Days 20 – 23 Fontana Dam Shelter to Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg, TN (Mile 206.8 since Springer Mountain)
For those of you who know me, you probably won’t be surprised that I made it to Gatlinburg in time to be showered, fed and glued to the Masters Golf on TV as I write this.
It has been a spectacular three days in the Smokies, elevating not only us but also the quality of our views, so I make no apology of including more videos that can only give you an impression of the views burned on my mind forever.
Fontana Dam was a different experience for us all, with a funny little “town” that appeared to have been constructed for hikers alone. I had chosen not to stay at the Fontana Dam “Hilton” shelter, though had hiked all the way to it, so I could start my Smoky Mountain experience from the shelter.
The following video shows the unusual view from the shelter that awaited those who spent the night there. Normally, we just see trees and a privy or, if no privy, a toilet paper minefield. Believe me, you really don’t want me to explain that!
The approach to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to give it it’s full name, is on the road across the dam itself and I felt a little lonely and very small as I wandered across the dam, with the mighty Smokies fully in my vision. In a way, however, the silence was pretty much in keeping with most mornings, though walking on a flat road was something of a new experience for me.
Our elevation at Fontana Dam was only around 1700ft, while the target for the day, Mollies Ridge Shelter, is at 4570ft, so there was certainly a day of exertion ahead. However, the trail was often wide and I really enjoyed myself.
The next day was yet another milestone, one of particular importance to me, so I’ll let the video explain.
I think we all need goals to achieve and getting under 2000 miles, while still daunting, really makes me feel that I’m progressing toward the ultimate goal, still months away.
On the way, on this gorgeous day, I shot another beautiful short panorama, from Rocky Top, that truly took my breath away. I think you can hear from my hushed voice just how extraordinary the clarity of my view was at that moment.
When I entered the Smokies, I was rather hoping that my wild animal count might take a bit of a boost, as the return thus far had been somewhat underwhelming, with a grand total of 4 squirrels and a deer. FOUR SQUIRRELS, that’s about 40 miles a squirrel!! I see more than that driving through my community in Florida. Several people have suggested that the human corridor that hikers create keeps the animals away, though in one book that I read, Three Hundred Zeroes, by Dennis Blanchard, the author saw 38 bears. I think they’ll have to relocate the AT through several zoos on the way if I’m to see a bear this year!
My haul, now I’m halfway through the Smokies, has increased by just a squirrel and a mouse, so it’s still 40 miles a squirrel! Given the thickness of the woods on this approach trail in the video, you might have thought it would be the perfect hangout for a bear mugging, but all I heard was the odd sound and a few animal cries.
I’ve mentioned some trail magic along the way but forgot to refer to a terrific thing that we experienced in Franklin, NC. A bunch of us were at the Budget Inn when word got around that the First Baptist Church were sending round a couple of buses in the morning to take hikers to breakfast. To be honest, I think it was the unlimited coffee, pancakes and bacon that got most of us up for the 7.15 am bus as opposed to a few well chosen words from the pastor. However, that said, they offered a great breakfast and took pics of each hiker and provided us with notepaper and an envelope to send home to our loved ones. Diane got the letter a couple of days later and was very touched by this simple, but very Christian gesture.
The plan to get to Gatlinburg was very much on target as we left Derrick Knob Shelter on Saturday morning, though I was aware that this was going to be the toughest task. We were going to climb to the highest point on the entire AT, Clingmans Dome, which is at 6643ft. This was a real test for my lungs, though, once more, the views were sensational. I even managed to FaceTime Diane so that she could share the experience when I was near the top.
Clingmans Dome is quite the tourist attraction, so I started to wonder how Cleatus and Leanne would view a bunch of hobos emerging from the woods. I imagined the two of them, in their XXXXXL short shorts, chomping on nachos and cheese, in the haze of their pre-diabetic torpor, as we huffed and puffed towards them. We would be necessarily smug about our efforts, while they would likely use the same word, only taking the “s” at the front of the word and putting it at the end.
However, despite the fact that some of them looked like they had recently ingested a personal banquet, I was pleasantly, and somewhat embarrassingly, surprised by how complimentary and excited everybody we spoke to was about our adventure. I guess it serves me right to have been so cynical in my thoughts. I was at the top of the viewing tower with Boss Man and tried to get a 360 degree view, though you can see we had plenty of company.
They say that the AT provides you with things that you need and I had a prime example of that after Clingmans yesterday. As I approached the Dome, I downed the remainder of my second liter of water of the day, expecting to be able to fill up at Clingmans. Amazingly, there was no water fountain at the top, so I had to hike the remaining 4.5 miles to our overnight shelter with no water. I was getting a little desperate when I remembered that, earlier in the day, a young guy I met at the top of a previous mountain had given me a couple of sweets (candies). These fruity sweets lasted me all the way to camp and kept the dehydration at bay, though I gulped an entire liter when I got there. Funny how things just seem to happen when you’re out here.
This morning, there was a quick 5 miler to Newfound Gap and, aided yet again by the kindness of people, I was able to settle down and watch Bubba win the Masters for the second time.
One last thing that I should mention is that Health and Safety has hit the trail. At our shelter last night, Mt Collins Shelter, a new privy had been installed (yippee) and it is wheelchair accessible. With the best will in the world, a wheelchair could never be used on the trail but not only was there a ramp, but also a handrail against the privy. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?