Getting our gear and lunch together, we cross Clingmans Dome Road and pick up the Appalachian Trail within a hundred feet. Turning left, we are now on the granddaddy of America’s long trails, the famous and fabled A T.
Our destination, Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
Immediately we pass four backpackers hiking in the opposite direction, already more hikers than we saw during our entire trip on Sassafras Mountain two days ago.
The hikers keep on coming. A young couple. A bunch of guys. A lone backpacker. This last one is a tall stringbean of a guy with an Adam’s apple and thin unruly hair. He stops, we stop. This happens a lot on the trail. It’s easy to get up a conversation with other hikers, as if we have all day to get where we’re going.
Stringbean starts the conversation, “Where’s it at?”
I think, “‘Where’s it at?’ Who talks like this? This guy from Pittsburgh?”
“Where’s what at?” I ask him.
“Where’s the Dome?”
“The Dome? Clingman’s Dome? It’s back thataway. There’s a side trail from the AT to the summit and the ‘Dome.’ You passed it about a mile ago.”
“He mutters, “Ahh, fuck.” Only it sounds more like “Awww, fuuuuuck.” He says, “I planned to see the Dome but now I don’t wanna go back.”
I offer, trying to soothe him, “Look around, it’s pretty fogged in. You probably wouldn’t have seen much of anything anyway.”
“Well, where’s that ice thing? The ice shelf? The ice ridge?”
“You mean Icewater Spring shelter?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. Where’s that at?”
“It’s about 14 miles thataway,” indicating the direction he was walking.
Icewater Spring shelter is on the flank of Mount Kephart, just down the hill from the summit. Horace Kephart was an American writer who chronicled his life in the Great Smoky Mountains. He said, “I owe my life to these mountains and I want them preserved that others may profit by them as I have.” No doubt he was thinking about Stringbean. Maybe Stringbean will be inspired to recite poetry once he gets there.
Good luck to him. Icewater Spring shelter is one of the most popular shelters in the Park. Might be crowded.
Some people get where they hope to in this world. Most of us don’t.
—James Agee, Tennessee poet