We met at Clingmans Dome about mid-morning for a trek out to Silers Bald and back. Things looked promising from the get-go. For this summer being so scorching hot, we were both amazed at how clear views were all around. The skies were a rich blue, the mountains a lush green, and you could see for miles without the interference from haze. Since it was early in the day and we were so high in elevation, the way up the Dome Bypass Trail was nice and cool, a much appreciated break from the oppressive heat down below. I knew it wouldn't last much longer, so I enjoyed it as much as I could.
After scaling Mt. Buckley, the tower at the dome was behind us and out of sight; thus, beginning our descent toward Silers Bald four and a half miles out. No matter which way you approach or depart Clingmans Dome, the trail is steep and rocky, unless it's the paved path up from the parking lot, in which case it's just steep. At least we had several vistas along this stretch that afforded views into both sides of the park. Again, we were astonished at how clear the views were for this time of year.
About halfway out you come to a clearing at Double Spring Gap which houses a backcountry shelter. When I was last here four years ago, it hadn't been renovated yet, but now it was and certainly looked more pleasing to the eye than that old raggedy chain link fence. What really brightened up the gap were the dense patches of coneflower, glowing in the late morning light. Of all the park's AT shelters, I think the one at Double Spring Gap has one of the better setting behind Mt. LeConte and Icewater Spring.
Pressing on, the surroundings continue to change. The ridge crest that the AT follows gets narrower and grassy, signs of the old balds that used to exist here. For this very reason, the stretch just east of Silers Bald is called The Narrows. They are entirely grown over at this point, but we both pondered how impressive the views would be here in the fall when the trees drop their foliage. As we got closer to our destination, you could catch glimpses through the trees of the steep climb that awaited us. Once you pass the junction with Welch Ridge, the trail wastes no time in heading up. Thankfully, it passed by quickly, and we were atop Silers Bald looking back at Clingmans Dome, impressed by the distance and drop in elevation we just covered. Hopefully the park at least maintains that view from the bald unlike the many others now forested over. Aside from the white blazes marking the AT, I followed a well trodden path to the north side of the bald that came out to a small rocky ledge. The view was fascinating as it overlooked the valley below of the Little River, with Mt. LeConte towering in the distance to the right, and the long spine of Miry Ridge, Dripping Spring Mountain, and Bent Arm Ridge to the left. And even now in the afternoon, the air was still clear.