In Episode 24, we answer your questions and hear your feedback about the show, check out the News From Around the Mountains, and venture to the Clingmans Dome area to Silers Bald for our Spotlight Hike of the Week.
News from Around the Mountains
- The Ramsey Cascades Trail remains closed after a bridge was damaged a month ago. No word still on a reopening date. The Chimney Tops trail will be closed Mondays-Thursdays starting May 5 and running through October 16 for continued trail maintenance. Nolan Creek Trail also remains closed after a landslide.
- A cabin with 20 inhabitants caught fire this week and two visitors from Indiana were unfortunately killed. The cause of the fire is not yet known. One tip for you after this awful tragedy….check the smoke detectors any time you rent a cabin. I have been in them more than once when they were not functional.
- On brighter news, the Smokies got a huge cash donation this week of almost 2 and a half million dollars from an anonymous donor. The money will be used to pay loans on existing projects and help fund new guest experiences and experiments.
- Another fire, this time in Gatlinburg on Ski View Drive damaged the entire Condo complex. Luckily no one was seriously injured or killed, but several had to be rescued from high windows. The cause of the fire was someone cooking breakfast.
- After a woman was struck in one of the crosswalks in gatlinburg, business leaders and citizens took their displeasure about pedestrian safety to the city commission meeting. If you are unaware, the crosswalks go over 4 lanes of traffic. Cars are SUPPOSED to stop for pedestrians, but sometimes they don’t. The speed limit is just 25, but if traffic is light people will fly through here. Several things have been done over the years at crosswalks including road elevation changes, brick patterns, and color changes. The system will only be as effective as the people behind the wheel. More signage is a no-brainer, but short of adding more traffic lights (PLEASE NO) i’m not really sure what more can be done. This has been a problem since the early days of the town. Do be careful when crossing. I’ve slammed a hood on a car that nearly ran me down several years back, and like many of you, i’ve had several other close calls. Never let your kids go out ahead of you here. Keep them close.
Spotlight Hike of the Week (Silers Bald)
With the temperatures looking they are going to be warmer for real this time, I thought I would take us to a road that has been perpetually closed over the last several months due to the winter season. Our Spotlight Hike of the Week takes us to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and to the top of Silers Bald. We have ventured out this way two other times here on Smoky Mountains Radio. The climb to the top of the observation tower at the summit of Clingmans Dome is here, as is the Forney Ridge Trail that took us to Andrews Bald. We will begin our hike to Silers Bald at the same place.
To get to the trailhead, you will drive the 7 mile Clingmans Dome Road at the top of Newfound Gap until it ends at the parking area. You will go to the left side of the parking area to find Forney Ridge Trail to begin our journey, just like we did for the Andrews Bald hike. This 9.8 mile round-trip hike has a moderate difficulty rating, though it does have a few tough sections. We’ll get into that in just a minute. So lets get started.
As we start on the Forney Ridge Trail, you are likely to be bombarded by people. The Clingmans Dome area is almost perpetually busy, and Andrews Bald is one of the busiest hikes in the Smokies. But fear not, you will leave most of these people behind in less than 5 minutes. Just .1 mile from starting, take the trail junction to the right onto Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail. Very rarely will anyone follow you onto the trail. It receives less than a tenth of the traffic Andrews Bald gets. As you leave the throngs of people behind, so you start to really take in your surrounding. You are doing a lot of walking along the crest of the Smokies, and given the fact that you are nearly 6,500 feet in elevation, the views are terrific most of the way. The trail goes uphill for the next portion of the hike, but nothing too strenuous. At .6 mile, you will reach Mount Buckley and as become common for us, an intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Turn left here.
At this point, the trail will mostly descend. There are some uphills along this section, but you are steadily losing elevation. You will still have views that seem to go on forever (depending on the day) intertwined with brief periods between the trees. With all the ridge line walking on this hike, sunscreen can be a good idea, even in winter. The elevation with the harsh uv rays can make you a lobster in no time. Sunglasses are also an excellent idea.
Where do you want to look? North Carolina? Tennessee? Gatlinburg? Mount LeConte? It seems that the options are endless throughout this trail. There are great floral opportunities here (or at least i’m told). As we’ve said before, I am not the flower/plant/tree guy. At the 2.6 mile mark, you reach another trail intersection with the Goshen Prong Trail. Stay straight on the AT.
3.4 miles in you will pass by one of the hundreds of shelters along the Appalachian Trail. This one is the Double Spring Gap Shelter. Overnight stays here are allowed with advanced reservations, and since this trail is along the AT, you will want to make your reservations as soon as possible. Most of the shelters we will cover here on Smoky Mountains Radio are along the AT, and that is simply because most of the shelters in the national park are on the AT. In fact, there are two shelters along this hike. We will get to the other momentarily.
Continuing from the shelter the trail continues steadily downward until you get to the point were the trail narrows and have drop-offs all around you. Once you pass The Narrows, the trail will begin the sharpest ascent of the hike. They want to make sure you have to work to get to the bald, and it is a grind. Luckily, it does not last very long. Only about the last 1/2 mile or so is tough. At 4.9 miles in you will reach Silers Bald.
Compared with Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald, this one does not offer the panoramic views and wide open spaces that you see in the others. This one is full of overgrowth and trees that the park service has allowed to mostly reclaim the area. But, there are still great views to be had here as you explore around the corners here at the summit. And it is a great place to relax and take in the breezes that can be very refreshing after a hard day’s work. If you want to increase your views, simply keep walking along the trail a little further. Views open up again shortly after moving forward and just .3 mile past Silers Bald is Silers Bald Shelter which offers another place to stay for the night or simply relax for awhile before making your journey back.
Most of the trail back to the trailhead is uphill to get back to your car. But again, with an elevation change of only 1200 feet, it is not too bad. But you will certainly be tired at the end of it. The best hikes in the park tend to be the ones that make you work for it. At nearly 10 miles in length, this one is a challenge without being overwhelming. And hey, if you get to the trailhead and decide it is too rough, you have easy Clingmans Dome and Andrews Bald right next door. Do keep in mind that the access road to this hike is closed during the winter, and this area of the park tends to be much cooler than the towns below. You can expect a good 15-20 degree difference, so be sure to plan ahead with your clothing. Have a good time.
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Intro/Outro Music: ”KM 19″ by “The Breakmen” www.thebreakmen.com