This is one of the park’s most popular attractions. Families, often with numerous children in tow, trek up the mountain side for an opportunity to see the view. Hearing about Chimney Tops is definitely not the same thing as experiencing Chimney Tops. At the start of the trail, there is a photo of people scaling the famous Anakeesta slab pinnacle with text announcing in ominous tones that the only way to see the view is to climb on “these rocks” which are slippery when wet, and the risk is yours. Still folks of all ages and outdoor affinities (including no affinity) cram the parking lot and at least begin the hike. Though to be honest, a Thursday in mid-April, even a sunny one, doesn’t produce many visitors. There is just a slow trickle of people on the trail.
The trail doesn’t seem that bad at just two miles and 1300 feet in elevation gain. Those with no real experience hiking, however, will likely be deterred after the split with Road Prong Trail. At that point, the Chimneys Trail starts a mercifully short, but intensely brutal climb over pure rock. On this hot spring day, people are panting and sweating profusely. Once past this, the trail moderates in a series of switchbacks to the ridge. Both going up and coming down, I pause to watch a chickadee couple fly in and out of a small hole in a dead tree snag. I can hear them pecking away on the inside renovating the lodging for their new family!
The pinnacle itself is a tremendously fearful sight. The thought of climbing up that sucker, especially with a heavy backpack (camera), is daunting and scary. I chicken out, then curse myself as a fool for not trying, then curse myself as a fool for trying, and finally manage to arrive at the top after much angst and procrastination. The views from this special perch are nothing short of inspiring and make all the sweat and fear worthwhile, but then you have go back down! Inching slowly on my butt across very hot, dirty shale rock is not my idea of a fun day in the Smokies, but once down I feel great for having accomplished it. In talking with Nick, my husband, that evening, I relay my internal debate – an idiot for not trying or an idiot for trying. He says, “Well, you made it, so you aren’t an idiot. If you fell off, then you’d be an idiot.” True.
For a short while, I am the only person on the Chimneys pinnacle. Then a man steps up from the front edge. He is Bennett, an Alabama football fan from Georgia, who has hiked up to eat lunch. Something he’s done before. We take each other’s photo, have a bite to eat, and talk for some time. It is just the two of us enjoying the view and the solitude for nearly an hour…the Smokies at their best!!