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This past Sunday, Cara and I hiked the Chimney Tops trail in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, TN. We got an early start on the trail and were among the first people up that day.

There is a sign at the trailhead that mentions that you have to climb some rocks to get to "see the view", but we started without really understanding what was involved. The hard part for me was not climbing rocks, it was hauling my bloated carcass up the side of the mountain to get to the rocks.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The mountain we climbed was visible from the road:

Yeah, the big one there. That's what the trail lead to. We didn't know this at the time.

The hike begins with a nice calm hike through some beautiful woods and you cross over a lively mountain stream several times. At this point, my backpack was riding nicely, we were stopping to take pictures every time we saw something cool and we were in grand spirits:

After the first mile or so, the Road Prong trail we started on ended and you have the option of hiking out to the Appalachian Trail or heading on up to the Chimney Tops. Since I don't have a South American mistress, we headed for the Chimney Tops. I should note that I was getting tired by this time. It wasn't so much the distance - a mile is nothing - but rather more the constant and steep incline, to say nothing of my increasingly heavy backpack.

If anyone is a scat expert, maybe you can identify this:

I assumed it belonged to a bear who had been eating lots of berries. My backpack suddenly seemed like a little bit less of a millstone.

When we finally reached the end of the trail, I was ready to drop. Cara, fresh as a daisy, was just about skipping along. The first thing I did was take off my backpack and tuck it out of sight under a rock ledge. It didn't seem like the best idea to carry it while climbing this:

We climbed most of the way up and ran into even steeper rocks. Deciding we had made it as far as was sane to do, we took some pictures and prepared to head back.
(panoramic image - click to embiggen)

Cara and I picked our way back to the trail from the peak and I grabbed my pack. As we headed down, we passed another hiker on his way up. Pleasantries were exchanged, and we each went our separate ways. After a short ways, Cara began to have second thoughts.

"Ben, I think we should go back and go to the very top."

I went out of my way to attempt to reassure her that we had just completed the hardest part of a very respectable hike and that a climb to the very top of the peak was just too risky. The incline of the last portion was just too steep. My phone didn't get reception on the mountain so if something happened, we'd have to wait until someone came by unless I was able to get someone's attention as I tumbled 1,700 feet. All told, it just wasn't a good idea.

So of course we turned around to climb to the top.

When we got back, we saw the other hiker sitting right at where we had stopped drinking a water. Cara chatted pleasantly as she scampered right past him and nonchalantly vaulted the rocks that he and I had viewed as a pretty formidable obstacle.

Well crap. If she did it, then we had to do it. Allen - the other hiker - and I started to follow Cara as she climbed the rocks. I was able to turn around and catch him coming up over the last part of the ridge:

Allen and I exchanged cameras and took some pictures of each other at the top.

We were able to get a picture of the road you drive up to get into the mountains. Those slightly wider spots are the pullouts from which we took the first pictures in this account.

On the way back down, Allen lost the soles to both of his boots. To make matters worse, I didn't have duct tape in my backpack. We saw him safely off the peak, but I do not envy his trip back down the trail.

It was an amazing climb, and I'm so glad Cara convinced me to make that last push.
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