Trip: 60ish mile loop in the Smoky Mountains over July 4 - July 7 (4 days) based on "The South's best swimming-hole tour" in the August 2008 issue of Backpacker magazine
Friday, July 4 -
Robin and I hit the trail around 1:00 PM at the top of the Clingman's Dome parking lot (~6400 ft). We took the bypass trail to the AT and proceded to Double Spring Gap where we ran in to Wonder Woman again. She said she was taking a short day (2 miles) and we talked to her for a few minutes again to catch up on what she had done since we saw her on our Standing Indian loop about a month ago. Some of the conversation included bears at another shelter and shelter mice that weren't afraid to come out in broad daylight. There were a couple of other guys at the shelter, but I didn't speak with them. We left Double Spring Gap and headed towards Silers bald, hopping onto the Welch Ridge Trail just before the shelter. We then took Welch Ridge Trail down to Hazel Creek Trail and hopped on it for the rest of the day until reaching our destination at BC 82 around 7:30 PM (~2750 ft). While traveling along Hazel Creek we took a side trail that dead ended into a small open area where someone had put fake flowers in the ground (kind of creepy) and we decided it had to be a cemetary for the end of that trail. We also managed to see a large tree fall out of nowhere just up the mountainside from us. When we hit 82 and started looking for a spot to setup camp we were greeted by "Youant somethin' ta eat?" and noticed a group of 5-6 guys that had ridden in on horseback. They had a traditional blue tarp that had to be 80 feet long stretched between two trees with at least 1 queen sized inflatable matress under it for sleeping and another large tarp pitched to cook and lounge under. They had frying pans as well and offered us taters, cornbread, and fresh caught trout. These guys knew how to live in the woods. We politely declined and setup our tent just down the creek before diving in to our dehydrated dinners (WTF were we thinking?).
Saturday, July 5 -
We broke camp around 8:30 AM just before the rain started and jumped back on the Hazel Creek Trail. It started misting shortly after we left BC 82 for about an hour before developing in to a full-on downpour. Robin got out her raincoat while I decided to forego mine and just soak in the cold rain. It stopped raining shortly before we met up with the Lakeshore Trail where we stopped to check our feet and take in a snack. We followed the Lakeshore Trail all the way over to BC 76 where we arrived around 7 PM. There was a site just above the lake (you could walk down to the edge of Lake Fontana) but we instead opted for one on the other side of the trail on flatter ground where we were less likely to get flushed down into the lake in the event of rain. It stormed hard for a few hours through the night and we were very glad with our choice of a tent site. The only people I remember seeing this day was a Ranger driving an SUV loaded with passengers on the Hazel Creek Trail and a couple of backpackers at BC 77. We basically combined days 2 and 3 from the trip itenerary for a total of close to 22 miles. Also, Lake Fontana has the most beautiful, clear aqua-green water of any lake I've seen. It actually reminds me of what you'd see in the Carribbean.
Sunday July 6 -
Since we had to wipe down the tent and some other gear from the storm we didn't break camp until around 10:30. After packing up we hopped back on the Lakeshore Trail for another 8.7 miles. After passing BC 98 we started looking for BC 72 a couple of hours later and started to get a little worried that we may have slowed our normal pace way down when we didn't see it. Eventually we started to get a little discouraged until we thought it might be a boat only site (turns out we were right on the money) and started to try and figure out our location based on the map and visible topographical features alone. We actually guessed our location quite well after that point, determining that we had most likely blown past BC 72 and were closer to BC 74, which is right on Forney Creek. We didn't pass another hiker for the entire 8.7 mile stretch and were glad to hear the rushing waters of Forney Creek, confirming our position on the map. We took a break on the creek to refill our water supply and refresh in the cold waters. We eventually packed up again and hopped on the Forney Creek Trail which we took to the Jonas Creek Trail and to our final night's destination at BC 70. On the way to BC 70 we passed BC 71 which is a huge site and includes a large outdoor fireplace. At BC 70 we ran in to another backpacker named Steve who joined us for dinner and conversation at a table someone had built from log pieces. This would've been a great camp site except that someone had left cans, socks, and discarded food in several of the fire rings which resulted in hordes of bees, flies, and other creatures. I even managed to have a honey bee crawl in my shoe and sting my foot. After dinner we cleaned up a little and hung our food before crawling in to bed for our last night in the Smokies. Shortly after getting in to bed, the storms started again and pelted the tent for several hours through the night.
Monday July 7 -
We had to wipe down our tent and gear again, so we didn't break camp until 9:30 AM, at which point we continued up the Jonas Ridge Trail for the start of our last day and a ~4000 foot ascent. While on Jonas Ridge in the midst of a large blueberry patch, and in the midst of a conversation about rice pudding, I heard a rustle and told Robin not to move. We stood for a minute while our hearts raced, listening to what could've only been a bear steamrolling it's way down the mountain. After we were sure he had moved on far enough we cautiously continued our walk up Jonas Ridge Trail until we neared it's end at Welch Ridge Trail and stopped to talk to another backpacker with some old-fashioned heavy gear. At the intersection of the Jonas Ridge Trail and the Welch Ridge Trail we stopped for a snack and ran in to a couple of Rangers who said they were doing some bear research. After our snack we continued up the Welch Ridge Trail where we passed a group of about 5 men who were headed down to fish for trout on Hazel Creek. Eventually we ran back in to the AT which we took to Clingman's Dome Tower for a few last minute photos and some questions from tourists. Robin decided to lightly jog down the paved path back to our car so she could get the last bit over with and I somehow managed to defer enough pain to follow her. We reached the car around 4:30 PM for our ride home to shower and head out for painkillers (aka alcohol).
Chris: 17.84 lbs
Robin: 19.04 lbs
Additional calories burned on the trip (estimated and in addition to normal daily burn):
Wonder Woman (again) at Double Spring Gap Shelter
horse-packers @ BC 82
2 young male hikers at BS77
Steve @ BC 70
couple of park rangers doing bear research
5 guys going fly fishing on Hazel Creek
Miscellaneous day hikers along the AT close to Clingman's Dome
lots of snails, centipedes, and baby frogs
1 bear steamrolling down the mountainside
several turkeys on a farm near the end of the Hazel Creek Trail
2 large birds startled & flying out of a nearby tree (likely owls)
chipmunks & a few squirrels
Friday - overcast and nice
Saturday - downpour for 2-3 hours in the AM, warm and humid during the day with an ocassional breeze, storms overnight into early AM Sunday
Sunday - warm and humid during the day with an ocassional breeze, storms overnight into early AM Monday
Monday - warm and humid at lower elevations, nice and cool but still humid at upper elevations
Group of guys on horseback that offered us food. Steve for dinner conversation on our last night.