GSMNP VIII (Fontana/Eagle Cr./AT/Hughes Rdg/Lakeshore), 11/07

November 22-25, 2007

54 miles

If you had to go on only one trip ever, this would have been it.  All kinds of weather, terrain, people, wildlife, death march’s; you name it we saw it.  As with all Simchock expeditions this one was planned and executed to perfection.

We left the farm at the pre-crack of dawn Thanksgiving morning and cruised to the park with no traffic.  On the trail by 11:00 we rolled in the Lakeshore trail to the bottom of Eagle creek.  We saw only one pair of young guys who were also going up Eagle creek to campsite #97 and didn’t know about the 16 fords you have to make.  We passed each other back and forth but blew past them at the first ford as they were taking their shoes off.  We planned the trip because of the drought thinking the water levels would be lower, not.  If anything maybe an inch or two.  Most fords were knee deep and we quickly made the 4 miles and 16 fords and got to the campsite we wanted past the last ford by 4:30.  Never saw those guys again.  10.5 miles.

A light drizzle set in as we set up the tarp and made a huge turkey and dressing dinner including red wine and Bob’s high dollar Italian grappa (lighter fluid).

Up at first light, 32 degrees and unfortunately not clear as the forecast had indicated.  On the trail by 8:00 for the long climb up Eagle creek to Spence field and the AT.  Around 4500′ we began to get into the ice on the trees and then thick rime deposits on the branches with just a dusting of snow on the ground.

The temperature was dropping and the high for the day was 24 degrees with only a slight breeze, thankfully!  We loaded up with water as we left the creek because the reports for water on the AT were bad.  No water at Spence field shelter and no humans.  We climbed on up Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mtns. hoping the clouds would lift but they didn’t.  It was beautiful and slow walking through the rime ice and much climbing up and down the ridgeline.

With no good place to get out of the wind and wet snow we rolled on into Derrick Knob shelter for a late lunch and to get water for the night and next morning.  Leisurely lunch in the sleeping bags but we had to get going because we still had 5 miles to go to Silers Bald shelter for the night.  As we walked the crest the sun set on the right side and the full moon rose on the left side.  Beautiful with the snow and Bob got to get in the night hiking he covets.  We had seen no one all day, Thanksgiving weekend on the AT!  Unheard of.  We rolled into the shelter at 7:00 and there were six other people there.  The sky had  cleared for the last hour or so of daylight and the moon was bright!  Big dinner and to bed after 14.4 miles and over 5000′ of climbing.

Next morning it was 17 degrees and the wind was howling.  As the masses lumbered around the shelter we had breakfast in the warmth of our sleeping bags then jetted out at 8:00 while they still rubbed their eyes.  Up over Silers Bald with great views all around then down the Welch Ridge trail with equally great views off each side.  The temperature was slowly rising and the wind slowing down.  Still beautiful and clear as a bell with all the ice and snow we saw lots of animal signs, bear, bobcat, grouse, turkey, deer and more.  One picture here is fresh bear tracks with Bob’s size 14 for scale.

We got to the old High Rocks fire tower just at lunch time and lolled around in the warm sun with awesome views almost 360 degrees.  The sky was beginning to haze up as the next front began to move our way.  We packed up and began the brutal 3500′ plus drop down the Cold Spring Gap trail to Hazel creek.  Steep and severely eroded it was non stop walking, rolling, sliding on baby head rocks.  A real knee buster but we both held up fine.  The ford at Hazel creek had been reported to be 3-4 feet deep but we were living right and were able to rock hop it.  Finally to the Hazel creek trail by 3:00 we still had 6.5 miles to go down the trail/road.  Flying along we came to the bridge across the creek to go to campsite # 86 by 5:30.  We didn’t know how far it was down towards the lake, could have been as much as .7 of a mile which we would have had to retrace the next morning.  Having already walked 18.9 miles we decided to just roll our bags out next to the Hazel Creek Hilton and if it rained we would just slip up onto the porch.  We started to fix dinner at the picnic table when two young guys came in by headlamp also looking for site #86.  We chatted with them and told them our plan but they were more law abiding than Bob so they headed on over and down the creek.  Just as dinner was ready it began to sleet so we ran everything up on the porch and finished the evening on the couch on the porch!  As we began to hallucinate from Bob’s grappa we heard some scuffling in the leaves in front of the porch.  Thinking it was a coon or possum we turned on the headlamps and it was a young bear!  Ten feet away!  It slowly turned and headed off but was not particularly afraid of us.  We hung the food way high on a strong limb.  A restful sleep with rain off and on all night.

We woke to cloudy skies but no rain and a balmy 41 degrees.  Up early to get to the car by lunch we were having breakfast as a huge wild boar moved along the far side of the creek, not knowing we were there.  The Calhoun House aka the Hazel Creek Hilton is one of the remains of the former lumber town of Proctor at the mouth of Hazel creek.  It is where most of the people were displaced by the lake and park in the 30’s.  It looks like the house and grounds are the place all the old timers come over to, several times a year, when they come to tend the cemeteries still there.

Bob was off like a shot at 7:30 and I followed shortly after.  Up the new section of the Lakeshore trail over Pinnacle ridge and down to Eagle creek where we were two and half days before.  The sun was trying to come out but the clouds kept closing back in.  We breezed through campsite #90 at the mouth of Eagle creek and there was a huge group there hung over and still waking up.  We flew on down the trail back to the car by noon.  54 miles in 3 days of walking (two half days and two full days)!  As we were driving around the lake the clouds completely descended and it was raining.  Didn’t have to get out the rain gear or rain covers once!  The traditional pizza and beer at Barley’s in Asheville and then the Thanksgiving traffic on home.

Bob is having mental and physical equipment failure.  He forgot his headlamp at the Hazel Creek Hilton (maybe scared by the bear) but I retrieved it for him and the fancy high healed GoLite shoes completely fell apart with tears in both tops!  No “perfect food” from Bob due to the fire ban and I had to cook two out of three meals and basically had to cook Bob’s because he doesn’t know how to cook anything but kielbasa when outdoors!  We have decided that maybe we can’t hike together any more because the people at the Silers Bald shelter thought we were brothers!  I was grievously insulted!

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