Great Smokey Mountains: Quick Recap

October 8, 2006 at 11:45 pm 2 comments

This weekend, I traveled to Great Smokey Mountain National Park with Soleless Red and Spit McCoy (aka Kipp and Mike).  We have just started to scratch the surface with all the pictures from this trip, but here is a quick recap (not proofread):

A Tale of Two Blue Cranes
On Friday, we got stuck in hideous traffic in Pigeon Forge.  We were driving in two cars which quickly got seperated in all the traffic and confusion.  At one point, we were coordinating on cells phones trying to figure out who was where. 

“What do you see?” Mike asked. 

Kipp described a neon blue crane that was spinning around.

“Oh you’re behind us,” Mike said, “We passed that a while ago.”

It was a reasonable conclusion– I think most cities would be able to sustain just one glowing blue crane business.  But not in Pigeon Forge– it apparently needed TWO such neon structures.  It turns out Kipp was ahead of us…at the blue crane we had yet to see.

I was also amused that Pigeon Forge had a Jamboree, a Jubilee and a Hoe Down all within the same city block.

Rainbow Falls
On Saturday, we woke up at 5:30 AM and headed out to hit the trails!  It was still dark when we were filling out the registration at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  We parked Kipp’s car up at Newfound Gap and then drove back down to the Rainbow Falls Trailhead.  We loaded up all our backpacking gear and I got to do my very first hike with a full pack (special thanks for Carolyn who lent me her pack!). 

Sometimes carrying two retractable leashes and the water for myself and two dogs feels heavy– but it certainly did not compare to my pack on Saturday!  I had some difficulty putting the pack on by myself and often after a break, I needed my companions to assist loading me back up.  I read once about an experiment where scientists put a crab inside a clear jar in an octopus’s tank and they would time how long it took the octopus to figure out how to unscrew the lid of the jar to get to the crab.  I believe part of the experiment was they let the subject octopus watch another octopus figure out how to get the crab.  The subject octopus then immediately knew what it needed to do when it was presented with the same problem.  The octopus’s ability to learn through example was not lost through evolution.  During one of our breaks, I noticed Mike unloaded his pack on a tall rock.  When it was time to suit back up for action, he merely sat down on the rock, snapped on all the buckles and stood back up.  I started using that technique and suddenly I was empowered to get my pack on without assistance.

Kipp help me find my way around the pack as well.  At first, I found myself with quick a bit of sensation in my shoulders.  Kipp did some targeted strap yanking– he loosened my shoulder straps and tightened the waist.  That simple gesture shifted more of the weight to my hips which I found vastly more comfortable.

The first mile was not the steepest, but it was the most difficult for me and during that difficult period– I did have my hiking doubts that I would make the trek (Refer to “People Get Held Back by the Voices Inside Them“).  However, after that first mile, I think I adjusted to the extra weight or perhaps just built up a little bit of confidence.  From there on, it was smooth sailing.

Well, smooth sailing for me.  Poor Mike had thought he had just gotten over a cold, but discovered that the illness had returned in full force.   By the time we reached Rainbow Falls, it was apparent the cold was having an effect.  We were able to travel an estimated 1.5 miles further, before Mike had to Summon the Strength to Wuss Out.  The decision was difficult, but in the end, our group definitely made the right call.  After carrying heavy packs 4 miles and up a 2000 foot ascent, we turned back and returned to the car.

It was still a wonderful outing with great fall views and an amazing collection of mushrooms!

Soleless Red and Black Bears
Turning back had some fringe benefits.  On our way down, the sole of Kipp’s right shoe came off.  We tried securing it back on with rope– but alas, that sole wanted nothing to do with Kipp.  As a result, he descended the rest of the trail with significantly more awareness of the rocks on the trail.

Then when we were driving back to Gatlinburg, we came across a mini traffic jam on Cherokee Orchard Road.  Ultimately it was rubberneckers– but it was rubberneckers I can forgive— they were looking at a female black bear and her cub in a tree!  Our crew pulled over and I was able to see my very first live black bear (I saw a dead one with Meredith near Wind Rocks)!  I was extremely surprised at how high the two bears were and even more surprised at how at ease they were at that height.  The mother balanced on a branch to go to sleep, not at all concerned about the likes of gravity.  Soon it was brought to our attention that there were three more black bears on the ground.  I took a look and, man, there was a HUGE one out there.  I was under the impression that black bears looked like big dogs.  This one was no dog.  He was huge.  I’d prefer to not run into him when hiking alone.

Mike’s Picture of Bear on Flickr

Finally, we took our time returning to Kipp’s car and enjoyed a lot of the overlook pulloffs.  Marion’s Overlook was especially beautiful.  Looking at the valley below, the scenery didn’t even seem real.  “It feels like a painting,” Kipp said.

Appalachian Trail!
In preparation for the trip, I printed out a copy of the Smokey’s Trip Planner.  I marked a few waterfalls and in the margin of the “Favorite Destinations” page underneath “Clingman’s Dome”, I scrawled the notation “Pic by Sign”.  I was referring to the Appalachian Trail– which weaves 70 miles through the park and skirts the North Carolina-Tennesee Border.  After all the AT mileage Mike and I have done in Virginia, I wanted a picture of us at the AT in a different state.   Welp, we were able to fulfill that desire when we dropped Kipp off at Newfound Gap!

Clingman’s Dome
After dropping Kipp off, Mike and I headed off to Clingman’s Dome.  It is the highest point in Tennesee AND it is the highest point in the Appalachian Trail.  Mike and I were extremely lucky– we got to enjoy great views and we got to see first hand how quickly the Smokey’s namesake rolls in.  It was amazing to look up and see how quickly the fog moved. 


In my post last week I talked the importance of timing in pictures.  That message will be 100% reinforced by our Smokey pictures.  At one point, I was about to take a picture of a splendid view, but found myself out of batteries.  No problem– I had two in my pocket.  BUT– by the time I switched out the batteries and pulled the camera up again, fog already completely obscured the view.  Once we get all our pictures coordinated, Mike and I should have some good ones demonstrating the huge difference just a couple of seconds make way up on top of Ole Smokey.

On our way up, I overheard our youngest generation marvel at the fog.  A very young boy coming down the path, told his parents, “We was in the clouds!” 

Chimney Tops
This morning, Mike and I took a short but steep hike up to Chimney Tops.  It was an awesome hike with a great rock formation you can climb up for a view.  Mike made it to the top of the rocks very easily.  I struggled though–  It took me three tries to find a viable route to get up to the top.  How did I finally find the way?  Just like the octopus and the crab and my backpack loading lesson– I learned by copying.  I copied the route of a family of three!  The view at the top was awesome.  On one side we could see a clear sky and fall colors and on the other side we could see fog.  Our final hike in the Smokey’s was a great summary of the trip– fall colors and fog.

Impressions of Gatlinburg
Don’t get me wrong, I do think Gatlinburg is picturesque.  But my overall impression is damaged significantly by the parking and traffic situation.  Quite simply– it’s horrible.  It is difficult to admire the quaintness of a mountain city, when you’re constantly on the lookout for a barrage of pedestrains and lit brakelights… or when you are trying to plan your route three steps ahead to make sure you can make the turn you need to make or actually find a parking spot.

Mike and I counted at least 8 seperate businesses that focused on Old Time Photos– five of which concentrated within a couple of blocks.  Often there were two such businesses right across the street from each other (very much like Lewis Black’s “Starbucks across the street from a Starbuck’s” bit), or just a couple of doors from each other!  I was surprised by Pigeon Forge’s two blue cranes, but seriously can there really be that much demand for fake western photos?!?!

How about getting rid of one or two of those establishments and putting in…actual parking.  Call me crazy, but people who are coming to the mountains to “rough it” can probably make due with just six Old Time Photo venues.

Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Chimney Tops, Clingman's Dome, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Hiking, Kipp E, Mike E, Rainbow Falls, Tennesee.

Toilet Stall Deadlock Fatigue and Fatigues

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clint  |  October 11, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Haha, like the photo venue rant 🙂 You crazy octopus, you.

  • 2. Misery - Tom Waits and Mao, Jodi and Me « TGAW  |  November 12, 2006 at 1:46 am

    […] As Mike Ellery and I commuted back and forth on our trip to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park last month, he introduced me to his favorite artist, Tom Waits.  There were a number of songs that I was fond of (especially from a live album Mike played), but my favorite song was Misery is the River of the World.  That song has a very methodic rhythm to it, reminiscent of tides or currents.  I especially liked trying to make my voice deep and rough to mimic Waits’ gravelly vocals and try to sing along.  But, it’s the title of the song that is proving to be the most lasting impression: Misery is the River of the World […]


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