the Pigeon Forge tourist delights, including dinner shows. I swooned over the quaint cuteness of tiny downtown Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smokies. One day, I got to play “hiker girl,” and left the hot mess that is Edie with them while they dropped me off at one point in the park and let me hike through to Clingmans Dome so I could get a tiny taste of the Appalachian Trail.

Smoky Mountain National Park Appalachian Trail

I was barely healed from a fracture in my right foot (less than a month), which occurred too soon after healing from the double spiral fracture of my left tibia and fibula (thanks, Edie). I was still in physical therapy for both injuries so I needed something long enough to be full day consuming but fairly gentle on my cardio and limited strength/stability. I found a trail that would take me through Newfound Gap and end up at Clingmans Dome. 

A day hike in Smoky Mountain National Park on the Appalachian Trail

My family dropped me off at my predetermined starting point and we agreed to a general window of time to expect me at the pick up point. I was more excited than they were when my check in with a park ranger revealed there was bear activity reported in the area. While I have no desire for an up close and personal encounter (I saw The Revenant), I still very much desire to see a bear from more than a tiny brown dot in a distance.

Smoky Mountain National Park

I did not have any black bear sightings, but I did have a near encounter with a wild boar. That was heart rate inducing but not exciting. I am – so – glad the park service has numerous boar deterrents and barriers (I also saw Old Yeller). I am not so glad my camera decided to konk out on me and I got almost no pictures, and all bad ones at that…. Another reason to… go back!

A day hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail

I cannot wait to go back, and after the first glimpse of the great Smokies, you have absolutely no question as to why Rocky Top is University of Tennessee’s fight song and why it is one of the state’s official songs. Whether by birth or adoption, Rocky Top will be a welcome home to any nature lover. And I haven’t even begun to wax poetic about Cades Cove or the waterfalls or the synchronous fireflies — which I WILL see… someday. Oh! And I nearly forgot – the USA’s most visited national park has no entrance fee.

A day hike in Smoky Mountain National Park on the Appalachian Trail

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There’s a rule to do one thing per day that scares you. Well, today I can say I did two…. I am not a seasoned climber by any scope of anyone’s imagination. In fact, all I can credit myself to is the technical level 4 climbing and scrambling I’ve done up Camelback Mountain, in the White Tanks, and in the Siphon Draw trail up to the Flatiron of the Superstition range. I have friends who have humored me and taught me to rappel, but that was from top anchors that we hiked up to and they, seasoned climbers, would rig the gear so that I didn’t have to climb up the face of the cliffs. Today was something totally different. And I, who does not like heights, managed to climb up over 100 vertical feet on Sven Slab in the McDowell Mountains today (leave it to me to forget my camera at home on this day!).

picture pulled from rockclimbing.com –

It looks pretty cool, right? Sven Slab is the large, flat face in the center.

My first climb?

Was a 5.8 technical rating.

Logan, my (ahem) guide, made the rating sound pretty cool, so I wanted to go for some gusto, and although I definitely slipped and fell off the first 10 feet a few times before I finally scrambled my way to find sure footing and confident grips. Before I knew it, because I didn’t look down at all and focused on feeling the rock, I was at the top! Sinkso was mine!

Next up, well that is after my legs stopped twitching and shaking and my palms stopped sweating and my heart stopped racing, was the ascent route Ego Trip. When I made my way up to the top of this route, I decided to relax a little bit more on the belay down, because I knew I didn’t have to climb any more for the day. And so, I turned my head, and I looked East and around some more to North. And the preserve and still-undeveloped higher desert all around me seemed to glow in the mid day, winter sunlight. And THAT was worth all of the fear and adrenaline.

And the super sore finger tips and ravaged finger nails.

But I still don’t like heights. At all.

But I would step into a harness and tie into a line in a heartbeat given the chance.

picture pulled from rockclimbing.com
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This post comes a little late – traveling yesterday was followed by the mad scramble dash to buy groceries and unpack to restore myself to my normal routine as quickly as possible so that my final day of vacation could be spent running the insanely long list of errands before I return to work tomorrow.

I took over 10,000 pictures in 2011. A picture should be worth 1,000 words, so I’ll spare you pontificating this morning. 10,000 pictures taken, 10,000,000 words not spoken. 12 months, 12 pictures for you as we welcome in ’12.

 

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. ~Benjamin Franklin
Works for me!!!
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When I was eight years old and my family moved back to the States, we drove from Virginia Beach to Phoenix. Having spent my memorable years in Portugal and Germany, I knew what I thought about moving to “Arizona.” I knew it was a desert, and I saw the Bugs Bunny cartoon, 1001 Rabbit Tales, so I knew what a desert looked like, in my eight year old mind. We drove through the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. My eight year old self was curious, if still unsure about life in the desert.

In last month’s 1,100 mile road trip to Monument Valley we drove a large loop through the Navajo Nation. During the seven hour (yes, seven hour — Arizona is fricking huuuuuuuuge — and there was about 21 hours of total drive time in a three day span) drive from Phoenix to Canyon de Chelly, we did a tiny detour through the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, where my friend hadn’t before seen. I never cease to amaze myself when I remember another spot in Arizona I haven’t been to yet — I don’t know if I ever will see it all.

I love that I accidentally captured this random couple in the background of the shot
This storm followed us quite a ways, and finally caught up with us after we left the Hubbell Trading Post.
I had fun trying my new fish eye lens on my camera. Playing with the perspective, I thought I’d explore a different point of view.
Well, although I thought I might have been possibly capturing a shot that I would like to review, I hadn’t thought of what my friend saw from her view.
Oof… So, my posterior has been captured for posterity’s sake.
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I have been to the end of the earth, I have been to the end of the waters, I have been to the end of the sky, I have been to the end of the mountains, I have found none that are not my friends. ~Navajo Proverb

I made it, check mark. Another of the things I finally gave myself permission to do; I have another to add to the I-did-this-because-I’m-worth-my-investment-in-me-and-I-only-have-to-answer-to-myself list. I initially planned to do this trip by myself because I love that kind of solitude, but I am mighty darn glad that I shared the experience, instead.
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