Double Spring Gap Shelter to Pecks Corner Shelter – 21.2 miles
I wake to the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof. I am slow to get moving, since I’m not thrilled to hike in the pouring rain. When I go retrieve my food bag, I notice it isn’t raining as hard as it sounded on the roof. This makes me feel better.
It’s only a short distance to Clingmans Dome. I take the side trail to the observation tower. Even though there is zero view and terrible weather, I feel the need to walk up the lookout, since this location is the highest point on the AT. Great Smoky Mountains NP is the busiest national park in the country and I am the only one here.
The trail is flooded all day; it’s like walking in a stream. The forest is quiet, calm, dark, and mossy; filled with spruce, pine, and fir trees and rich, dark soil. It’s a very cool setting. It doesn’t rain much in the morning, but it is very wet. I decide to pass the shelter at 13.8 miles and go on, 7.4 miles, to Pecks Corner Shelter.
In the afternoon, the weather gets worse. Much of the trail is on the mountain ridge, forming the TN-NC border. The wind is roaring and the rain blowing. I’m completely covered, wearing my rain gear and Gore-tex shell mittens. Parts of the trail on the ridge are about two feet wide and there are (what seems to be) steep drops to both sides. I can’t see but a few tens of feet off the ridge because of the dense clouds. It looks as though I could fall into a smoky abyss.
Three hikers pass me late in the afternoon, which surprises me. For me, when the weather is bad like this, it’s a race to the next shelter to be sure to get a spot. It seems that most hikers either do a short day or don’t hike at all and stay in the shelter. Therefore, in poor weather, I can only hope to get a spot in the shelters. I prefer not to pitch my tent in the rain if I can sleep in the shelter. I hike at the tail end of the three hikers for a while and when the girl needs to stop, I pass them. I need to get to that shelter before they do.
I get to the shelter, down a long side trail, and get a spot in the bunk. The shelter quickly fills after I get here. I lay out my pad and bag. I need to get warmed up, fast. I cook and eat as soon as possible.
Once I’m ready to get in my bag, I notice that the two people (both larger than me) on either side of me, did not leave me much space. I try as best as I can to slide into the top of my bag without disrupting them. It’s going to be a snug sleep tonight!
Clingmans Dome observation tower