The sky lifted and a sliver of blue finally shown ahead. The sun peeked out of a blanket of dark, storm clouds and illuminated the snow on the branches and ground. It was my second day in the Smokies and I had been crunching in a couple inches of snow for hours - my glasses fogging up and my breath visible all around me. 24 hours earlier I was in shorts and a t-shirt, heading out of Fontana Dam in 75 degree weather. I had planned to hike 15 miles but stopped 3 miles shy at the first shelter to grab safety from the storm. The last 1.5 miles were a sprint up the mountain as I saw thunder and lightning flying towards me. I fell asleep to torrential rains and heavy winds beating down on the shelter roof, only a foot away from my head. I kept thinking - please don't collapse on me. I awoke to below freezing temperatures and two inches of snow on the ground. The vast weather changes chilled me to the bone, but man was it beautiful!
On my third day in the Smokies I reached Clingman's Dome, and the hike up was surreal - hiking along a thin ridge, higher than any other peak around. I kept going up and up to the top of the world it seemed like. The trees became evergreens and the fresh smell in the air was incredible. A couple tenths from the top, the trail turned to a paved road and the serenity completely vanished. Hundreds of overweight tourists were plodding up to the walkway at the top. The views were amazing up there - complete 360 views for hundreds of miles, but it was all out of context. It felt artificial being up there like I was looking from a skyscrapper - amazing nonetheless, but something was definitely missing. I ended up doing 18 miles in the slush and ice and made it to Gatlinburg, TN in the afternoon - happy to have a warm shower and a cozy bed.