Smoky Mountains



Big Creek Loop

Mount Sterling Loop

Kayaking Fontana Lake

Deep Creek Backpack Fishing Trip

End-to-end hike on the Appalachian Trail thru the Smokies

Backpacking from Abrams Creek Ranger Station

Maddron Bald Loop

Backpack Fishing Hazel Creek

Old Settlers Trail

Lakeshore Trail

Clingmans Dome/Little River 

Forney Ridge/Forney Creek Loop


Backpacking from Abrams Creek Ranger Station

Looking out from Pine Mountain on the Rabbit Creek Trail

October is a great time to be in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From low to high, hikers will find some spot where the leaves are presenting a cornucopia of color. On this trip I decided to embark from Abrams Creek Ranger Station, on the far western side of the Smokies, in Tennessee.

Footbridge over Abrams Creek

The cloudy afternoon accentuated the red maples and yellow tulip trees as I crossed Abrams Creek on a footbridge and made my way up Pine Mountain on the Rabbit Creek Trail. It wound its way ever higher, passing through an area of storm damage that left much of the forest low and new, growing amid the following trees from the storm.

Johnny hikes amid fall splendor on the Rabbit Creek Trail

Just as I finished the 1,000 foot climb the sun broke through the clouds, shining light on the autumn glory. I drifted downhill to Scott Gap after 2.7 miles and reached my campsite. It is campsite # 15 and goes by the name of Scott Gap.

Johnny relaxes by the fire at Scott Gap campsite #15

 

The campsite was littered with a kaleidoscope of fallen leaves that contrasted with the preserved hemlocks. I scooted down to the spring. The water was flowing weakly and hard to get. Therefore I placed a rhododendron leaf on a rock over which water flowed, causing the water to spill down the leaf. Thus I could fill my water bottle.

Wood was easy to find. It looked as if no one had camped there in quite a while. I quickly started a conflagration as the fall temperatures drifted down with the sun. I read by the fire until late. The crickets of fall lulled me to sleep and I slumbered peacefully under the stars.

Autumn leaves carpet the trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Next morning I broke camp and took the Hannah Mountain Trail from Scott Gap, aiming for Abrams Creek. Fall colors were quite vivid here as well, and the storm damage was amazing too. The sun had started to warm the day by the time I got to the ford of Abrams Creek. Since I didn’t want to wet my shoes socks or pants I simply took them off and walked through the chilly water, hoping no one would come upon a half naked man trying to make his way across a Smoky Mountain stream.

Johnny overlooks the ford of Abrams Creek on the Hannah Mountain Trail

Luckily, no one appeared and I was soon reclothed and reshoed and on my way, joining the Little Bottoms Trail. Since this storm, the views into the Abrams Creek Gorge are wide open from the Little Bottoms Trail. You can see the shoals and rapids deep in the valley from which rises dense woods. In the distance, Chilhowee Mountain forms a rampart. It is all visible now until you arrive at Little Bottoms, Campsite #17. I pressed on beyond the campsite. The trail then saddled directly alongside Abrams Creek, offering incredible aquatic beauty as well as fishing and swimming opportunities.

Looking out on Chilhowee Mountain from Abrams Creek Gorge

After climbing a low ridge I dropped into the Kingfisher Creek drainage. There I found Cooper Road, campsite #1. This is an unsung camp, the lowest in the park at only 1,100 feet and is easily accessible by trail. I enjoyed its biodiversity – the number and variety of trees is amazing considering that it once an old homestead.

Also, the campsite avails a quick exit and close access to Knoxville, Tennessee, so I will often stay here the night before going to see the Tennessee Volunteers play football at Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium.

And that’s what I did the next morning, left the Smokies and went to see the Vols play!

Maddron Bald Loop

It was a cold but sunny day when Johnny, along with his buddy John Cox, headed to Smoky Mountains, taking on the two night backpack known as the Maddron Bald Loop. They left the Cosby part of the park on the Gabes Mountain Trail.

John Cox and Johnny at the Gabes Mountain Trail-head

They crossed streams that were full from recent rains on the way to Campsite #34, Sugar Cove. Hen Wallow Falls, which they passed along the way, was rocking.

Hen Wallow Falls – Falls above Hen Wallow Falls

They hiked into snow as they gained elevation. Sugar Cove was dusted in the white stuff. Upon arrival they gathered wood for a warming winter fire.

Campsite #34, Sugar Cove

Clouds came in and it didn’t get as cold as they thought, so it was a little easier to get out of the bag the next morn. After leaving camp, Johnny took a side trip down to the Willis Baxter Cabin before meeting John up at Albright Grove, a special area of old growth trees.

Willis Baxter Cabin

They climbed into the high country, rock hopping many swollen streams, then passed a great view on the Maddron Bald Trail before pulling into snow covered Otter Creek campsite #29.

View from heath bald on Maddron Bald Trail

A chilly wind blew through the hollow, pushing them to gather wood with determination.
 

Otter Creek Campsite #13

The night actually warmed as a rainy front was on the way,luckily the precipitation held off, mostly, til the next morning. They crossed over Maddron Bald with its great views of the high country before descending via the wet and icy Snake Den Ridge Trail.

Snow comes to Maddron Bald

The rain pounded as their adventure ended back at Cosby,another Smoky Mountain adventure under their belts.

Backpack Fishing Hazel Creek

Trout Fishing Hazel Creek in the Smoky Mountains

The heat of summer is a great time to escape to the Smoky Mountains, especially along its cool clear streams.Hazel Creek is perhaps the most famed trout fishing destination in the Smokies. Johnny used an old trick to access the stream, paddling his canoe from Cable Cove Campground (Nantahala National Forest) and boat launch located on the south side of Fontana Lake. It’s about a 5-mile paddle including heading up the embankment of Hazel Creek. The sun was burning but the scenery made it worthwhile as Johnny crossed to the Smokies.

Paddling across Fontana Lake Into Hazel Creek Embayment

Johnny landed and immediately set up his tarp and gathered dry wood to store at Proctor, Campsite #86. It wasn’t long before major thunderstorms began, and Johnny was temporarily stranded under the tarp. Lightning was popping and thunder was pounding but the rain ended that evening. Johnny later fish a bit, but the rain resumed and Johnny barely got dinner cooked.

Johnny at Sawdust Pile, Campsite #85

Next morning, Johnny headed upstream 3.3 miles to Sawdust Pile, Campsite #85. He fished between off and on rain, landing enough to trout over the fire, putting the fish directly on a grill and using the heat and smoke to cook and flavor them.Johnny derived great enjoyment from seeing all the rhododendron blooms that lined Hazel Creek.

     

 Rhododendron blooms on Hazel Creek – Beautiful Trout Fishing Waters
Johnny then headed on up to Sugar Fork,Campsite #84. The day cleared, and glorious sunshine filtered onto Hazel Creek. After setting up camp and spreading out everything to dry, Johnny went on a major fishing session and brought home several trout to cook.This time he breaded them in cornmeal and fry them in oil over the fire.What a Smoky Mountains treat!

Frying trout over the fire

If you are interested in backcountry trout fishing, or cooking trout, see Johnny’s book Backcountry Fishing.

Another sunny day greeted Johnny, and he headed up to Calhoun, Campsite #82, the highest back country campsite on Hazel Creek. The bees were troublesome but other than that, all was well. Johnny had a rather good day fishing and brought home trout for lunch. A bear showed up while he was cleaning the trout but it scurried away. That afternoon Johnny laid around relaxing and reading. Later, he headed to the upper, smaller stretches of Hazel Creek and fished more.When he returned his friend Bryan Delay had arrived at the campsite after paddling across Fontana Lake, then hiking 8 miles of the Hazel Creek Trail. Bryan had brought his new fly rod and put on a little fishing clinic himself, catching a trout at a pool near the campsite.

  

Hazel Creek Trail – Rhododendron petals on the trail

Under darkening skies, Johnny and Bryan backtracked down the Hazel Creek Trail. The rain soon began and they ended up hiking nearly the whole way back in the rain, arriving at Fontana Lake, then switching from backpacking mode to canoeing mode in a downpour. They then paddled in the rain back to Cable Cove, ending their trip on a wet note.

More Hazel Creek Scenes

Beam of Light

Johnny fishes for trout at Calhoun, Campsite #82

Sun dapples Hazel Creek


End to End AT thru hike in the Smokies

 Snowy spruce trees on the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies

Johnny and his friend Scott Davis set out in late April at Davenport Gap, on the east end of the Smokies, aiming to cross the Smokies at their widest point, on the Appalachian Trail. They climbed into a cool and sunny day, finally reaching a snow line and elevations high enough to where the trees were covered in rime ice. The 16 mile hike led them to Tricorner Knob Shelter, where they ran into the first of many Appalachian Trail thru hikers, who were headed north. The night chilled down to 26°, but a fireplace in the shelter helped pass the evening.

        

Near Lower Mount Cammerer Trail    Rime ice coats the trees along the Appalachian Trail

The next day, the pair continued southbound on the Appalachian Trail, in the high country spruce-fir forest. The views were far reaching, especially at Charlies Bunion, a rock outcrop with vistas extending into Tennessee as far as the eye can see. Another long day lead them in into Ice water Springs shelter, where they bumped with more Appalachian Trail thru hikers.

Johnny and Scott at the Ice-water Springs shelter

Charlies Bunion

Scott rests in front of  Ice-water Springs shelter

At the Narrows in the Smokies

Late on the second night the winds started blowing and they continued for the remainder of the trip. After crossing Newfound Gap, the pair met Scott’s mom at Indian Gap, where she graciously provided us with restocking and supplies, as well as some fresh barbecue. We were very thankful for her help. She also shared food with Appalachian Trail thru hikers who were passing by and were surprised to get doughnuts, bananas, apples, barbecue and more.

   

Scott’s mom, Ruth, brought us a resupply – Spring beauties

Johnny and Scott continued on the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies, making the ascent over Clingmans Dome. Stupendous views lay ahead beyond the dome, but the winds were wailing at upwards of 40 miles an hour. In late afternoon, the two of them made Siler’s Bald Shelter, a ridge-top camp where the winds were ripping so strongly Johnny made only the smallest of cooking fires.  Beyond Siler’s Bald, the crest of the Smokies leaves the spruce-fir forest, entering hardwoods. The trees had not begun to leaf out and beneath them grew thousands upon thousands upon thousands of wild flowers, especially spring beauties and trout lilies.

      

Trout lilies – Bluets beside the Appalachian Trail

They spent their final night at Mollies Ridge shelter, where an incessant wind made camping conditions challenging. An early night to bed had them well rested for the final push to Fontana Dam, where they completed their 72 mile trip across the Smokies in 96 hours. Scott’s mom Ruth was there waiting and we were glad, as a rain had begun.

Appalachian Trail near Fontana Dam

Tennessee Fan Back on Rocky Top

Near Mount Guyot

Deer on Appalachian Trail


Deep Creek Backpack Fishing Trip

Midsummer is a great time to escape into the depths of the Smoky Mountains beneath that deep canopy of green along a crystal-clear creek, where the temperatures stay cool even on the hottest days.  To that end Johnny and friend Bryan Delay left the busy Deep Creek campground after a thunderstorm, then traveled through a misty dripping forest 3 miles to Bumgardner Branch, campsite #60.  Despite the rain, the pair got a fire going and enjoyed the evening, which stay dry after the thunderstorm.

Johnny editing the Backcountry Fishing manuscript while at Baumgardner Branch campsite

Next morning, Bryan had to head back home while Johnny stayed at Bumgardner Branch.  He brought a working copy of his forthcoming book entitled Backcountry Fishing.Not only did he work on the edit of the book, he actually went fishing with the book in mind, taking notes.  His office really is in the wilderness, as his business card states.  Deep Creek did not disappoint as he enjoyed two fishing sessions that day.  Though it thundered in the area, rain never fell on Bumgardner Branch. The second night at this campsite wasn’t as cool as the first, however the weather was great for sleeping.

         

     Mushroom emerges after rain – Deep Creek reflects morning sunlight

An early start and a fast 3 miles brought Johnny to McCracken Branch, campsite #59. Heavy storms were predicted for that day, therefore Johnny set up the tarp and gathered plenty of wood to put under it before embarking on a fishing venture. He spent most of the day in the water, casting for brown and rainbow trout in Deep Creek. The beauty of this Smoky Mountain stream must be seen to be believed and can even overshadow the fishing. That afternoon, friend John Cox showed up and they appreciated the dry evening, cooking out fresh trout as an appetizer, then smoked sausages over the fire for dinner, along with some succotash. The rains never came.

 

  At Nick’s Nest campsite – Under the tarp waiting out the rain

It was but a half mile to the next campsite upstream, Nick’s Nest Branch, #58.  Good thing they got there early, because after setting up their shelters, gathering wood and starting a fire a serious rainstorm ensued.  Somehow they kept the fire going, but as soon as the rain let up the two of them struck out for Deep Creek, knowing that the trout sometimes turn on after a storm.And turn on they did — Johnny enjoyed a stellar afternoon, catching many aggressive fish.  They limited out, and that evening had fresh trout rolled in corn batter, along with mashed potatoes for dinner.

Rekindling fire after fishing – Cooking fresh trout over hot coals

After four nights in the woods, the pair backtracked down Deep Creek back to civilization, another Smoky Mountain adventure under their belts.

Trial by Trail Backpacking in the Smoky Mountains

Enjoy more adventures with this book by Johnny


Forney Ridge Forney Creek Loop

Long time backpacking buddy John Cox joined Johnny on this trip that started 6,400 feet high on the shoulder of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.

Forney Ridge as seen from Andrews Bald

The pair left the dome on a gorgeous clear day and headed down Forney Ridge, stopping at Andrews Bald, a scenic meadow 5,800 feet high, where views opened to Fontana Lake and the mountains beyond.

       Johnny by massive trailside oak – At Jonas Creek Campsite

From here, the two continued down Forney Ridge to the Spring-house Branch Trail at Board Camp Gap.  They wound downward a total of nearly 10 miles before arriving at CCC backcountry campsite,elevation 2,160, making for a drop of over 4,000 feet.  Johnny was using his new  Lafuma backpack, which fit like a glove and its gel padded shoulder straps really helped on the descent. They enjoyed  solitude at CCC, after swimming in the stream.  A big moon rose but they slept great. Next morning, the pair loaded up and made the short trek to Jonas Creek campsite.  Though a mere mile distant, they changed sites since John Cox is trying to stay at all the backcountry sites in the park.  Johnny has already stayed at all the sites in the park.  This day was devoted to trout fishing.  Both caught many trout, all rainbow.

Forney Creek is a great trout fishing venue

After another evening of solitude, they headed up Forney Creek, following an old railroad grade to Steeltrap backcountry campsite, 4000 feet high.  Even at this elevation,streams provided more great fishing opportunities.  There, in the shadow of Clingmans Dome, the pair fished for brook trout, catching many small ones, and releasing them, before an afternoon storm set in.

John and Johnny drying off at Steeltrap Campsite after the storm

The campsite felt more”Smokies-like” after the rain, but they got a fire going and cooked out brats for dinner, recounting their trip, then hit the hay under their tarps, readying for the final climb back to Clingmans Dome under the dense canopy of green that is the Smoky Mountains in summertime.


Day and Overnight Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 4th edition

Day and Overnight Hikes: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Day and Overnight Hikes)

This is Johnny’s hiking guidebook for the Smoky Mountains, where he has spent over 600 nights backpacking


Clingmans Dome/Little River Trip

High Country, Trout Fishing and a Little Bear Action

Johnny with Kevin and Scott Davis near Clingmans Dome

It was early May when Johnny accompanied brothers Scott and Kevin Davis on a trip high in the Smokies.  The threesome left Clingmans Dome on a crystal clear day, when it seemed you could see forever.  They followed the Appalachian Trail southbound to the Goshen Prong Trail, taking in the many views along the way.

        

Scott and Kevin descend from Clingmans Dome – Kevin near Clingmans Dome

The air warmed a bit as they aimed for the lowland of the Little River.  It was a long, pounding way down to the Little River and Camp Rock campsite, #23.  The air was cool down here under the budding yellow birch trees that form a canopy over the campsite.  It wasn’t long before they went fishing.Johnny went up Fish Camp Prong, which is one of the Smokies most beautiful streams.  A few native brook trout and the non native rainbow trout were the catches of the day.

Little River

Next day, they headed down Goshen Prong Trail to Little River Trail,then turned upstream to Rough Creek campsite, #24.  The sun shone through the trees on this gorgeous spring day.  As they made lunch they had a visitor — a black bear!  Johnny jumped up and ran in the opposite direction of the bear to get a pot to bang, and the bear sensed retreat then followed, but Johnny stopped then the bear stopped.  He then retrieved the pot to bang while yelling and hollering at the bear, who merely circled the perimeter of the campsite.

At the bear campsite, Rough Creek, #24

The men hurriedly wolfed down their sandwiches and made a fire to burn the food packages.  Finally Johnny kept running after the bear making a racket and he finally retreated into the laurel. They celebrated the bear’s departure with cheap cigars. The campers were wary of the bear all day, posting at least one man at the campsite while the others fished and explored.

   

Scott Hangs the Packs

No Bear Can Reach These Packs That night we expected a bear raid and cooked our kielbasa with trepidation, but alas, no bear.  The evening passed uneventfully and we slept under the stars, which were covered by clouds that brought a dawn rain.  The precipitation hurried our departure and we were soon at my Jeep at Elkmont.  I then took the brothers up to Clingmans Dome, ending our adventure.


Kayaking Fontana Lake

Johnny and Mark Carroll team up for Sea Kayaker magazine article

   Cable Cove boat launch was starting point for this water-based exploration of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.The 60-mile loop, spread over 6 days, would allow us plenty of time to enjoy the Smokies, not only from the water, but also along the hiking trails that course from the water’s edge into the heart of the park.

Cable Cove boat launch

    Johnny was joined by real photographer Mark Carroll,his brother, Frank, Jeff and Bryan.  We left Cable Cove under dark skies.Fontana Lake is broken by narrow bays that lead to quiet mountain coves, each with a clear creek spilling forth from the dark forested ridges. The coves,locally known as “hollows,” are where you are likely to find remnants of cabins,where homesteaders carved out a life in this “back of beyond” long before Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a reality and Fontana Lake was an idea in some engineer’s mind. We aimed for Double Island and backcountry campsite #78 (all Smokies campsites have a name and corresponding number), paddling over the glassy lake, creasing the still reflections of mountains all around us. The tallest ridges poked into the cloudy sky, their heights cloaked in the darkness.Fog drifted across the lake, alternately revealing and obscuring what lay before us. Low-lying, gauzy mist crawled up the hillsides, changing shape and form,before melding with clouds above. The name Smoky Mountains never seemed more appropriate.

Paddling in the fog         Reflection in compass mirror          Paddling in the rain

 

Our loop took us east to Double Island, then on to Forney Creek.  Double Island is one of 12 boat-accessible Smokies backcountry campsites on Fontana Lake. This campsite is only a few steps from the water.Other boat-accessible campsites

on Fontana Lake. This campsite is only a few steps from the water.Other boat-accessible campsites necessitate a walk of up to a half-mile. The rain remained as we swung back west, stopping at North Shore Campsite, then  headed up Hazel Creek to Proctor Campsite, where we explored a lot.

   

         Bryan on the water                 Frank by the fire            Jeff rustles up some grub

    Hard-working timber cutters and mill workers cut loose on nearby Struttin’ Street, now part of the Lakeshore Trail. The old Calhoun House, across the creek from the backcountry campsite, now serves as apart-time ranger station. The town quieted after Ritter Lumber Company left, but it wasn’t long before the park and lake were established and everyone had to leave. Old chimneys, stone walls, rusting metal tubs and china shards litter the abandoned homesites. Now, it is hard to visualize Proctor in its heyday, as the forest has recovered magnificently. Mark and I walked to see the other large remaining structure, an old brick mill where much of the timber was processed.Here, too, the brick walls were succumbing to the relentless growing green. I turned to Mark and commented, “Here in the Smokies, if it ain’t moving, something’s growin’ on it.”

We fished the lake on the way to Eagle Creek. The clear mountain water of the Eagle Creek embayment gave way to intense green mountains.In the depths of green, I could make out the Shuckstack Mountain fire tower high on a ridge to my left. I hung close to the shore checking out the floral display. Petals dropped from the rhododendrons and floated on the lake’s surface. Rounding a corner at the end of the embayment we surprised a black bear on the shoreline. It its haste to turn tail toward the deep forest, the bear slipped on the clay shoreline into the water, its legs spinning madly, before gaining purchase and dripping its way out of sight.

After making camp, I headed up Eagle Creek, with its weathered lichen covered bluffs and small islands threaded by translucent trout laden water.  This stream one of the most beautiful and remote watersheds in the Smokies. The 17 fords on the upper Eagle Creek Trail keep the crowds away. This was the land of old-time miners and moonshiners. The park’s only serious mining effort took place here. Copper was the primary metal mined, along with some gold and silver. The ore was simply not worth the expense, considering the primitive means of extraction and difficult distances to market. However, remote hollows and side creeks throughout the area made moonshining much more lucrative. In his day, Quill Rose was Eagle Creek’s most renowned of maker of “corn squeezings.” Once hauled before court in Bryson City for moon shining, the judge asked Rose if he ever aged his whiskey before selling it. Quill replied, “I once aged it for a week, and I’ll be darned if it made a lick of difference.”

                

             Mark Checks His Photographs – Kayak Eye View of the Smokies

Nowadays, Eagle Creek is left to the plants, animals and hikers. My favorite lake-accessible hike in the Smokies, offering varied ecosystems and ending with a great visual reward, starts here. Jeff took the trek up the Lost Cove Trail along Lost Cove Creek to connect with the Appalachian Trail. Here, he headed south a short distance to Shuckstack Mountain, where one of two remaining fire towers in the Smokies offers clear views of the lake and of the spine of the Smokies rising to an apex at Clingmans Dome.

Rain was no longer a threat, but the potential enemy was cold. A front had pushed through and the lows were projected to dip into the 40s. We commiserated with some campers who had arrived by foot, as we all had flimsy summer-weight bags. The night was long. I was glad for morning so I could get moving but sad our trip was ending. All too soon we were paddling back the final 7 miles toward our put in. The sun rose over the Smokies and its light scattered across the water.   The high and dark mountains provided a backdrop to the reflecting rays,and we enjoyed one last view from our Smokies Grandstand


Big Creek Loop

    Johnny has been systematically re-hiking many of the trails in the Smokies.  He started in the park’s east end.The latest adventure was a 3 night trip, starting at Mount Sterling Gap.Johnny traversed the high country before dropping to Big Creek and Walnut Bottoms, where he stayed two nights.  The second day he walked the Camel Gap Trail, after returning friend Bryan Delay joined him for the last two nights of the trip.  The spring weather was favorable.  They then headed up the national park deserving Gunter Fork Trail to enjoy its many water features,after fording Big Creek.

Johnny Molloy Crossing Big Creek

 

 

Gunter Fork Falls

Gunter Fork Cascades

After leaving Gunter Fork, eventually joined Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and rambled through the high country to Pretty Hollow Gap, then joined the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail and dropped to Pretty Hollow campsite, #39.The day had clouded over but was warm.  A minor rain fell that night.Next day they took the historic Little Cataloochee Trail and saw several home sites, including the intact Cook Cabin.  They completed the loop on the Long Bunk Trail and reach Mount Sterling Gap.

Bryan crosses Pretty Hollow Creek

 

Mount Sterling Ridge Trail

Cook Cabin


Backpacking the Old Settlers Trail

    Johnny and his friends Bryan Delay and Steve “Devo” Grayson hit the Old Settlers Trail on a sunny March day to see the sights along this the most historic of all hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park.The trail generally stays in the lowlands but has significant ups and downs as it traverses terrain between Greenbrier and Cosby.  So many home sites are seen that Johnny nicknamed it the “Smoky Mountain Chimney Tour.”

Old Settlers Trail

Chimney near Timothy Creek

    The day warmed to above average temperatures,especially since their were no leaves on the trees.  Anytime from late fall to early spring is the best time to walk the Old Settlers Trail, as the leafless conditions allow for better viewing of the Tennessee pioneer homesteads.At camp, the sky stayed clear but surprisingly the temperatures warmed during the night, but no rain came.

Bryan and Johnny acheterviagrafr24.com sit by the fire at campsite #33

Next day, the three of them tackled the last 9 miles of the Old Settler Trail, seeing more homesteads, rock walls and, of course, chimneys.

Devo climbs ridge line east of Campsite #33

Bryan hops over Noisy Creek

Old rock wall on trail

 Jonquils planted long ago still bloom

    They made the Maddron Bald Trail late in the afternoon, which they took back down to Johnny’s car, and completed this one way hike that Johnny and Bryan agreed is one of the Smokies ten best trails.


Lakeshore Trail

The one and only Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the setting for this adventure.  Florida artist Aaron Marabel came along with Johnny for this 4 night adventure.  They decided to tackle the Lakeshore Trail, starting at Fontana Dam and hiking east to Bryson City.

Aaron gets scared when he sees a sign warning of bear activity!

The trip started dry as they wound up and down the ridges of the Lakeshore Trail.  The 6 miles to Lost Cove campsite, in the Eagle Creek embayment, went quickly.  A swim in Fontana Lake shed the sweat, though the temperatures were mild.  And soon, Johnny was tossing a line in Lost Cove Creek for trout – the rainy summer left the creeks high and the fishing was difficult.

Next day, Johnny and Aaron took the new section of the Lakeshore Trail connecting Eagle and Hazel creeks, the day was dark as they climbed to the divide between the creeks – the Hazel Creek side of the trail used old roads and passed many neat home sites, especially near the former town of Proctor.  The two of them pushed on, climbing Welch Ridge.  The rains really came just after arriving at campsite #77.  They hastily set up the tarp and relaxed.  Later, the rain let up enough to cook dinner and take a rough trek down to the lake on an old wagon road.

Light rain fell as they broke camp and walked a wet path – 8 miles later they arrived at Chambers Creek campsite – Johnny tackled the creek but the trout were few and far between, though he did checkout some old home sites upstream.  Aaron brought his sketch pad and worked on a nature landscape painting.

The night was dry and after a pancake breakfast, the two pushed east to Lower Forney, campsite #74.  The sun actually shone a while before an afternoon storm hit.  The air temperature didn’t break 72 degrees.  Aaron just couldn’t believe summer could be so pleasant!!!!

All too soon we were at the Road to Nowhere near Bryson City.  We shuttled back to Aarons truck at Fontana Dam,finishing another adventure!


Mount Sterling Loop

Bryan Delay Finishes Hiking All the Trails in the Smokies

View from Mount Sterling tower

       There was no snow on the ground as we left Big Creek Ranger Station.We headed up one of the Smokies steepest trails Baxter Creek, with its net gain of 3,500 feet.  There was 6 inches of the white stuff by the time we arrived at Mount Sterling.  It was near dark, so we just set up a tent and hunkered down.There was too much stuff and not enough room in the tent, and we kept losing stuff.  We even smoked cigars in the tent, which was a questionable decision.It went down to 14 degrees that night.

               

     Bryan and Johnny at Big Creek Trail head           Kevin and Johnny on Balsam Mountain Trail

Morning finally came and we left Mount Sterling, then down the Mount Sterling Trail and past the many home sites on the Long Bunk Trail to reach Little Cataloochee Trail.  This is also an historic path, which we took to reach Pretty Hollow Trail and Pretty Hollow campsite.  Kevin Thomas met us at the snow-less camp at 9 p.m.  A closed park gate had made his hike much longer than he anticipated.

Next morning, as we sat around the fire, the snow resumed, the three of us headed up the Palmer Creek Trail.  The snow kept getting deeper as we headed to Laurel Gap shelter.  There was 8 inches on top and still fallin’.  We got a fire going.  The temperature went down to 14 degrees again.

        

      Bryan and Johnny at Bryan’s Last Mile – Johnny crosses Gunter Fork

The snow was deep the next morning as we left Laurel Gap and headed to Gunter Fork Trail, where Bryan hiked his last miles in the Smokies.  We took a few pictures, then headed down Gunter Fork Trail through thigh high drifts.  We leveled off at Walnut Bottoms then took it the rest of the way back to the car for an 11 mile snowy adventure.