I woke up yesterday for about the eighth time that night, which is normal, and could feel through the tiny hole in my sleeping bag left for my nose to breathe that it was the coldest morning on the trail yet. Even cuddling with 15 of my closest new friends in a three sided shelter on top of a mountain in the Smokies couldn't prevent the cold from creeping in. I convinced myself that the roar I heard outside was the roar of the nice, warm sun trying to fight through the night, not the frigid wind beating the sides of the stone shelter. We were on a mission this morning.
It was about 4:45am when we got up the courage to get out of the safety of our sleeping bags, and that's when the race was on. The previous night we camped about three miles south of Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. We wanted to celebrate the occasion by hiking to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise.
Once out of the sleeping bag I checked the sky to see what kind of view we would be working with this morning. Best night sky I have seen in a long time. In just a few minutes I had seen four shooting stars. It was a clear, crisp morning. I knew it was time to go.
With frozen hands I packed up all my belongings as fast as possible, scarfed down a frozen snack bar, put on wet boots and started up a mountain in the dark. Once Selfy found the right trail, we were off.
The thing about racing the sun to the top of a mountain is that the sun never stops to take a break, drink water, or gets lost down the wrong trail. We guessed it would take a little over an hour to reach the summit. Apparently hiking in the morning in freezing weather with ice and mud and complete darkness slows you down a little bit.
The sky slowly went from black, spotted with countless stars, to a magnificent shade of purple, to dark blue, red, blood orange, and every color in between. It was beautiful. But as it got brighter, I knew time was running out. I had to get to the top before the sun.
After what seemed like way too long of an uphill, I passed a sign that told me it was 0.3 miles to Clingman's Dome. In that last 0.3 miles, there was much more sprinting than hiking going on as the sky continued to get brighter and brighter. All I could think about while running up the mountain was that I was not going to let Mother Nature win again, not after she had been kicking our ass with wind and rain for the last week. It was my turn for a win.
I got to the summit, threw my pack down without slowing down, continued sprinting up the ramp of the tower atop Clingman's Dome as other hikers who were already there cheered me on, and got there just in time to see the most amazing sunrise I have ever seen. I won. Mother Nature: like 16, Me: 1. But a really good one.
The pictures don't do it any justice, but photo creds go to Icarus as my phone was dead.