CLINGMANS DOME

What do you do when your tent has been pitched at Elkmont campground and you’ve got a couple of hours of daylight left? You drive to Clingmans Dome! This entire weekend was about spontaneous plan adjustments and Clingmans was no different. We originally intended on driving up and hiking around midnight to stargaze (I had seen some pretty milky way pictures from here). However, according to my weather app it was going to be a cloudy night, and therefore little to no stars to see.

When we arrived at the parking lot around 6:30pm there were only a handful of spots left. The sun was still peaking through the clouds and it was way colder up there than I anticipated. Thank God for parkas! There were plenty of tripods and cameras set up at the lot and for a moment I wondered if it was even worth going up to the top. Maybe these photographers knew something I didn’t.

This is where my FOMO kicked in and I started taking some pictures of the sky. It was nothing to be impressed by though. I also had no idea what the sky was about to do. So we stopped at the restrooms real quick and headed to the trailhead.

At the base of the trail there are signs leading you in the right direction. I quickly found out why they do not allow strollers, wheelchairs or bikes on this paved trail. It’s only half a mile long, but it’s a steep 13% gradient! You’ll gain 332 ft. and break a sweat immediately. They have benches along the way and if you prepare with enough time you can get to the top at your own pace. The hike is a straight shot up. You’ll make a slight right near the end and the entire tower and walkway open up in front of you.

We did not have the luxury of taking our time and did it in one shot without stopping. Tony’s legs are way longer than mine and I tried keeping up with him. When I tell you my lungs were on fire. I mean, seriously. ON FIRE! It took us 16 minutes to get to the base of the tower.

The tower at Clingmans Dome provides panoramic views of the mountains below. You can see Tony (furthest right) at the top of the observation tower. It was really cold up there. About 20 degrees colder than lower laying areas. But the views are unlike any other we’d seen in the park so far.

Now, let’s talk about sunset. HOLY CRAP am I happy we did that instead of trying to stargaze with a poor chance of being able to see anything. The sky was so beautiful that it made me forget that we broke into a sweat climbing that steep incline. I completely forgot my lungs were on fire. I have to get the words out of my brain to describe what I saw this weekend! The best way to do it is to dig deep into my past undergrad memories and pull out every descriptor I’ve ever used in a college essay as follows:

The sky began its show by turning into soft shades of blue and barely-there pink. They were the kinds of shades found in freshly made cotton candy. So fluffy and perfect. As the shades deepened I could almost taste the sweetness of the colors moving through the sky. While at the top of the trail the sky decided rather haphazardly to turn parts of it’s cotton candy colored clouds into flames with help from the sun. It displayed bright reds and oranges burning through the clouds. The display of balanced colors between soft and sweet and brilliantly ferocious was the show of a lifetime. The sky gave us so much to see, so much to feel and demanded nothing in return…

Excuse my brain, it can be cheesy sometimes. But it’s as genuine a telling of what we saw as told by me. I’m sure the sensation of bliss and happiness was also amplified by the fact that I was with my husband and we were enjoying each others’ company. But look at these pictures!!! How could I not be?

I promise you these are not filtered in any way shape or form. No photoshop, no special lenses, no filters, just sheer beauty captured by a lucky amateur photographer dangling a Nikon from my neck.

My legs are still super sore by the way. My shins hurt real bad too lol, but it was totally worth it and I would 1000% do it again.

Here’s a video of us recorded on my iPhone 8 Plus on our way down to show you real time sky colors. Don’t mind us, we were rushing back to the car because it was getting colder by the minute.

“She knew she loved him when home went from being a place to being a person.”

E. Leventhal
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KIRKJUFELL

Any self respecting Game of Thrones fan would know that Kirkjufell is a must see when visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We were lucky to find an inexpensive Airbnb that was right on the water. From our Airbnb we could see Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss, circled below.

[Sidebar: If you are new to Airbnb and would like a discount on your first stay, please use my link HERE. If you’re already a member and would like to book the same Airbnb, click HERE.]

Iceland as an entity, as a whole, is chock-full of beautiful backgrounds and breath taking landscapes. I would randomly take pictures of my sister and no matter where I did that, it was a beautifully detailed Icelandic background. However, with social media exposing locations at an all time high, the serenity of it all has been lost in the more touristic spots. If you’re a reader, then you know I prefer hard to reach places. It was hard to fight my urge to avoid tourist while wanting to fan girl GOT filming sites.

So we parked at the lot seen below. We watched the desperation of drivers trying to find a spot to place their rentals. I even lost my cool myself when someone tried to skip the line and take my spot! Then we got out of the car to find that the walkway was flooded (see red arrow below). That forced us and everyone else to walk uphill on the road to get around the flooded area. I didn’t know at the time, but there is a new parking lot up the road. It’s much larger and can save you some time waiting for a spot. And more importantly, save your sanity.

I want to give you realistic expectations when visiting Kirkjufell. This picture below has 5 people poorly edited out of the shot. So if you want the place to yourself, I would recommend getting up before sunrise. And even then I cannot guarantee you’ll have the place to yourself considering this was off peak season. But good luck!

You’ll have people who don’t care about the railings and climb over them to get their “perfect” shot. These same people are the ones that will most likely be in your shots too. Patience is key in these situations!

Here’s what it actually looks like:

The person in the red jacket didn’t move once the whole time we were there. So frustrating!

And here’s what it’s like when the trail has flooded: The people walking up the road will also be in your shots lol.

If you give up trying to capture both the waterfall and the mountain in one shot (and you wait patiently) you can get a nice group shot with just your friends and Kirkjufell in the background. And at the end of the day, isn’t it really just about traveling with close ones and making memories? Looking at these pictures brought a smile to my face, other tourists and all lol.

As for the Game of Thrones reference: Kirkjufell can be seen in S6 Ep5, S7 Ep1, S7 Ep6. I would post an image here but as a newbie blogger, I’d like to avoid copyright infringement 😉

Overall here are my thoughts on Kirkjufell. It’s certainly an odd shaped distinguishable mountain. Is it worth going to Kirkjufellsfoss to see the waterfall and mountain in one shot? Probably not. Simply because the mountain can be viewed from different angles on road #54 and there are waterfalls everywhere in Iceland.

However, the next time I’m in that area I’d like to hike Kirkjufell. Now that’s a view I wouldn’t mind sharing!

Iceland, I’m in love with that country, the people are incredible.”

Kit Harington