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|Trip Reports The Trip Reports forum is for backpackers to share their actual (not links to) trip reports and/or journal entries for their wilderness backpacking and day-hiking trips. Please include photos and information regarding what worked (e.g. gear) and what didn't.|
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Appalachian Trail Section Hike: NOC to Pecks Corner, GSMNP - May 2-9, 2015
Day 1: Our shuttle driver dropped us off at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) around 7:30 AM Saturday morning. We hung out there waiting for the restaurant to open at 8 so we could fuel up before the hike. The 3,300 ft climb over 7.9 miles up to Cheoah Bald was tough but so worth the effort. Wild flowers, especially varieties of Trillium, were everywhere along the way and the bald was fantastic! After hanging out there a bit we moved on another 2.4 miles and camped at Locust Cove Gap where we were joined by three sections hikers. My wife was able to get through to us to pass along the news that the park service had left a message that our first stop in the Smokies, Birch Spring Gap, campsite 113 had been closed due to aggressive bear activity. So we at least knew ahead of time that once we reached the park we were going to have to adjust the schedule a bit.
At the start!
Sweet White Trillium(?)
The Gatewood Cape - 1st night
The Gatewood Cape - 1st night. Tarptent Moment (?) in the background.
Day 2: A 14.7 mile day that took us down to Stecoah Gap, up the grueling “Jacobs Ladder” which is 0.6 mile of straight up, and down to a stream just past Walker Gap where we camped for the night. We were treated to more trillium and some Squawroot. Our only company was a lone thru hiker hanging out in a slick Blackbird Warbonnet.
Large Flowered Trillium
Day 3: We made the short, 2.4 mile hike down to Fontana 28 quickly as we had a mail drop waiting for us at the lodge. If you plan on doing this section and elect to do a mail drop, which is the wise thing to do as the store at the village has a sparse and over-priced selection, be sure to send it to the village lodge and not the P.O. The P.O. is only open a few days a week and the hours are very limited. We sent ours to the lodge and the only thing that held us up a bit was that the shuttle staff was short-handed and running behind. Also, if you plan to grab a shuttle to the village, be sure to stop at Fontana 28 (first road you come to heading north). If you see the marina just down the road to your right, you’re there. There are some restrooms with a phone hanging up outside. Pick up the phone, dial 0 and tell them you want a ride to the lodge, P.O., store, whatever. $3/person each way but it’s worth it.
Resupply complete, we proceeded past the Fontana “Hilton” shelter, across the dam, and into the park. I believe the official park policy is that once you are contacted about a site closure you are to contact them to try to find an alternative site. At the time we didn’t know this so our plan was to hike the additional 6 miles up to the first shelter, Mollies Ridge and stay there. News travels fast on the AT and a park ridge runner later confirmed what had actually happened at site 113. Apparently a couple of girls had hiked in, set up camp and started cooking dinner when a bear came into camp and tore up their tent and packs. They ended up night hiking out of the park back to Fontana with not much more than their sleeping bags. A park ranger was then sent to the site to wait for the bear to return and put it down. Sad. We stopped off at Shuckstack fire lookout tower, got back on the AT and ended our day at Mollies Ridge.
Fontana "Hilton" Shelter
Crossing Fontana Dam
Shuckstack Fire Lookout Tower
View from the tower
Day 4: The additional 6 miles we put in the day before meant that our next stop, Spence Field Shelter, was only 5.7 miles away. We slept in a bit and enjoyed the easy hike. We stopped in at Russell Field Shelter for a snack and spoke to a park ridge runner who filled us in on what happened at site 113. Spence Field itself looks as though it would be spectacular in June when the rhododendrons are in bloom. It’s a beautiful area. A couple of trail maintainers stayed for the night and we had some great conversation with them. Other than that, cleaned up a bit, rinsed some clothes out and explored the field for a while.
Day 5: This day’s destination was Double Spring Gap Shelter, 13.8 miles away. The high light of the day was definitely Rocky Top but there were lots of great views along the way. We had been treated to fantastic weather every day up to this point and today was no different. I REALLY enjoyed the hike between Spence Field and Clingmans Dome. FANTASTIC!!! Thunderhead Mountain offered no real views unless you stood on a small pile of rocks and peered over the laurel but it was still an amazing hike. We shared the shelter with a small group of young thru hikers, one of which carried a ukulele. He played and sang while the rest of us enjoyed a fire and watched a deer that wandered into camp. Great way to end the day!
Heading to Silers Bald
Day 6: We left Double Spring Gap early and started the climb up to Clingmans Dome. Upon reaching the top we made our way up the tower, snapped some pics and headed on our way. We were already starting to see more people and hear traffic as we closed in on Newfound Gap. Before reaching the Gap, our ukulele-playing friend treated us to “Tears from Heaven” while we took a break. That was cool. We parted ways with our thru hiker buddies at the Gap…they were headed to Gatlinburg (or rather Craplinburg) to gorge at one of the AYCE places. Our destination for the night was Icewater Spring Shelter. We got setup in the shelter and collected water just before it started to pour. Day hikers on their way back to the Gap from Charlie’s Bunion started filling the shelter seeking some reprieve from the downpour. Most of them carried absolutely nothing with them for the hike. No rain gear, no water, nothing. Many were in shorts and flip flops or sandals. From this point you still have 3 miles back to the Gap, much of which is over chunky rock, and by this time it’s starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping. We offered a number of them trash bags to cover up with but all declined and eventually pressed on in the rain. Another thru hiker came in later and said he came upon two young drenched girls huddled together on the ground, still a mile or so from the Gap. He said he just told them to get off their butts and get moving. Scary!!!
View from The Narrows
Day 7: All that was left for my buddy to finish the AT in the park was to get to the Hughes Ridge Trail junction (where you turn off of the AT to get to Pecks Corner Shelter). The plan was to hike to there, stopping off at Charlie’s Bunion on the way since he hadn’t been there yet, then turn around and head back to The Boulevard Trail and stay at the shelter on Mt LeConte. The Bunion was great as usual and I never get tired of hiking The Boulevard. LeConte is another story. We got ourselves situated at the shelter, looked around a bit at the lodge (this was my buddy’s first time there), and then headed to Cliff Tops to get some sunset pictures. Then all of the lodge guests started showing up and a handful of those were loaded up on wine and obnoxious as can be. I was about to start pitching them over the edge one by one. It was a crappy way to end such a beautiful evening. This was my first time to Cliff Tops to catch the sunset. The three other times I was on LeConte, it was either fogged in or I just passed through. I can’t imagine it’s like that all of the time but I don’t imagine I’ll be going back anytime soon.
Sunrise at Icewater Spring Shelter
Sunset at Cliff Tops, Mt LeConte
Day 8: All that was left was to hike down the Rainbow Falls Trail to the motor nature trail and make a short road walk back to our car. It drizzled on us early on but then cleared up and turned HOT! My buddy had not seen Rainbow Falls and I had been going on and on about how cool it was. It turned out to be a trickle. I guess it’s been pretty dry out there up till now and I was so disappointed that he didn’t get to see it really flowing. Throw in the bazillion day hikers that we were now seeing, the crappy night from before, the unusual heat and I’m totally bummed out now! I wish we had parked the car at Cosby Campground further north, taken the shuttle from there to the NOC and just stayed on the AT until we reached Low Gap and dropped back to the car from there. We should have skipped Mt LeConte and stayed at Tricorner Knob instead. Lesson learned. It was still an amazing hike though! I absolutely love the park and there are lots of areas still to explore and areas I would like to revisit but I can’t wait to start heading north from Standing Bear Farm next year and put the park regs and crowds behind us!!!
Appears the park service just had to put another bear down, this time for stalking a ranger up on Mt LeConte by Cliff Tops.
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