Dan and Hannah Hike from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokies (North Carolina and Tennessee)



In May of 1994, my teaching year ended early as I had just finished my one-year appointment as the Teacher-in-Residence at the University of New Hampshire.  While my public school colleagues in Kittery, Maine had a month more of school, I had time to act on Michael Jordan’s decision to step away from basketball and play baseball.  Assigned to the Birmingham Barons, Jordan was a work-in-progress as a baseball player, but still a national icon for many of us, especially the fourth grade boy living at our house.

Birmingham Barons homefield

Birmingham Barons homefield

Hannah and I pulled Will out of York Elementary for a week so he could drive with me 1100 miles to see Michael Jordan play baseball in Alabama.  After two serious days of driving, we got seats with 4000 others (minor league games might normally draw a few hundred) to watch Michael glide in right field, cheer his every move, and even get a hit.  Who else played?  Who won?  No idea.  Will remembers the free Krystal Burgers (mini-hamburgers) we won as part of an in-game promotion.

Hannah in the Great Smokies

Hannah in the Great Smokies

On the way home Will and I hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee side near Gatlinburg.  The park is so named Smoky for the clouds that descend into the valleys and then slowly burn off.

BR map of area

Cl 1A D at sign

Today in the first week of October Hannah and I enter the same park on the North Carolina side near Cherokee to hike the AT on the NC/TN border near Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the entire AT.  (At the visitor center, the ranger tells us there are 20 mountains in North Carolina higher than the New Englander’s beloved Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  Who knew?)

Cars trolling for parking places at Clingman's Dome

Cars trolling for parking places at Clingman’s Dome


Driving 15 miles from the Ocalusee Visitor Center on the Newfound Gap Road in our rented Ford Fiesta, we turn south and climb along the shoulderless 7-mile summit road to a parking lot clogged with cars trolling for spaces at 1130A on a Tuesday!  (By the way, the road to Clingman’s Dome is closed from December through March due to the weather.)  There isn’t a parking spot to be had.  What drivers can do, as we do, is drive a few hundred yards back down the mountain and park on the grassy shoulder.

At the base of the sidewalk to the Clingman's Dome Tower

At the base of the sidewalk to the Clingman’s Dome Tower

The place is swarming with people willing to take the steep half-mile paved sidewalk to the top of Clingman’s Dome.  All body types, mostly seniors, but also families with homeschoolers, choke the walkway.  There are benches along the paved sidewalk, and we always see someone resting there.  By the way, Clingman’s Dome was named after Thomas Clingman, a Confederate general during the American Civil War.

From the Clingman's Dome Tower looking to Tennessee

From the Clingman’s Dome Tower looking to Tennessee

After the half mile climb there is a curly cue concrete structure to an observation deck with a 360 degree view towards Gatlinburg, TN and back to Cherokee, Sylva, and Bryson City, NC.   We are packed together and look to escape as soon as we get there.  A park volunteer tells us that we should see this place in a week or two when prime time foliage season arrives.  We count our blessings that we will not.

Hitting the Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Hitting the Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Just 150 feet back down the paved sidewalk is the AT heading south along the NC/TN border through a southern pine forest.  Similar to hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon, the AT from Clingman’s Dome means Hannah and I will have the easier downhill hiking for the first half of our hike.

Cl 3D steps on trail

For the first third of a mile we descend ever so slightly into the “green tunnel” with the forest canopy covering us.  The trail is indeed easy going with its few ups and many downs.  We see that the Double Springs Gap Shelter is 2.5 miles away, a perfect turn around destination for our day hike.  Usually just wide enough for one of us, the trail is rocky and quite narrow.

Cl 3G more of trail

With the heavy rains of the past weekend and Hurricane Joaquin out to sea, the sky is sun-filled in early October.  With the occasional views to the mountains around us, I have what amounts to a perfect day of hiking – a well-marked trail, temps in the 70s, and Hannah.


Double Springs Gap Shelter on the AT

Double Springs Gap Shelter on the AT

After the swarms of humanity at the mountain top of Clingman’s Dome, we arrive at the Double Springs Gap Shelter in 75 minutes having not seen a single hiker.  The shelter has been recently remodeled and this video gives you some idea about our afternoon lunch venue.

Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Having hiked 75 minutes basically downhill to the gap (i.e., between two mountains) we have 2.8 miles uphill back to Clingman’s Dome.  Passing a few hikers, we have one catch our attention.  He’s a Appalachian Trail flip flopper who is within 190 miles of finishing his 2180 mile hike at Springer Mountain, Georgia.   His flip flop hike began in April at Harper’s Ferry, WV.  From there he headed north to Mt. Katahdin.  Once done with the northern part of the AT, he returned to Harper’s Ferry and headed south.  He’s six months into his thru-hike and nearing the finish line in Georgia.


Cl Harpers Ferry

As we are about to leave, Hannah asks his trail name.  He says Danger Bird from the Neil Young song of the same name.  He sings for us, Danger bird, he flies alone.  And he rides the wind back to his home.  Different than most trail names, he gave it to himself.  I like that.

The incomparable Richard Harris singing the 60s Classic, MacArthur Park

The incomparable Richard Harris

I’ve always longed for a trail name; my latest thought is Jersey in reference to my birth state.  But I do like the idea of taking it from a song.  Hmmmm, what about my all-time favorite song, MacArthur Park written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Richard Harris.  Hannah does not think much of the trail name Sweet Green Icing from the song.  I’m not sure Cake from the line Someone left the cake out in the rain resonates either.  It doesn’t help that MacArthur Park is one of Hannah’s Rock Bottom worst songs ever.  I’ll not give up.

Cl 3H H on trail

The climb back to Clingman’s Dome has us sweating and not at all remembering how much downhill we had two hours ago.  Even so, we return at 3P to just as many people climbing to the top of the Clingman’s Dome Tower and just as many cars circling to find a parking spot.

We return to our night’s stay at Chestnut Tree Inn in Cherokee, NC, and what we think is an Internet bargain.   Stay tuned for the further education of Dan and Hannah.


For your listening pleasure click on the link below for 7:24 of the ecstacy that is MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

Dan and Hannah Spend Thanksgiving Tuesday with Owen and Max

It came out of nowhere.  Middle of the night darkness made it all the more surprising.  This never happened before.  Hannah and I had no time to think.

Buck O and M Halloween

But let me set the scene.  For the last year and a half, Hannah and I have spent Tuesdays with our grandsons Owen (3) and Max (18 months).  Let me tell you, grandparenting is all it’s cracked up to be.

After driving an hour from our home on the coast of Maine, we arrive to Molly and Tip’s place in Chelmsford, a suburb of Boston.  Lunching with the boys and Tip, we are soon off on one of our weekly adventures.

Imajine That indoor playground

Imajine That indoor playground

In warmer weather we go to local playgrounds and then to a nearby library.  Last week with winter coming, we spent the afternoon at Imajine That, an indoor playground in a remodeled mill on the Merrimack River in nearby Lawrence, MA.

Today we begin at Wegman’s grocery store some 12 miles away in Burlington, MA.  Wegman’s has it all for preschoolers.  Lifting the boys into a grocery cart with two steering wheels, we arrive just before 3P to see the mechanical rooster come out of its “barn.”   Both boys are enthralled, though Owen holds his ears.

A Wegman's lobster

A Wegman’s lobster

At the back of the store, we all stare up at the model train that runs twelve feet above our heads.  Later the gracious fish counter guy pulls out a lobster to show Owen and Max.  Soon we are off to the bakery where the boys scarf down a chocolate chip cookie.

Then it’s the active indoor experience we all love – riding the escalators up and down.  Four, five, six times.  Back in the car, we are off to the Chelmsford Public Library where Max explores the book aisles with me in tow while Owen listens to a story on the computer and then another read by his Omi.

Buck Family pic

Once home around 530P it’s dinner time for Owen and Max.  As an incentive for Owen to finish his fish, corn, and yogurt, Molly or Tip read a story during dinner time.  Tonight it is Monster Needs a Party.

Then Hannah and I get to put the boys to bed.  I take Max, change his diaper, and get him into his pajamas.  I quasi-read a story to him, but soon he is more than ready for his crib.  Hannah supports Owen brushing his teeth and reads another Monster story to him.

Buck O sleeping

With the boys quickly fast asleep, Hannah and I red wine it with Molly and Tip, checking in on all our lives over the past week.  Usually Hannah makes a dinner for us all, but tonight we feast on the humongous subs from Wegman’s.  (So large that a third of one fills me up.)

By 9P we are on I-495 north heading for home.  Usually I listen to Pandora (Richard Harris or Dionne Warwick) while Hannah naps.  Tonight we both listen to a CD of Rev. Ogun Holder of Unity on the River (Amesbury, MA) that we were given when we visited that church for the first time just two days ago.

The Rev draws us both in and soon I’ve turned off I-95 onto Chases Pond Road where we live.  Still listening, I turn on our Hyundai Elantra’s bright lights to better see up our quite dark and winding country road.

Buck deer itself

And then biggest buck I have ever seen darts across the road right in front of us; so close I can see his right eye.  I brake quickly, but not so hard that we skid.  I have no time to think; I just react.  As you can imagine, the buck is gone in an instant.

Where I once might have gone to what could have happened tonight (playing the fear card), I just drive on another hundred yards more and turn left into our driveway.  I am surprised I am not shaken as I once might have been.

Tonight I just think about what happened and it’s gratefulness that I feel.

Grateful that the buck didn’t die crushing our car.  Grateful we can just go to bed without a major incident.  Grateful for the blessing that is being in the lives of our grandsons, Owen and Max.  Grateful for the friendship we have with Molly and Tip.

Not thinking in fear about what might have been, but being so very thankful.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Springer Mountain in Georgia

Ami map of AT in GA

Fueled by biscuits and decafe (Dan) and biscuits and gravy (Hannah) at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay in northern Georgia, we head out this first Monday of October on rural route 52 for Springer Mountain – the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and what will be our 14th of 14 AT states.

Ami 4 H on approach trail to Mt S

Hannah on the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain the day before

Most thru-hikers reach the southern start of the AT thru Amicalola State Park.  By doing that though, thru-hikers must take an Approach Trail for 8.5 miles to just get to the start of their hike of five million steps to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  But we have heard of a back door to get to Springer.

Turning off route 52 at the Chevron Station onto Roy Road, we wind for 9.7 miles through forests and farm land in rural northern Georgia.  From there it is 2.2 miles on Doublehead Gap Road to the National Forest fire road across from the Baptist Church.  This seems like the textbook definition of “the sticks” to this Yankee.  (not that there is anything wrong with that to quote Jerry Seinfeld.)


SM 1 sign on gravel road

Fire roads are a roll of the dice.  They are usually gravelly, often unimproved with potholes aplenty.  This road has all that with the added feature of being just one lane wide for much of the way.  As we start out up the mountain, a pickup truck passes by; such a vehicle is just the kind of transportation AT thru-hikers would use to be shuttled to this backdoor to Springer Mountain.

One lane fire road to the AT near Springer Mountain

One lane fire road to the AT near Springer Mountain

As I drive on, I am well aware that there could be another vehicle at every turn which would require that I back up for a quite a while; no easy task for someone who lacks even basic spatial awareness to back up into a simple parking space.

Driving 10 mph on this winding mountain road, I slow to a crawl to bump through potholes fortunately more apparent now that they are filled from last night’s rain.  For 35 “steering-wheel-death-gripping” minutes I never relax.  Each turn of the odometer lifts my spirits.  Feeling quite the hero, I find it stunningly that once I pull into the trailhead parking lot, we see five other compact cars already here.

AT sign at trailhead parking

AT sign at trailhead parking

Thankfully this trailhead parking is on the AT itself; but first we have an easy, flat mile hike south on a very rocky trail to the summit of Springer Mountain.

SM 2B H on trail

On the way we meet a young couple in their late twenties with big time backpacks.  They are out to hike to Unicol Gap, 52 miles away over the next five days.  When we ask if they have trail names, they say their shuttle driver gave them each one.  Because of her fear of lizards, he dubbed her Liz.   With his big pack he named him Pack Mule or Mule.

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

White blaze indicating the Appalachian Trail

Within two tenths of a mile of the summit there is a blue blaze (side) trail to the Springer Mountain shelter: wooden framed open front structure with nearby privy and water supply.  Then we meet an equally sunny twenty-something couple heading to the summit.  Again as newbies to the trail, they have no official trail names, but they are considering Tortoise (he) and Hare (she).

Plaque at the summit of Springer Mountain

Plaque at the summit of Springer Mountain

The summit is marked with a plaque noting the challenge that lies ahead for thru-hikers.  Beneath the marker is a trail log which we open to read the entries from the last few days.  Here’s one from a thru-hiker.

Trail log at Springer Mountain

Trail log at Springer Mountain

October 1 – Can I still use my trail name when I get home?!?  I can’t believe it.  I’m here.  Thank you for the lessons and discipline of the trail.  You’re what I needed!!  Apollo

Hannah adds to the register.   October 5 – Dan and Hannah – about to walk our last of the 14 states of the AT.  Came from Maine to do it!!  Yahoo!!   Hannah and Dan

As we retrace our steps back to the parking lot trailhead, we pass three young women who, like the others, plan to hike the 8+ miles to the Hawksbill Shelter for their first night on the trail.

AT to Cover cove Shelter

AT to Stover Creek Shelter

Once on the trail heading north we find the hiking more “walking in the woods” than stepping over and around the rocks as we had done to and from the summit.  Whereas our pace was not quite 2 mph to Springer Mountain we are now rolling through the Georgia woods at 2.5 mph heading to the Stover Creek Shelter, 1.8 mile from the parking trailhead.

After stone hopping across small streams, we meet up with Liz and Mule eating lunch out of a pouch.  Passing no judgement, I think that doing that holds no charm for me.  Eating freeze dried everything for the five to six months while hiking the entire Appalachian Trail leaves me, well, cold.

Stover Creek Shelter on the AT

Stover Creek Shelter on the AT

Having turned around at the Stover Creek Shelter, we arrive back at the trailhead after six miles of hiking over three hours.  We have bagged Georgia, our final AT state.  Celebrating that accomplishment will have to wait as we have the most harrowing part of our trip ahead – driving down the mountain on the narrow forest fire road.

Together on the AT

Together on the AT

Hannah takes her turn behind the wheel and masterfully works her way down the 6.5 mile hill in 30 minutes.  By the way, we do finally pass a truck coming up the mountain.  Fortunately, we pass at a wide point in the one lane road.

View from Springer Mountain

View from Springer Mountain

Springer Mountain is all it’s cracked up to be and now it’s on to Great Smoky Mountain National Park to get another crack at the AT, this time on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Amicalola State Park in Georgia

Ami map of AT in GA

To our northeast in South Carolina, punishing rains (15 to 20 inches) spawned by Hurricane Joaquin are swamping the Palmetto State (by  the way, palmetto means “little palm”).   In intermittent mist and showers here in northern Georgia, we have come to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) this first week of October.

Ami D at Unity of North Atlanta

On Sundays when we travel, we look for a Unity Church to make a connection with locals and add some practical positiveness to our day.  This morning, Unity of North Atlanta (UNA) delivers.  The talk this morning focuses on successful relationships having two key components – acceptance and forgiveness.  UNA gives each newbie a rose.

Ami 1 D at Ami sign

Our hiking destination today is in Amicalola State Park some 60 miles to the northwest of Atlanta.  Not trusting our WAZE GPS alone, we pull out our Georgia road map as we drive north on I-575 to two-lane country roads towards the North Carolina border.

Ami 1AA D and H at Arch

Paying $5 admission, we head to the Visitor Center for some hiking suggestions.  Amicalola State Park is known far and wide by AT thru-hikers as the jumping off point for hiking the Appalachian Trail from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine, 2180 miles away.  Though, it must be pointed out that AT hikers leaving Amicalola still have an 8.5 mile Approach Trail to hike before they actually start the AT at Springer Mountain.  Though Hannah and I won’t officially hike on the AT today, we are knocking on the door of completing our 14th of 14 AT states.

Ami Trail of Tears 2

Trails of Tears

Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word for “tumbling waters.”  The Cherokee tribe controlled this area until 1832, when the Treaty of New Echota forced the Cherokee to leave and go further west into the Ozarks. This mass removal would later be known as the Trail of Tears.

Ami 2E raging creek


Learning from the young ranger that Amicalola has a 729 foot waterfall, the largest east of the Rockies, we are all in to hike the one mile trail to the top of the falls.  Appreciative of her guidance, I give the young ranger my Unity rose; what had been all business turns into a country smile moment for both of us.

Ami 2F H posing at creek

Winding through the forest paralleling the Amicalola Lodge Road past picnic areas and families playing touch football, the trail is level and easy going on this cloudy 65F afternoon.  Crossing over the road that takes drivers to the top of the falls, we pass the roaring creek engorged by the recent rains.

Ami 2CC trail angel

Trail angel offering assistance

After hiking just a few hundred yards, Hannah needs relief from the scraping of her ankles due to her new hiking boots.  At this point a young trail angel steps up to offer Hannah some surgical tape to secure her Band-Aids.  We learn that she is day hiking on her own while her husband fly fishes in the nearby creek.  She tells us later that they will have dinner together.  And this is where it gets so cute.  Dinner for them is a picnic here at the park.

Ami 3 D beneath falls

After one half mile of skirting the creek, we soon come to the first of two sets of wooden stairways that will take us to the top of the falls.  On this Sunday afternoon we are among many enjoying nature’s hydro-wonderland.  The video below captures our first look at this stunning falls.

Ami 3B H at falls

The stairway climb of first 175 steps and then 450 more has us mingling with families and couples.  In the presence of waterfalls I am mesmerized as I would travel hundreds of miles to be in their hydro-glory.  Along the staircases there are benches for the weary, but we step intently on these grated metal treads to the top, overlooking the valley here in north Georgia.

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

Once at the top, we take the Approach Trail to Mt. Springer just like AT thru-hikers would do.  The edges of the South Carolina storms sprinkle us with light rain, though the forest canopy keeps us mostly dry.  With the refreshing feel to the Georgia rain this fall day, we turn back after a mile to get a second chance at waterfall splendor.

Ami 3D staircases of falls

Approaching five o’clock, families and couples continue to climb the wooden stair cases as we descend. All is not rainbows and roses on the trail.  We do pass a mother with weary eyes holding the hand of her most unhappy preschool son who is sobbing that he doesn’t want to climb anymore; meanwhile his two year old sister is being carried by dad.  Lesson learned by Dan and Hannah.  We’ll wait til our grandsons Owen and Max are both school kids before we bring them here.

Ami 3C falls

Rather than returning tomorrow to Amicalola State Park to hike the 8.5 miles to Springer Mountain and the AT, we have learned of a back road off route 52 that will take us within a mile of Springer Mountain.  With confirming directions from the Visitor Center, we will attack the mountain from the backside manana.

Tonight we have what AT hikers do not have: a warm bed, a shared bottle of Cabernet, and a hot tub at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay, Georgia.  We will sleep well tonight.

Dan and Hannah Hike Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

On a mission to hike our 14th of 14 AT states, Hannah and I fly to Atlanta to hike the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia this first week of October.  This flying Saturday is problematic as Hurricane Joaquin is off the coast but pumping up to 20 inches of rain into nearby South Carolina.  As it turns out Delta never blinks and gets us to Atlanta ahead of schedule.

KM Delta

No truer words have been spoken than Delta is ready when you are.  I had no idea the new Delta has more space above the seats for carry-on luggage.  Which is sweet for us who haven’t checked bags in ten years, even for two week trips to California.   While ESPN beams from the TV in front of my seat for our 2+ hour flight, I think where would we be if we were driving to Georgia from Maine?   Hmmmm, it turns out we’d be somewhere in Jersey, 850 miles from Atlanta.

KM Hartsfield Jackson

As the biggest airport in the United States, Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta has us walking long wide corridors towards the shuttle train that takes us to the rental car center away from the airport.  Along the way we see a couple in their 50s holding hands laughing and sparkling; so in love with each other.  Classic second marriage!  So appreciative and happy at a second chance for the best that love can be.  They remind me that we first marriage folks got to step up our games and exube (verb form of exuberance) our love day in and day out.

KM 1 D at sign

Surprised that there is no rain here in Atlanta when 100 miles away the deluge is inundating the Palmetto State, we start rethinking our plans for this travel Saturday.   With just a light intermittent mist in the area, we learn that our need to hike can be satisfied just three miles from our Comfort Inn at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

KM 1B H on trail

Going from Kennesaw strip mall craziness to rural forests in a matter of ten minutes, we learn at the Visitor Center that it’s a 700 feet elevation gain over the first mile of the trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  Checking the Weather Channel app on my iPhone, I learn that the chance of precipitation over the next two hours is 30-40%.  Dismissing these odds as the weather folk covering their butts, we forego our ponchos on this muggy 64F degree late afternoon.   Please!  What’s the worst that can happen?   We get soaked within a mile or two of our car.

KM 1C D on trail

The ranger at the desk gives us an excellent detailed map of a six mile hiking loop.  Sounding perfect at 330P, the six mile trail will motivate us to maintain a steady pace on a day in these hills and mountains of Georgia, the home of our 39th president and humanitarian, Jimmy Carter.

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

On this Saturday the parking lot is nearly full of Georgians, a hearty lot, who have taken to the trails despite the threat of rain.   As the mistiness begins, the hike to Kennesaw Mountain is a steady, rocky climb with many granite steps for our hiking pleasure.


The Kennesaw Mountain Battle in 1864 was one of the last “victories” of the Confederacy months before Sherman’s devastating March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah.


KM 3D more of trail

Our one mile climb to the top of Kennesaw Mountain takes 25 minutes and we begin to wonder about the wisdom of hiking the entire six mile loop.  In an act of maturity, which is no small feat for the two of us who think that a good day on vacation is hiking three to four hours, we opt for hiking just to Little Kennesaw Mountain, 1.8 miles into the 6 mile loop.

KM 3C rocky trail

Hiking down to a gap between the two mountains and then up to Little Kennesaw Mountain with its still very rocky trail, we are feeling righteously smug that we didn’t choose to do the macho hike and be Les Miserables.

Still looking good in the rain!

Still looking good in the rain!


As we summit Little Kennesaw Mountain, the valley below opens up, but the mist we have had through much of the hike becomes steady light rain; we U-turn for the trailhead.   In the light rain, I shoot this video of the trail to give you an idea of our afternoon in Georgia.


Surprised, that despite the rain, Georgians keep coming our way; we see couples, groups of guys, and single women not bothered by the steady precipitation.  Three male runners are using this climb as a training workout; one young man with a full pack runs past us going up and then later coming down the mountain.

KM 4 D and H preview

Meeting a couple just a few years younger than we are with their pooch, we learn that they hike this mountain every weekend.  She adds, We aren’t gone to melt if it rains.

As we hike on back to the trailhead in steady light rain, we find we don’t melt either.  And by the way, who knew 30-40% meant it actually could rain?



Travel tip – If you only carry-on luggage when you fly, consider requesting a seat in the back of the plane.  In our experience, airlines load from the back after they board their high paying customers.  By selecting a seat in the back and boarding earlier, we have a better chance to stow our bags above the seats rather than be forced to check them at the gangway and be delayed when we arrive at our destination.