The third day of hiking greeted us with dark clouds pouring over the Greenbrier ridge just a few miles from our campsite. My first hope was that we would enjoy a cooler hike this day than the last couple of hikes we had enjoyed. The second thought though, was that we would be rained on. We had planned to go up to Clingman’s Dome so that the kids could check it out and then hike the AT a few miles in and then out. But we were about to witness just what the Smokies could do with weather.
As we took the road up the mountains, we watched the temperature gauge. At Gatlinburg, it was 81 degrees at 9 am. As we drove up the 15 miles up to the top, we kept watching it drop. By Chimney Tops trailhead, it was 72. By the Alum Caves trailhead, it was 67. At Newfound Gap, it was 52. We were dressed in shorts and had some long sleeve shirts and our rain gear. When we reached Clingman’s Dome, the gauge read 48. That was quite a drastic change. We got out, but we quickly realized there was no way that the kids were going to enjoy this. Not only was it chilly, but it was drizzling and you could see maybe 100 feet ahead of you. There were going to be no views this time. I told my wife and kids to stay in the truck and I would haul up to the Dome to see if I could get a lucky shot. I didn’t. On the way back down, it started to sleet. Yes, ice was falling on me. Our trip on the AT just got changed.
So we had to re think this. We took out the map and looked at the trails near us, and we remembered that it was a nice warm 68 at the Alum Bluff Caves trail, a popular trail, but long enough we hoped it wouldn’t be swamped with people. We drove down, warming up to a wonderful 68 degrees, but cloudy. This was going to be an interesting day. It was at that point that I began to feel the tinges of a migraine.
I suffer from migraines. It’s my thorn in the flesh. It’s a huge thorn too. But, there are a few things that can help relieve them. Oddly enough, those same things that can relieve them, sex and vigorous exercise, can also make them explode in pain. So here I was, munching on a PBJ by the creek next to the trail and wondering what to do. As always, I picked the wrong choice, and decided to hike.
Despite the ever growing pain in my temples and neck, the trail is absolutely gorgeous. Huge trees make the trail into a wooded tunnel, with a creek crashing by right next to it. But as we went, I knew there was no way we could go too far before Id need to get back. So we decided to make it to Arch Rock. Im glad we did. It was a truly unique mark on the trail and the trail crosses a bridge and then cuts into the rock and up into the mountain. We also got lucky. Having drizzle hitting us all the way up to the Arch, as soon as we got in it,
the heavens opened and it started pouring very heavily. Thankfully, we remained dry under the mountain. We had a snack and as soon as they weather cleared, I packed the kid into the pack and hauled tail. I covered 1.3 miles in about 18 minutes. It was about as fast as I could go without running and slipping on all the roots and rocks.
We made it back to camp, somewhat wet, sore, in pain. But, we got a glimpse at this trail and I am certainly going to hike it up all the way to the top.