Clingman's Dome & Mt. Collins, NC/TN (7-25-12)
If there are two peaks less alike in the Southern Appalachians, yet so close in proximity, I haven't visited them yet. Located along the Appalachian Trail south of Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountians, Clingman's Dome and Mt. Collins represent (to me) the best and worst of what the southern mountains can offer. Both peaks top out well over 6,000 feet...Clingman's Dome at 6,643' and Mt. Collins at a respectable 6,188'. Mt. Collins, while astride the Appalachian Trail and no doubt visited by hundreds if not thousands of hikers per year, is relatively unknown. I'd wager that most people don't even know they've knocked off a 6K'er when they pass. Clingman's Dome, on the other hand, is a destination that hundreds of thousands of people visit each year from all over the country...and therein lies the difference. One all but unknown, and one overrun. On top of that there is the difference in the summits. Mt. Collins is tree covered and mostly viewless. Clingman's Dome has nice views but at a price. Back in the 60's improvements were being made in all the National Parks in response to greater demand. The demand was for more modern facilities. On Clingman's Dome this meant the replacement of the original wooden lookout with a gaudy, concrete spaceship-looking tower. It in no way compliments its surroundings...it's simply hideous to look at. It's a shame that, due to overuse and poor park planning, that such a magnificent peak can be so disappointing. I began my hike from the Clingman's Dome Road where it intersects the Forney Ridge Trail. A short path provided access to the A.T. and I simply headed south the 4-ish miles over Mt. Collins and up to Clingman's Dome. The weather was supposed to be clear but what the forecast calls for and what actually happens are commonly quite different at these elevations. Clouds, and lots of them, would be the theme of the day. As it turns out, this wasn't such a bad thing. It kept the temps refreshing and, due to a general lack of views along this section of the A.T. you don't really miss out on all that much. One thing the clouds didn't manage to do was keep the crowds away on the Dome. The hike was one of striking contrasts between wonderful wilderness solitude and irritating, obnoxious crowds. Not a hike I intend to repeat anytime soon but, regardless, #13 and #14 are off the list...
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: HARD
Hike Length: ~8.0 miles Hike Duration: 4:45
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people (100+ @ Clingman's Dome Summit)
Min. Elevation: 5,640' Max. Elevation: 6,643'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,840' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 230'
Trails Used (blaze color): Appalachian Trail (white)