Thursday, May 14, 2015

Smokies Day 4: Mother's Day Alum Cave Bluff and Clingman's Dome

 On our second day of hiking, it was Mother's Day! This was probably my favorite hike of the three we did, although I think it was also the most difficult. Of course, I was carrying Nathan (Neil had carried him the previous day and I had carried the food and sometimes Luke, so we switched the next day) so maybe it just felt harder! (I only carried Luke for maybe a mile the previous day.)

 This was a really beautiful and interesting hike. It went along next to the river for the first 1.3 miles or so and was super gorgeous. I can't get enough of the rivers in the Smokies; they have these huge amazing boulders that practically call out to you to come clamber around on them, and boy did we answer that call!

The trail was not in very good condition; in fact, it's closed 4 days a week for repairs. I think they're mostly working on the bridges, but all of the rocks and roots in the path made for some really sore feet! The vast majority of the trail looked like the photo below. It definitely keeps your mind engaged because you have to pick your foot placement for every step.

About 1.3 miles from the trailhead, you get to Arch Rock, which was really interesting. The trail goes right up through the cliff via a passage worn away by water and time.

The ceiling was very low and I went up the stairs pretty much on my hands and knees so that Nathan wouldn't smash against the ceiling. He did NOT like this part at all! It was also really slippery so Isaac and Luke were not big fans either. Lots of water dripping down the back of your neck, but I still thought it was cool. :-)

The trail right after Arch Rock is also pretty tricky...notice the steel cables alongside to use as a handgrip! (Notice also how they're hung too high for a kid to use comfortably...Abigail was the only one who could reach them.)

 We started getting some really beautiful views around this point. The birch were just starting to bud out and the hemlocks were dappling the mountain with their beautiful dark-green needles.

 Once we got up on top to Heath Bald, we found out for the first time that Isaac is afraid of heights. I felt so bad for him! He was fine as long as he couldn't see how high we were, so we quickly moved along the trail back into the hemlock forest.

 The girls hanging from a giant rhododendron growing over the path...

We stopped at Inspiration Point to see if we could find the Eye of the Needle and there it was!

 Almost at the top! The last part of the trail was SO hard. The trail was in terrible shape and it seemed like we slid backwards one step for every two steps forward. Nathan was really frustrated with our slow pace and started clawing at my skin and hair--I literally had blood dripping down my neck at this point.

The last 150 yards were by far the worst. It suddenly got super hot because we left the trees behind entirely and were climbing up this bare sandy slope of alum--the trail was completely gone and we were basically just grasping for a handhold on sand and trying not to slide backwards--and poor Isaac went completely berserk. I've never seen him like this--he was screaming and crying and absolutely terrified (and remember, Nathan is still clawing away while Neil is hauling Luke up!). So I held Isaac's hand and shielded his eyes and ignored Nathan while we made our slooow way up the hill to the cave (with lots of shrieking echoing off the bluff!) and just kept telling Isaac that we were almost at the top and then we would have lunch and he would feel safer.

Hah! Check out the solitary photo we took at the top and you'll see that basically there is no flat lunch spot. Argh!

So we sort of wriggled down the mountain until we found this little rocky slope here, and started to unpack--and Isaac just was a mess! Poor guy--can you see his sad sobbing little face in this photo? We couldn't get him to calm down so we packed everything back up again and went back down as fast as we could until we were back in the forest and then we passed out lunch stuff.

 Lunch take 2 back on Heath Bald--Isaac was okay with this the second time around (but this is the point where Luke desperately needed a real bathroom and all my wilderness attempts just did not cut it, so that was kind of exciting...).

 Some photos (sans captions) from our traipse back downhill...

Above: Neil washing Jolly Rancher (our hiking bribes) residue off of Luke's hands.

Below: one of the level rock-free stretches of trail! So rare that I had to take a photo. :-)
 Back down towards Arch Rock...

And then playing in the streams. Lots and lots of playing in the streams.

I think the last mile was one of the longest of my life! Nathan insisted on walking, but he was actually faster than the rest of us--hah! I made up some elaborate story about a penguin to tell Luke and he started embellishing it and telling it to his siblings--that lasted us most of that mile (short version: Luke has a life-sized penguin named Emperor who lives in his pillowcase; when Luke says the magic words then the pillow fluffs up to hold the penguin's box, which Luke painted blue and white on the inside to simulate glaciers. Fish grow on trees for Emperor to eat.) Then Luke went off about horse-eater penguins who live in trees, and drill holes out with their beaks, fly down and grab a horse with their claws and eat the horse from the inside out, and then fly back up to their trees and seal up the holes. He took considerable satisfaction in pointing out trees of a likely size to accommodate horse-eater penguins.

I found this birch log for Isaac to peel as he walked. It kept him busy and happy all the way back to the car and then he burned it that night.
 Abigail was the butterfly whisperer during this trip--she had SO many land on her!

 When we finally got to the bottom, we drove up to Clingman's Dome. We'd been planning to hike to the top (half a mile) and have a little testimony meeting, but when we got up to the trailhead, Luke was asleep and the rest of us were freezing cold and our feet hurt! So we took some photos and drove back down again.

 Mother's Day dinner back at the campsite, except somehow I wound up making it which would never happen at home...I told Neil he owes me since Sundays are his day to make dinner (we both love this tradition!).

And s'mores for dessert. Some of us just cut straight to the good stuff.

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