A New Battle Between Mt. Mitchell and Clingman’s Dome?

posted in: Miscellaneous | 10

In response to my post about the new observation platform atop Mt. Mitchell, Allen said:

“Now that the old 45 tower has been replaced by the observation deck on Mt. Mitchell, is a person standing on the Clingmans Dome tower in the Smokies at a higher elevation, or does the Mt. Mitchell deck still put you at a higher level? In other words, how tall is the deck above the mountain top?”

Good question! I figured this one was worth a little bit of research.

The summit elevation at Mt. Mitchell is 6,684 ft. and the deck of the new Mt. Mitchell platform is 12 ft. above the mountaintop (according to the Asheville Citizen-Times), so the elevation of your feet when standing on the platform would be 6,696 ft. Now the summit of Clingman’s Dome is said to be 6,643 ft. According to Brittanica, the deck of that tower is 54 ft. high. So if the base of the tower is right at summit elevation, that puts the deck at 6697 ft. Which means that you’re now standing 1 foot higher on the Clingman’s Dome tower than the Mt. Mitchell observation platform!


Clingman's Dome tower on a snowy day

Are these folks now standing higher than people on the platform atop Mt. Mitchell?

That would be a bit of justice finally to Mr. Clingman, I guess, considering the famous dispute between he and Dr. Mitchell regarding which mountain in the region was higher. But of course, the figures above might be just a hair off. In fact, I recently read that one new satellite-based measurement of Mt. Mitchell put the actual summit elevation at closer to 6,710 feet. (I need to find that article again, so don’t quote me on it).

Now these figures are so close, in the age of data and technology I think we need a better way to come up with a winner than just adding up numbers that “The Officials” have told us to be true. So let the new quest to find the highest tower begin! If anyone cares to get some GPS or altimeter readings on both towers, I’d be interested in seeing what they said. The more readings, the better. Both barometric altimeters, and actual GPS measurements. Make sure the unit is on the deck of the tower (the part you stand on, not the railing) when getting the reading. Come back and post it in the comments here, along with as much info as you can – device used, date, time, and other information such as calibration point. If we could get multiple readings by multiple people that we could average together, that’d help correct any aberration in any given unit at the time the measurement was taken. And use the same device for both readings, calibrated to the closest USGS benchmark or known elevation you can find. And if anyone wants to pull a tape up there and confirm the heights of the decks, that’d help too. We’ll collect the readings and start to see which one looks like it’s coming out the winner!

Regardless, of the exact measurements, they’re both literally within a stone’s throw of each other in height (as is Mt. Craig at 6,645′, and it has no tower at its top, making it my favorite).  Best to go to each one and enjoy them all so no matter what, you can say you were standing at the highest possible (albeit man-made) point in the Appalachians!

10 Responses

  1. Richard Harper

    Very interesting article. As someone who visits both mountains as often as possible, but Mt Mitchell more often.. I would love to hear a followup on the true elevation of Mt Mitchell. I have been to both many times, and for some reason, Mt Mitchell seems much higher to me. It might be that the vertical incline of Mt Mitchell is higher than that of Clingman’s Dome, but not sure if that is the only reason alone.

  2. Palmer Short

    Wikipedia in separate articles claim both Mt Mitchell and Clingmans Dome are the highest on the Appalachian Trail.Forget about the platforms as they are not part of the mountain. which is the highest . Mt Mitchell is ranked the highest on te east coast with Clingmans Dome second . But are they both actually on the trail?

    • Keith

      Palmer: Mt Mitchell is not on the Appalacian Trail. The AT crosses the base of the observation tower at Clingmans Dome.

  3. jordan

    Palmer – good question. The Appalachian Trail does not cross Mount Mitchell, so that trail’s highest point is definitely at Clingman’s Dome. The North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail does cross Mt. Mitchell, so that’s its highest point. Interestingly, Clingman’s Dome isn’t really the second highest mountain on the East Coast either. According to the USGS, that title technically belongs to the mountain just a mile north of Mount Mitchell – Mt. Craig. Although, Mt. Craig only beats Clingman’s Dome by about 4 feet. I could make a pile of dirt higher than that on top of Clingman’s Dome with a shovel! And it’s possible that any of these measurements could change as we get more accurate technology for that type of thing. A lot of the listed elevations are based on very old manual surveys!

  4. Fred

    GPS’ed the bottom today: 6692.3 ft with a Trimble R8. The top of the tower is certified at 6695 feet

  5. Rick Dean

    After seeing a topography map of Clingmans Dome, I noticed that the entire tower complex is totally in North Carolina, not in Tennessee. So even if the tower is 1 foot taller than that of Mt Mitchell, Clingmans Dome’s tower is still standing in NC.

  6. jrcranstonri

    I think you need LIDAR to resolve this dispute. GPS is pretty accurate, but not perfect. I know that they’re doing LIDAR surveys on the White Mountains in NH.

  7. Pat M

    Pat M
    We really need to get to the top of this.
    Hard to believe 6,710′ vs 6,684′, but very interesting that C.D.’s observation deck is physically in N.C. if correct!

  8. Rich Dean

    I noticed the Observation Deck on Clingmans Dome is 45 ft high. So 6643 feet + 45 ft = 6688 feet total. The observation Deck on Mt Mitchell is 10 ft high. So 6684 feet + 10 feet = 6694 feet high. So even with the very short Observation Deck on Mt Mitchell, due to the mountain being taller, the Mt Mitchell short observation deck is still higher in total elevation than the tall tower on Clingmans Dome.

  9. lecontelog

    Check me on this, but I think the 54-foot figure for the Clingman tower is to the top of the roof. The viewing platform is 45 feet high. 45 tower+6643 summit=6684, which equals Mitchell’s summit. I haven’t put a tape measure to the Mitchell tower, but I would say it is 10 feet rather than 12.

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