100 Miles (almost) in the Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains Natonal Park
3-9 June 2010
I ended up hiking the length of the park. My family dropped me off at Mt Sterling Ranger Station just off I-40 at the north end of the park, and I hiked a smattering of trails to get to Fontana Dam in the south. The mileage on the ATC map was consistently less than the mileage posted on the trail signs, but all told it was right around 100 miles...probably 97 or so.
- Mt Sterling Trail
- Big Creek Trail
- Camel Gap Trail
- Gunter Fork Trail
- Balsam Mtn Trail
- Beech Gap Trail
- Hyatt Ridge Trail
- Enloe Creek Trail
- Chasteen Creek Trail
- Bradley Fork Trail
- Dry Sluice Gap Trail (this was a serious buttkicker and I ran out of water for about 4 miles)
- AT from Charlie's Bunyon to Clingman's Dome
- Clingman's Dome Bypass Trail
- Forney Ridge Trail
- Forney Creek Trail
- Lakeshore Trail for the final 30-some miles...saw the most wildlife here
- Ended at Fontana Dam
This was a great trip! I did some night hiking, saw some bears (one walked right thru the campsite and circled us all night), drank water right from springs, got rain-soaked and didn't care, sweated, thought about nothing and everything, used the Bushbuddy with wet wood every day, slept alone most nights, sweated some more, caught a snake, ate free smoked pork chops, bought two ice creams from the Fontana Dam gift shop, where the lady made me eat half her hamburger and most of her fries, and I took a glorious shower...then drove straight to FL for Megan's graduation.
|Day One - 3 June 2010|
|We stayed in a nearby hotel last night, so I planned on about an hour's drive and I'd be hiking no later than 10am...but that didn't work out so well. We left the hotel almost on time, but then...well, I couldn't read the map to find the trailhead. It's not so much that I couldn't read it, but I'm used to reading 1:24 topos and this was 1:70 so the road we were on didn't look like the right one (proportions on the map weren't what I was expecting to see)...even though we were on the right one...and we missed the turn. Then went back and made a best-guess on the other road, and ended up taking a great scenic tour of hairpin turns and steep climbs. It was actually great scenery, but I think Jennifer was a little nervous on such a narrow winding road.
So we finally got to the Mt Sterling Ranger Station about noon instead of the ~10:30 we would have been there had I not gotten us lost (still trying to figure out how to blame it on Jennifer :p ). We said some quick goodbyes and they left to check on our rental place in North Carolina and see old friends. I had to call for my shelter reservations and eat some lunch before I started walking...but the reservations phone wasn't working, and of course there was no cell signal there. So I just wrote that on my permit and said I'd try to call later when I got reception. I ended up getting started around 1pm.
On Day One I planned ~12.5 miles, going from Mt Sterling Ranger Station to Laurel Gap Shelter:
|Here's my pack size at the Mt. Sterling Ranger Station. It's just under 30 lbs and has everything I need for the seven day trip without resupply.
It's a Gossamer Gear Miniposa, and this pic shows one of my favorite simple pieces of gear. The SmarTube is a hydration tube with special caps that fit all kinds of different bottles. There's one for Nalgene-sized lids and many kinds of commercial water bottles. I like using the 1L Fiji bottles, and this cap fits it perfectly. I like 1L because I use MicroPur pills and they're sized for 1L, and I like bottles so I can drink out of them like a normal bottle at meals and so that I can put drink mix in there and just throw them away...I don't use mix in my bladders b/c I don't like them to get cruddy. But with the SmarTube I get the benefits of both. Plus, with two bottles I just switch the tube to the second bottle while I refill and treat the first.
|This trip had LOTS of stream crossings...this picture was taken from the bridge between the ranger station and the beginning of Big Creek Trail|
|Big Creek Trail Sign...took this one for ~5.2 miles to Camel Gap Trail, passing Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls.|
|I ended up passing Midnight Hole, but I spent some time getting pics of Mouse Creek Falls. The light was so harsh that none of them came out very well, but it's a beautiful waterfall. It's only two miles in and the trail is wide and heavily used, so it looks like this spot gets a lot of visitors. Three folks showed up as I was taking pictures, making me realize that I'd have to keep hiking before finding any kind of solitude.
While I was here, I also put on some DEET and had some Ultralight Joe's Moose Goo. The gnats were crazy on parts of the trail...getting in my eyes and sometimes my ears, but as soon as I put on the DEET they poofed away (but only for a little while).
The Moose Goo tasted great. In my home tests I was a little concerned about how rich and sweet it was, but on the trail I was craving the calories. This stuff feels heavy until you realize how many calories are in it. I made two batches for this trip - one according to the recipe and one with half corn flour and half protein powder. Both were great!
|Here you can see the injury that almost cancelled my hike. We visited some family in Nebraska, and for three days we took Joker to the skate park...where I had to prove that I was still young enough to ride a skateboard. I did pretty well, too...until the last day. After we had packed up, we dropped by to show mom what he had learned, and planned to get right in the car and leave from there. And that's when I fell and smacked my wrist on the concrete. I didn't let on that it hurt, though...it didn't feel like anything was that bad.
So I put some ice water in a sandwich bag and drove for 3 hrs with it on my wrist...and the swelling hadn't gone down at all. I went an ER in Nebraska City right at the eastern state line and got some X-rays. The radiologist wasn't there to give me the results but said to call back and get the results. They gave me this brace, which helped a lot. I don't think it would have been safe to go w/o this brace. I know I couldn't have used poles without it!
|Some of the more well-used sites were closed due to aggressive bear activity. This sign was at sites 36 and 37, about 5 miles in.
The gnats were pretty bad along this area...GRRRR!!
|Much of the trail looked like this. In other areas, the Rhododendron and Magnolias were dropping flower petals all over the trail...lots of color everywhere. I also saw lots of deer tracks, centipedes, and those black and red millipedes that curl up and smell like cherries when they're threatened.|
|My camera stopped focusing well so many of the pictures came out blurry. I think some moisture got inside the lens, actually.
This is a little falls into a pool that wasn't marked on the map...I think it was on Gunter Fork Trail. Beautiful area...I wish it showed up better!
|Another shot of what the trail looks like in this area. Even with such beautiful trail, one thing kept popping into my head...seven days of food is heavy.|
|So I did my 12.5 miles in about 7 hours...maybe a bit ambitious for the first trail day, with my pack full of food and not having my trail legs yet. But it felt great to be on the trail again (even with 10 stream crossings today) and I rolled in to Laurel Gap Shelter just before it got dark. I gotta say it was nice coming from 7000' in Colorado to hike at 3000' in North Carolina. My upper hammies were a bit tight, but I was rarely out of breath even on the climbs. I felt strong. I do think that miles in the Smokies are longer than normal miles, though...at least 7000' instead of 5280'. Maybe it's only 5281', but whatever the real number is I just know it's not accurate and I'm gonna talk to somebody about as soon as I figure out who to call.
There were already some folks in the shelter so I tried to be quiet...three women in a group and a man hiking solo. I still had to eat, and I debated having a cold meal b/c the wood was all pretty wet from recent rains and all I brought was the Bushbuddy Ultra. Those thoughts didn't last long, though, and I brought back a big branch from the spring to split up with my new SEAL Pup Elite. It took a bit to get the fire going...the firestarter didn't want to work, and even olive oil didn't want to burn. But I got it going, cooked dinner (Mountain House Beef Stroganoff...pretty good), and kept the BB burning while I ate, just for the atmosphere. Used that fire to dry out some good tinder and kindling for tomorrow's dinner, and put it in a sandwich bag. I finally crashed at about 11pm.
|Day Two - 4 June 2010|
I planned 14.6 miles for Day Two, ending at campsite 48:
|Laurel Gap Shelter has a bear fence across the front, so I hung my hammock up inside the shelter from a roof brace on the foot end and a fence post on the head end. Wasn't quite a far apart as I'd like but it worked well enough to get a good night's sleep. This picture was taken the next morning.|
|One of the ladies took a picture of me before I left...looks like my camera messed up again.|
|I passed several places like this on the trail. The water is just flowing right out of the ground! I didn't treat the water when it came out like this, and it tended to taste better, too.|
|After going all downhill, I reached Round Bottom for a short road walk, crossed this bridge, and started walking uphill again. That would be a theme for this trip! This bridge was pretty neat looking, even though it had graffiti along the trusses.
There are some horse stables at Round Bottom, and that means there's horse poop on the trails. I wasn't too fond of that, but the horse trails do tend to be wider and, other than the places where they mash the trail into a mud pit, they're kept up very well.
When I first got out onto the road and paused for a snack, I heard an army approaching...but it was only 4 horses. One of the riders was all decked out in crisp jeans, new boots, an embroidered cowboy shirt and a new white cowboy hat. I guess it's possible he was a real cowboy...he was on a horse after all...but he reminded me of George Carlin's bit about how Brits don't dress up like pirates just b/c their ancestors did.
|More water crossing the trail.
Gnats were worse today, getting in my eyes and ears, but at least they weren't biting. I put on my HF buff like a headband and pulled it down over my ears...which was great except a little hot. After a while the gnats would go away and I'd roll it up off my ears. But I think they had a sentry watching. "Hey guys! His ears are exposed! Attaaaaaaack!!" And they'd divebomb right into my ear canal.
|Wildflowers look like weeds the rest of the year but put on a fireworks show when they're blooming.
One reason I really like to go on long hikes alone is so I can think until all my thoughts have been thunk. That's hard to do with cell phones, computers, kids, distractions...but out here, I can really think about what's important. Today I thought mostly about my kids. My older son has a lot of moral courage, and I respect that. Sometimes that courage gets in the way of his better judgment and he needs to be reined back a bit, but he's able to stand up for things that I'm not sure I would have been able to do at that age. And he's so intelligent...I hope his wisdom catches up to that someday.
His brother Joker is so inquisitive and athletic. He asks questions that no 10 year old I've ever met is ready to ask...and he actually listens to the answers. War, religion, politics...he's pretty aware for his age. And a great athlete. Had a losing season this year, but I think he learned a lot from it, especially regarding his attitude and how to treat other players who aren't as good as him. They both make me proud.
|It thundered for a couple hours today. I kept wondering if it was going to rain, but it only sprinkled a little. It cooled me down so I just walked thru it, but I had the Packa ready in case the bottom dropped out. Just enough rain to keep it humid...
I didn't realize that snails were cannibals, but these two appeared to be eating a snail that had been crushed, probably by a horse.
|This is the inside of a draw as the switchback turns down towards Enloe Creek...and more water crossing the trail. I rarely had to carry more than one liter b/c it was so available. And just for the record, I didn't count these little things as stream crossings!|
|I got down to Enloe Creek, and this rock was under the big bridge (pic below) covered in butterflies. There were several places along the trail where 20-30 butterflies were all sitting together like this, flapping their wings. Sometimes they were little orange ones but most of these parties looked like these ones.|
|Here's the big bridge...this is still a horse trail so it has real bridges, with plank flooring and a covering of gravel inside.
Just as I got to the river I filled up my water bottle underneath the bridge. As I was putting in the pills and getting comfortable for a break, a couple campers from the other side of the bridge (this may be site 47) walked by to get their water and one said, "Doin' some hikin'?" Since nothing resembling a road was even within earshot, I was about to say, "Naw, my horse got tired so I put 'im in this here pack to rest up...here's your sign..." But I didn't know if he'd think it was funny so I just said, "Yep."
|Some big boulders on the south side of the bridge almost made a complete damn. I took some pics from higher on the ridgeline but they didn't turn out well.
On the way back from getting their water, the old man said, "I hope that's not straight from the creek!" "Yeah, but I got water pills so I won't get sick." "Oh, you should have said something and we'd let you use the filter." I think it's great how folks are so nice, but it's also interesting that people get so reliant on technology that they assume some things are "better" than others if they're more technological. Like I didn't choose to bring the pills instead of a filter. They sure were nice, though...we talked for several minutes before I walked on.
|As I got near camp (Site 47), I started thinking about how the Bushbuddy works better in dry Colorado than in the humid Smokies. Not that it's bad in humid areas...it's just so easy to get a fire going in Colorado. But just before camp I found a perfect piece of dry wood that would break up into just the right fuel for the Bushbuddy. I got to Site 47 with plenty of time to relax, walk around barefoot, take my time setting up camp and making dinner (Mountain House Pasta Primavera...pretty good), and shoot some video. Thankful I had that wristbrace today.|
I almost pissed myself at bedtime, though. I was using my headlamp and writing down some notes about the hike, and when I turned off my headlamp my whole tarp lit up from the outside! It all came from one spot like someone was standing over me with their headlamp on! But I knew I would have heard them come up that close, so I peaked out from under the tarp...and there were fireflies everywhere! The silver in the MacCat disperses that little light into a huge flash, and it was awesome. They were everywhere, and some flashed very brightly and rapidly, while others flew low and slow and stayed lit up for about 10 seconds. One even came under my tarp and landed on my hammock. I'll definitely remember that experience.
|Day Three - 5 June 2010|
|I finally crawled out of the hammock at 9am...that's 11 solid hours of sleep! I needed it...that's one of the reasons I came on this hike, and after two pretty good days on the trail and a good night's sleep, I got my trail legs. I woke up with a good plan to stay on schedule for what would have been an 18 mile day, but that got shot down and I ended up with a pretty short day...about 11 miles. More on why later.
|I have a hard time getting the background in when I use that StickPic, but there's another little cascade behind me. And for some reason my stubble grew much slower during the first couple days of the hike than it normally does.|
|The trail for most of the morning followed the creeks. This is either Chasteen Creek Trail or Bradley Fork Trail...don't remember which. It was nice and open, though, and aside from watching out for horse crap it had a great trail bed. This was the easy part...but Dry Sluice Gap was coming and I knew it would be a challenge.|
|The trail looked almost like a Jeep trail in some places; it was so wide and straight. The creek is off to the left in this picture.|
|Since I was down in a creek valley and it was very humid, moss grew nearly everywhere. It would have made for some great pictures if I could have gotten it to focus better!
It was great to look around and it smelled very fresh in this area.
|Another fallen tree covered in moss.|
|It was about lunchtime when I came to the intersection of Cabin Flats and Bradley Fork Trails, and I was ready for a break. The trail went off to the right and the creek was on the left thru some trees, so I hopped down to the creek to find a good place to eat. I'm glad I did...I found a great little lunch spot so I put my pack down and relaxed for a bit.
That's the Packa used as a normal pack cover over the Miniposa.
Looking to the left from my lunch table...
...and looking to the right.
|Here's a close-up of the little cascade that I listened to while I soaked my feet in the water and ate lunch.|
|One of the great things about the Gossamer Gear packs is that the pad goes into the pockets against my back, so it provides the pack's frame but it's very easy to take off for breaks without unpacking the whole pack. One of the bad things about hiking the Smokies in summer is the sweat. This picture shows what happens when you put the two together.
Since the pad is against my back when I'm hiking, it starts to stink like sweat pretty quicky. And when I took it off for lunch, the bugs were immediately attracted to it. All those little black dots in this picture? Bugs. I waved them off before I sat down, but as soon as I got up they flew back down there. They were all over the pad pockets, too. Ick! (I sprayed down the pad with Lysol when I got home!)
In California, we saw several places where people took a lot of time to stack rocks like this. I've rarely seen it on the east coast, though. The stack in the left picture was right by the creek, and the right picture was taken looking towards the bank. It was pretty neat to stumble on this at my lunch site!
|Little cascades like this all over the place. I'm pretty bummed that this picture didn't come out better.|
|Dry Sluice Gap Trail parallels the stream for only a little bit before turning to climb up to the ridgeline and intersect the Appalachian Trail. It climbs from 2600' to 5300' in three miles, with parts of it pretty much straight up. It was a little more challenging that I expected but I still felt good. Maybe it was more challenging b/c I ran out of water! This trail was quite a bit more dry than the others so I didn't have so many chances to refill. It was 4.4 miles and I was probably just short of halfway when I emptied my water.
Since I spent most of the trip so far down in the stream valleys, this is the first time I had a long view from a ridge.
|Old dead tree...looked like it need someone to take a picture of it.
I tried to figure out what I'm afraid of on this part of the hike. I couldn't really think of anything. Heights, a little bit. The kids getting hurt. What else? I'm sure there's something but nothing really stuck out. Should that scare me? Does it mean I'm getting comfortable? Getting comfortable scares me...
And why do I keep singing country music? I don't even like country music!
|My first white blaze! Now to check out Charlie's Bunyon and continue the hike to Mt Collins Shelter...
I've noticed a definite change from the big leafy deciduous vegetation in the valleys to a significant increase in evergreens along the ridgeline. The trailbed is much more rocky in this area, too, but overall it's still pretty forgiving.
Gnats. Something else I've noticed as I've changed so much elevation this time is the difference in the gnats. Somewhere around 4500' there's a change...below that, the gnats swarm around me and get into my eyes and ears. I had them in every visible orifice...and the DEET stopped working on them. But they don't bite. Above ~4500' they don't swarm into every opening, but they bite. I don't know which is worse.
|Saw the Charlie's Bunyon sign just after I started hiking south. I ended up going south to the Charlie's Bunyon bypass trail, then followed it back north for a very shot bit before coming out onto the Bunyon. It was pretty beautiful, but it was rainy and VERY windy so I didn't stick around long.
From the AT south of the Bunyon, I saw some hikers way out there screaming and enjoying themselves. Not sure if they're braver than me or just dumber, but they were definitely having fun.
It hasn't stormed yet, but it's been rainy enough that my shoes have been wet for two full days. My feet dry at night, but then it's back into wet shoes. Most of the water comes off the plants that brush against my legs and drop into my shoes, but it's so humid that they never dry out. No blisters yet, though.
|Dead tree near Charlie's Bunyon, showing Packa and OR Nimbus Sombrero. Still no water.
I was actually happy that it was raining b/c I'd hate to carry the Packa and hat but never use them. It's like wasting energy!
I've really enjoyed myself today, even on the tough parts. I can't believe how great it is to be in the woods like this. I still can't get a cell signal, though...I'd like to call and get the X-ray results, see how the rental property is, check on the family, etc. Guess it'll have to wait.
|That picture looks much better without the ugly kid in front of it.|
|I was only out of water for about 4.5 miles, but they were pretty strenuous miles coming up Dry Sluice Gap, so I was looking forward to my next stop, and really hoping it would be a clean source. Then I saw Icewater Spring coming right out into the middle of the trail. I was elated!|
|Since it looked so clean and it was coming right out of the ground, I didn't treat it...I filled up and drank an entire liter right there, chugging about 3/4 of it all at once. Heaven. Then I filled up both bottles b/c I had a good ridgeline hike ahead of me, and moved on...a whole 150 yards or so to Icewater Shelter to have dinner.|
|While I was making dinner (Mountain House Spaghetti...Yum), White Lightning said that some Northbounders told him Mt Collins Shelter was closed for bear activity. Hrm...that was my goal for today, and still about 7 miles away. The next good spot to stop after that was several more miles that I really didn't feel like hiking. Pisser. So I said I'd decide while I ate, and ended up staying at Icewater Shelter for the night. It was up on the ridgeline so a good breeze blew thru the open front side...I wanted to make sure my hammock was inside and blocked, even though it would have been easier to hang it out front. The shelter was nice and solid so I didn't have any reservations hanging it (and I asked if anyone minded first).
Stopping so soon meant I had some free time to relax, so I talked to some of the other folks in the shelter. There were 8 of us total - White Lightning (who got his name from being struck by lightning), two newlyweds on their honeymoon trip, a couple nearing their second anniversary, a young boy and girl (teenagers?) from Canada, and me. I also had more time to jot down some things in my journal, like...
It's not quite dark at 9pm, and I'm ready to doze off listening to the birds as I hear more hikers approaching. (Turns out they were three northbound thru-hikers on Day 14 (Redbeard, Minus and I didn't hear the third one's trail name), who ate a quick dinner and settled in. One of them hung a Hennessy Backpacker...pretty cool to see another hammocker.)
|Day Four - 6 June 2010|
|I had wanted to get all the way to Lakeshore Trail in my original plan, but since I started at Icewater instead of Mt Collins, I only hiked to Site 70, at the intersection of Forney Creek Trail Jonas Gap Trail...total of about 19.4 miles, plus some hiking around Clingman's Dome so about a 20 mile day. I was actually ready to go farther but had some pretty hairy stream crossings just as it was getting dark, and I didn't want any more of those in the dark.
|And Mt Collins is closed! Good thing I stopped when I did.|
|Boars are non-native to the Smokies and are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem...they root around looking for grubs, tearing up the vegetation. Some of the vegetation is unique to the Smokies, so it needs to be protected, and many animals depend on the vegetation that's being destroyed. So the land managers have set up protected areas to keep the boars out. This is the entrance to a huge fenced off area. Humans just walk up and down to get over the fence, but boars won't walk up the grate so they're kept out of the fenced area. I should have taken a picture of the sign b/c I don't remember what this area was protecting...I think it was a species of Poplar.|
It was raining when I got hungry, so I considered setting up my tarp...but thick brush and steep terrain limited my options. Then I saw this HUGE rootball with just enough angle to keep the rain off. I ate under here...all dirt under there but not sticky mud so I was pretty comfortable and I stayed dry. (Well, not really dry, but no more wet than I already was!)
|First real wildlife I saw other than some ground squirrels. This guy was about 6" long...he looked kinda orange but I think he's a Black Chinned Red Salamander.|
|Clingman's Dome tower. The AT was pretty easy today...even the big climb up to Clingman's Dome. Walking the ridgeline is pretty easy compared to all the ridges I hiked over trying to connect all the waterfalls.|
|Looking down at the little plaza at the beginning of the walk up to the tower.|
|The sign shows how I'm standing right on the TN/NC border, and the white line traces the border so you can see the peaks that make up the border. Except that the picture on the right shows what I can really see...which isn't much more than the little plaza at the bottom of the ramp.|
|This was pretty interesting...these were black and white plants growing together. I think the black is some sort of fungus but it looked like a black flower growing right next to the white ones.|
|Forney Creek Trail is one of the most beautiful trails I've ever hiked! Incredible, pretty easy hiking down (southbound), and follows water for most of it so I didn't have to carry much. Here's one of the stream crossings|
|I saw two critters today! It was dusk, not much light filtering thru the trees, and since I haven't seen any real wildlife on this trip I was thinking about all the things I'd like to see. I'd love to see a mountain lion, and I was thinking about a story that Tha Wookie told during his West Coast Trail presentation that I watched at the beginning of my Foothills Trail hike, where he saw a mountain lion at full spring across the hills. Just then, about 50 yds down thetrail, a furry critter came up the hill onto the trail from my left, turned away from me and hopped, cat-like, down the trail away from me. He stayed on the trail for about 30 ft, then cut off to the right, up the ridgeline. It was funny...since I had been thinking about mountain lions, my heart kinda jumped in my throat b/c I thought these may be cubs...and I looked around for the mother! This could be bad! But I realized that wasn't likely, and then I thought it was a bobcat, but this critter had a big fluffy tail sticking straight up in the air. A couple seconds later, another one came up from the same place, crossed the trail, and chased the first one up the ridge to my right. All I heard entire time was one stick crack after the second one had crossed the trail. Awesome! It was so fast that I couldn't do more than just stand there, but my camera wouldn't have taken a good picture in such low light anyway. My best guess is that these were gray foxes.
It rained pretty hard today...it was nice. Gave me a second wind, and I definitely have my trail legs now. I realized that I need to reseal the Packa...it's had a lot of stuffing and unstuffing on the current seal, so it leaked a bit. Still kept my gear dry and that's all that matters in these temps.
I bent my pole today! Everything was wet b/c of the rain, and I caught my fall (one slip of many) with the pole...and it bent a little. Still useable, and I can even still collapse the pole; it's just not quite straight anymore. Wait till I tell Jennifer...these poles were actually her Mother's Day gift a few years ago!
Several stream crossings near the south end of the trail...this is the only real diffult part about this trail. I wanted to keep hiking into the night a bit and make it to site 74 or at least 71, but some of the crossings were a little too hairy to do alone at night. A little more than knee deep and the bottom is covered in rocks, so it's a little tough to get solid footing in that current. Since I didn't want to do this at night, I stopped taking off my shoes and just walked on thru. I ended up camping at site 70, at the intersection of Forney Creek Trail and Jonas Creek Trail.
It started raining again just as I was setting up, but the stars were already out by the time I went to the bear cables. Pretty warm and humid at bedtime.
|Day Five - 7 June 2010|
|Last night was pretty chilly...I ended up using the pad under my torso. Lots of fireflies again, too...pretty awesome.
One cool thing - I walked around barefoot for a while last night...then this morning, I saw an old pile of horse crap right at the edge of my tarp. Cool. And polite, how the horse riders let their horses crap all over. It wasn't fresh so it didn't stand out in my headlamp, but it was at a part of my tarp where I know I didn't step on it. But still...
I've been using a peak bag for a few days now, and I think I like it. I don't use the tie-outs on the hammock, so when I put heavy stuff in the Blackbird's shelf it can lean against me. Not really a big deal, but keeping it off of me is a bit more comfortable and the peak bag does that. I put my SEAL Pup knife and a water bottle up there...easy access and not bouncing against my shoulder. So I might stick with the peak bag for a while.
|As I mentioned at the boar blocker over the trail, the boars roto-till the ground looking for grubs and stuff...here are the results. This camp had several big patches like this where they had dug up big sections. None of them came to visit me last night, though.|
|This camp had lots of leftovers from other campers...some 550 cord used as a clothesline, this utility cord laying on the ground between two trees (probably used for a bearbag since it had a rock on it, but there were bear cables so I'm not sure why), some nylon cord, and a sweatshirt. I couldn't bring myself to leave any of the cord behind...but I had just eaten several pounds of food out of my pack and this cord was all wet, so the weight goes back in! I hung the sweatshirt up on a tree...it was too much to carry for another three days!|
|Under 2 hours of hiking brought me to Site 70, right on the lake, where I wanted to camp last night. I saw two hammockers there so decided to go say hello. They both had the white Gear Guide 12x12 tarps that are so often out of stock, and pitched them together to make a big living area. One ENO and one Grand Trunk. Nice guys...they were camped out by the lake and fishing for the week. I hadn't planned on taking the time, but when I saw that fire I asked if I could hang out for a bit to dry out my shoes. I had put on clean clothes but kept my dirty old sock since my shoes were still soaked; now I could even put on my clean socks!|
|The latter part of this hike had several little sets of ruins like this chimney. At first I thought it was the Civilian Consevation Corps that built so many shelters and trail along the Appalachian corridor, but I found later that there were a few abandoned towns along the way. More on that later.|
|First views of Fontana Lake came shortly after hittign Lakeshore Trail. A lot of this trail doesn't actually follow the lakeshore, though. Still some great views.|
|Some nice flowers along this section. The moth in the top right picture stayed pretty still the whole time, just walking around the petals a bit.
Salty says the picture on the left is wintergreen, which is different from the wintergreen shrub. Some folks call this striped wintergreen. This little guy was growing all by himself in this area...very few scattered over a pretty long section of trail.
|It was nice to finally make it to Lakeshore Trail, since I'd be on here for over 25 miles. The ecosystem around here was completely different from the others I had hiked thru. There was a lot less brush, and I ended up seeing more wildlife.
I stopped at Site 76 to eat dinner, and decide if I wanted to spend the night there. It was a decent site...close to the lake, but right on the trail. I started getting wood for the Bushbuddy, and picked about 6 ticks off me just in the time I was getting ready for dinner. I think these were the first ticks I saw on the whole trip, so I was leaning towards not staying here. It wasn't quite dusk yet so I'd still have some time to decide. As dinner was rehydrating, I wanted to pop my back by sitting down against one tree and pushing my feet against another...they were perfectly spaced for it. Only when I leaned against the first tree, it started cracking...completely dead! I went ahead and pushed it over so it wouldn't fall on someone, and broke it up as much as I could and laid the logs over the fire pit. Hopefully they'll stay dry enough to burn.
So I decided to keep walking and make it to Site 77, which would mean some more night hiking. It was just before dusk when I started walking, and less than five minutes on the trail I heard a huffing sound. HOOO HOOO HOOO, and a lot of shuffling up towards the ridge. I had just startled a bear! It walked on up the ridge, huffed a few times, and kept going. I got out my camera but none of the pictures came out good.
But in about 3 more minutes it happened again! This guy was bigger, and he didn't go all the way to the top. He went off the trail about 40 yards, and paralleled me for a bit, huffing a few times. Then he went up a bit higher, but kept paralleling me and huffing! I wasn't too keen about that. He followed me that way for probably 200 yards before I didn't see him anymore...definitely made me a little nervous! But I was happy to finally see some wildlife. I kept on hiking, but I was sure to make some noise this time. I didn't want to startle a bear just waking up to eat. I walked along saying, "Hey Bear!" every minute or two.
I don't like hiking by headlamp, preferring the moonlight, but it was really dark and hard to follow the trail so I had to pull it out...and at one point the trail ended at the lake! I was sure I was on the right trail about 1/2 mile back, so I backtracked and found the turn-off going up a steep hill. This lake area was a boat landing and had some big picnic tables. I had a couple miles left, and I got some pretty good blisters on my left foot from hiking in still-damp boots, so I decided to stop and dress them with duct tape. Somehow, though, I miscalculated...I hiked another 1/2 mile or so and there was my camp! Good surprise, I guess, but had I known I was that close I would have just let them air out overnight.
Site 77 is pretty good, but nothing special. There was a little ridge on the other side of the creek, and I heard something rustling around there for a good part of the night. After seeing two bears within 10 minutes of the site I almost camped at, I was a little wary tonight. It sounded bigger than a squirrel but I don't think it was a bear. Still got some good sleep.
|Day Six - 8 June 2010|
|All day today was just walking along Lakeshore Trail to Site 90. Easy day when I'm just hiking along with no worries about turning off onto new trails and such, even though I had to be kinda careful about reading the signs at intersections.
|Ran into this little guy just after I started walking. He stayed still for several pictures, and barely moved when I reached for him. I like how he looks so big in the first pictures...but I had to put one in to show how small he actually was.
Interestingly, he smelled like poop after I picked him up. No smell as I was taking the pictures, but the worst I've ever smelled from a snake as I was holding him. Enough to make me wash my hands after I put him down!
|Another little cascade...these things were everywhere.|
|Feathers all over the place here on the trail. Obvious signs of a scuffle right next to where I took this picture. No bones anywhere, but it looks like a turkey lost the battle.|
|More of these little plants...they were pretty cool, and here you can see how they stretch along beside the trail in big patches. If you get down low, they look like trees in the Avatar forest or something. So bright and shiny, even though the picture on the right doesn't show it.
Edit: gunner76 says, "They are Running Cedar Lycopodium digitatum. Use to be very common in North Carolina but hard to find now. low-growing evergreen plant, in a group of plants known as clubmosses. Clubmosses aren't really mosses; they're more closely related to ferns." Hawk-eye says they're not hard to find where he is...they grow in areas with poor soil.
|Stopped at Site 81 for Chili Mac...that's one of the better Mountain House meals, IMO. It's still a small challenge to get the fire started in the damp Smokies, so while it's cooking I put my firewood in an open ziplock next to the Bushbuddy. The heat gets the bag all steamy like a greenhouse, and some of the moisture vents out the top. After I take the pot off, I stack some of the wood over the Bushbuddy so it looks about like a log cabin fire to dry it some more. As I've said before, the Bushbuddy has a bit more fiddle factor than a cannister stove, especially in wet environments...but I like the feel of cooking on a fire I built myself, and knowing that I have unlimited fuel. I usually keep the BB burning while I eat, just for atmosphere.|
A father and his teenage son showed up as I was eating...I was surprised that the father recognized the Bushbuddy. I held it up for him to check out the inner holes...he liked it but didn't sound convinced to buy one yet.
|This little toad visited with me while I was cooking. He had been hiding under the plywood.|
|And redressing my blisters. The duct tape made them feel a lot better b/c it stopped the friction, but I could still feel the pressure from how big they had swollen up to. It was kinda cool, really...when I rested for a while, they'd swell up and the pressure would increase. So when I first started walking again, there would be a lot of pressure under there, but after a few hundred feet I had pushed a lot of the fluid off the bottom of my foot so there wasn't much pressure. Odd feeling. Later on, I figured out that the reason the pressure dropped was b/c I was pushing the blister bigger...and it even expanded up between my toes. Gross!|
|Single track and double track...but have you ever seen a triple track trail? I hadn't. This is a horse trail, so I think the horses caused the trail to look like this.|
|Made it to Hazel Creek. Forney Creek Trail is the one I hiked on Day 4 that was so beautiful.
The sign next to this one explains that the buildings around here are remnants of a village that once had a couple thousand people, mainly as part of a logging community.
|Just across the bridge lies this old inn from the village. It looks pretty nice on the outside but it isn't kept up on the inside. I walked around all the rooms and it was pretty cool to think about how the inn operated. Graffiti coved parts of the walls...a few pictures and lots of writing about not building the lake road that dated from 1973 and later. The rooms were pretty small and it was obvious that the few electric lights had been added after it was built.
The maintenance building behind it was new construction, and there was a guy doing some yard work going in and out of it. Waved hello but didn't talk to him.
|The inn faces Hazel Creek, so I sat across from the in for a ~15 minute break to have a snack and rest my feet. Then I saw a shimmering little golden patch in the water. At first I thought I was about to be rich, but they were only fish. I thought they might be goldfish but I'm pretty sure they were red bass. They all stayed right in the same spot on the ground, swimming just enough against the current to stay steady. Pretty cool.
It's the orange spot near the center of this pic.
|Here is bear #3...the fuzzy black spot in the center. This one never saw me and I couldn't see it very well, but it was down at the bottom of the draw as the trail wound around it. I wish I had the video camera out so I could have zoomed in better, but it was in my pack and I didn't want to make noise getting it out...so this is the best picture you get. I walked very slowly so I could keep a good view of it as it walked away from me, stopping to rub against some trees and flip over a log on the way. It was interesting how it just ambled along like there was nothing pressing in the world...not a care in the world. Obviously the top predator in the area.|
|Day Seven - 9 June 2010||Unfortunately, I do have to leave the woods at some point. That point is today. The end of a trip always brings a bittersweet feeling...happy to see the family again but sad to leave the solitude of nature. Short day of hiking today...just out to the road and then on to Fontana Dam.
We had a bear last night...close! The site is pretty big, with a little stream running thru it and emptying into the lake, and a few little copses of trees inside the bigger area of the campsite. When I hiked up, there were 5 guys already set up there who had boated in. Three of us were standing next to one of the copses, talking about bears, the ones I had seen, what to do if you see a brown bear vs a black bear, etc. Then I said I was gonna go check out the lake and went back to my hammock to put some stuff away. I looked right at my camera and said, "I"m just going to the lake so I don't need it this time." But as I walked past the copse of trees, I saw a bear's butt walking away from me down the trail on the other side of the copse! He must have been 10-15' from us the whole time!
I ran back to my hammock to get the camera and told the guys that I had just seen a bear right by where we were talking. One of the guys (a federal agent with a gun) went up the hill to watch over us while one of the guys went with me to see if we could get some pictures. We walked slow and talked so we didn't spook him, but we didn't see him again. When we got back to the camp, the agent (Gabe) said the bear had walked right down the trail back the way we had gone, so he was on the other side of camp, up the hill. We went over there to see if we could find him.
We stayed on the trail this time, looking up towards the ridgeline. It was starting to get dark so we didn't want to go stomping around out there with the bear. But we couldn't see him, so we decided to go back to camp...just when Gabe said, "He's right there!" He was laying in some brush about 20' from us and we couldn't see him. Didn't smell anything, either...not sure why they smell sometimes and not others so I'll have to look that up. Anyway, it was too dark to get good pictures, so I put my video camera on Nightshot Plus and got some ok video. Then Gabe took a picture with flash and the bear didn't seem to like that. He huffed once and stood up, so we decided to give him some room and started walking back to camp.
The bear went up the hill and we could hear him walking around the camp all night. The boaters had a cooler out, but just piled stuff on top of it so it didn't look like a cooler. They thought it would be ok b/c everything inside was sealed up...hot dogs and such.
|Close-up of my setup. I had the MacCat over it all night but took this pic as I was packing up.|
|To the left is the hill where the bear was walking around all night. Pretty close...|
|Here's most of the campsite. I'm standing next to the copse where we first saw the bear, so you can't see it in the picture.
The cooler is right in the middle. When I first walked up, they were grilling some pork chops right there...and when I went off to start my dinner, they offered me a couple grilled pork chops and some bread to make a sandwich with. Awesome trail magic! They also offered chips, cookies and cokes, but I just stuck with my trail snacks and water so I didn't have to carry anything extra on my last day.
The fire was on the other side of the tent in the back right. We had some trouble getting it started b/c of the wet wood...very small flame that wouldn't grow. One of the guys had some aerosol bug juice, so I sprayed that over the wood until it flamed up hot enough to burn. Maybe not the safest thing, but it wasn't long until we had a big ole comfy fire burning. We sat around for a couple hours talking...great bunch of guys.
The preacher (who owned the boat) slept in the tent in the right foreground. He could hear the bear walking right next to his tent that night, and in the morning we found fresh tracks about 2' away! The bear didn't bother anything or anyone so we all left it alone (I actually slept pretty well, but some of them were awake all night listening). But this was enough to convince the preacher to put his cooler on the boat instead of leaving it in camp the next night!
Haha...there was a full-grown man in the pup tent in the picture on the right. He borrowed it from the preacher, and read on the box where it said "two man tent." Two MEN...although it was only six feet long. He was about six feet tall, so he had to sleep diagonally in it! I thought it was a gear tent when I first walked up!
|Their boat was tied off about 150 yards from the campsite. Beautiful area, especially in the morning.|
|The bear decided to peak into the boat overnight...he didn't get into the boat, which is surprising b/c an open bag of corn chips was in the dash. The muddy spots are his pawprints, and the pic on the right shows a close-up.|
|Didn't come out so well in the picture, but this is a bear track.|
|I saw old abandoned vehicles in several spots along this hike, but this last section had more than usual. You can tell how old they are by the body styles, but also check the picture on the right...there's a full-grown tree growing THRU the car! Interesting...|
|My last white blaze :( and the beginning of the short road walk.|
I stopped at a picnic table along the road to take some last pictures, shoot some video, and just relax before I stepped back into civilization. Below are some pics of the lake side of Fontana Dam.
|The Gossamer Gear Miniposa was comfortable for this trip, but a rip started at the hydration port where the side panel attaches to the back panel. I never had more than the recommended 30 lbs in it, and I'm pretty easy on my gear so I never jerked it up off the ground or anything. I'll have to call customer service and see if they'll repair it.|
|Here's the other side, showing what the hydration port is supposed to look like.|
|At the west end of the dam (or the "north" end if you were hiking the AT northbound).|
|The river side, crossing the dam. It's a long way down there!|
|I got to the gift shop at the eas end of the dam, and was elated to see that they sold ice cream! I bought an ice cream bar, but decided it wasn't enough so I went back and bought another. Awesome. The lady working there was so nice (even though I stunk like mad)...we talked for a while, and she let me use the phone to call Jennifer since I didn't have reception.
A little while later, her husband brought her a cheeseburger and fries...and she brought me half of it! I didn't want to take her food, but she said she wouldn't eat it all anyway. More trail magic! Great burger, good fries, and they even gave me a bottle of water. Really nice folks. She took these pics of me, too...I thought my pack had gotten even smaller, but I still had about a day's worth of food in there.
|It was supposed to rain today, and I was barely ahead of the storm. Here's a pic of part of it rolling in...so windy that I had to pull a table farther under the overhang to eat my burger! It rained pretty hard for a while as I waited on Jennifer. Several bikers pulled in, and a few were soaking wet.|
|Jennifer finally showed up...she had gotten a little turned around b/c the GoogleMaps directions told her to turn left where she was supposed to turn right, but she finally found me. And immediately told me how bad I smelled! Haha...
She brought be clean clothes and shower stuff, and there was a shower at the gift shop so I went to get cleaned up...and realized that I didn't have a towel! Again, the nice gift shop lady came to the rescue...with a sheet! I scrubbed everything twice, dried off with the sheet, and went back to the car to stuff everything I had into a garbage bag so we couldn't smell it!
Off to Florida for Megan's graduation!