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Ascent to Clingmans Dome-Newfound Gap on 2007-03-25

Climber: John Hasch

Date:Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ascent Type:No Summit Goal
    Motorized Transport to Summit:Car
Point Reached:Clingmans Dome - Newfound Gap
    Location:USA-Tennessee/North Carolina
    Elevation:5046 ft / 1538 m

Ascent Trip Report

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 5046 ft.

Sunday, 3/25/2007

I awoke around 6:30am and was now on my way home. Take I-81 and I-40 to Knoxville, turn north on I-75, and home is just hours away. It was at this time that I realized just how close I was to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I decided to make a quick detour since I had never been there before. I would add Clingman’s Dome to my list of state highpoint visits and offset the miss at Mount Rogers.

The traffic on the road through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge was light at this time of the day, and I was making good time. I was in awe of the numerous motels, tourist attractions and traps that lined the road in those two towns. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that tourism was a major economic force here.

I arrived at the Gatlinburg bypass around 8:00am. I stopped once and snapped a picture of a wild turkey that crossed the road in front of me. Finally reaching the park, I stopped at the Sugarlands Visitors Center for a brief bathroom and stretching break before the expected trip to Newfound Gap and Cligman’s Dome.

To my horror, when I got inside, I asked a park ranger about the road to Clingman’s Dome. He replied that the road was not yet opened! The park service apparently has an unwavering policy of closing the road during the winters from Dec 1 to Mar 31. I was one week too early! Never mind that there was no snow in sight, and temperatures in the lowlands were in the shirtsleeve-pleasant 70’s. Today was a gorgeous day! But policies are policies, and I was not going to drive to Clingman’s Dome today. I decided to enjoy a trip up the mountain road to visit the highest accessible point, Newfound Gap, where the road crosses over the ridge between Tennessee and North Carolina.

I love mountain road drives. Winding. Slow speeds. Curves where you swear you can see the back of your own car as the front winds its way around. The plants and animals of the various ecosystems are interesting too. It’s like going to the zoo or botanical gardens on a drive-through basis. As I recall, there were three tunnels, including one “signature” tunnel that makes a corkscrew turn of MORE THAN 360 degrees as the road climbs the mountain.

I arrived at Newfound Gap and noted a sign on the state line. This white sign stated “North Carolina” on one side and “Tennessee” on the other. I parked, got out, and took a few snapshots of the distant smoky mountains on the North Carolina side. The Smoky Mountains are an artist’s dream. Each mountain appears to be painted with its own hazy, shady hue of blue. This is a one-of-a-kind venue and worth the cost (free!) of admission.

Next to the parking lot to the east is an elevated area beside the Appalachian Trail that disappears as it winds its way east. I climbed up there and shot a couple pictures before returning to my car. I then drove the short distance to the Clingman’s Dome road and confirmed that the gate there was indeed closed. I briefly considered making the 14 mile round trip hike to the dome, but I abandoned that thought when I realized such an effort would take too much time on a trip that was already a detour from my schedule. I would return to climb Clingman’s Dome another day.

I returned to the Gatlinburg bypass along the same roads I had ascended. (This should not be real surprising since there is only one main road through the park!) Driving north to Pigeon Forge, I noted a highway trivia detail that you will not see very often. As you would expect, this road is US 441 North. However, this road is also US 321 SOUTH for the drive to Pigeon Forge. Similar to a hiker who loses elevation when he drops down before continuing up, US 321 makes a brief northerly bend before reaching Pigeon Forge where it returns to a more southerly path. How often can you truthfully say you are traveling NORTH and SOUTH at the same time?

Being later in the day, the trip from Pigeon Forge to I-40 took considerably longer. In fact the traffic for most of this route was bumper to bumper as the sleep-in Sunday morning tourists were now rising and on the road. Once I reached I-40, the traffic flow improved, and I continued a more normal drive homeward.
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