This morning was cold. Cold and windy. Which made for a rather uncomfortable hike. The ground was frozen solid, or covered with snow, for most of the morning, and with the snow blown off the trees from yesterday, it no longer resembled a winter wonderland. Especially after the water lines to our water packs froze up.
We reached the first shelter, after 5.7 miles, and there was still a fire going in the fireplace as there were still two hikers packing up to start their day. It was a small fire, though, and it provided very little warmth while we ate "lunch".
Ultimately, we couldn't stay long because even with the fire in the shelter, we could not stay warm just standing still. So, we pushed on, knowing the reward was a short hike and a warm hotel bed.
We pressed on, and around 1 pm, after a few really annoying false peaks, we reached today's hike destination, Clingmans Dome, the high point on the Appalachian Trail, at 6667 ft. After we charged up the gently spiraling (though snowy and icy) ramp to the observation deck (using our trekking poles and momentum from the joy of another milestone — almost 200 miles on the trail — to blow past all the visitors who were treading gingerly on the ice).
At the top was a surprise: Beast's parents were there, waiting for us (me, Beast, Loon, and Verge). They had been following his Spot checkins, and correctly guessed based on that what time we would get to Clingmans. After hugs, handshakes, and photos, they gave us a lift to the Park Vista (a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, because apparently, three brand names are necessary?), saving us from having to hitchhike into town, and even had water, chips, and apples for us! (Thanks so much again!)
After hot showers and laundry, we went into downtown Gatlinburg to kill some time before dinner. (Verge offered to stay behind to make sure the laundry dried, and then took it up to the room when it was done.), the four of us went to TGI Fridays for dinner. (Beast and I covered Verge's dinner since she volunteered for laundry duty.)
Afterwards, we hit the local Walgreens for resupply. It seems I'm having Mac & Cheese for dinner for the next week, and I'm swapping oatmeal breakfasts for Pop Tarts; that'll be much faster since I won't need to cook breakfast, and I'll be able to completely pack up my stove and cook pot in the evening after dinner.
Getting back to the hotel was a bit of a chore, since the public trolley stopped running at 9:30, and we had to call a few times to arrange for a taxi pickup.
Eventually back at the hotel, the four of us went to the hotel's pool and took full advantage of the water slide and hot tub. We were surprised at the number of kids still awake and using the pool at that time. Exhausted, we finally found sleep.