Having hiked to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park earlier in the day, we now sit high above the valley floor at our Quality Inn and Suites motel here in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It doesn’t get much better than wine with Hannah at 100 feet. Click here for the link to the Charlie’s Bunion blog.
Taking the bypass around the Gatlinburg craziness this first week of October, we avoid the traffic, the shopping frenzy, and the snarl. Later in the day we find the trail log of a thru-hiker at an Appalachian Trail shelter who gives her two cents about Gatlinburg. Do not go to Gatlinburg, TENN!!! Not a friendly town. Too many tourists that do not like stinky “homeless looking” hikers. We met some cool cats through the Smokies.
Driving an hour through the Great Smokies to Cherokee, NC, we head west on backroads for the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam. As we approach the reservoir at Fontana Dam, we are stunned to see how low the lake is. Just two days ago, we hiked in eastern Tennessee to 80’ Laurel Falls, which didn’t have a trickle flowing from its head waters. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.
At the Fontana Dam Visitors Center, we learn that each fall the lake is drawn down (water is released into the Little Tennessee River) to prepare for winter snows and spring rains. This is all done to avoid the flooding of cities and farmland downstream, specifically Chattanooga, TN. During World War II, Fontana Dam was built in just 18 m0nths because of the war time need for electricity.
Walking the 2000 steps across this massive dam, we head north on the Appalachian Trail to Shuckstack Mountain, a killer assent of 2000’ elevation gain. With no intention of making this brutal climb, we look to just explore the approach to the mountain. Our plan is to hike ten minutes up the steep trail or until we cry “uncle;” in nine minutes we cry “uncle and aunt” and return down the mountain with our tails between our legs.
With the mountain rightfully claiming victory, we return to the dam and head south on the Appalachian Trail. Seeing southbound thru-hikers who are within 150 miles of finishing their 2180-mile hike through 14 states, we notice the Fontana Hilton, the sweetest shelter we have seen on the Appalachian Trail. With a metal roof, the shelter has double wooden platforms on either side of the structure for mats and sleeping bags.
Outside there is a solar phone charger! Nearby is a fire pit you might see in the finest of backyards in Ithaca, New York; no outhouse or composting toilet for these thru-hikers, there is a fine stone building with a flush toilet, sink, and shower.
Heading south on the AT for the next mile and a half, we have an easy peezy walk in the park above the reservoir’s edge. Arriving at the marina, we learn that though the lake has been drawn down, it is still 12-14’ below normal. Being 24-square miles, Lake Fontana must have a gazillion less gallons of water for the parched populace.
Nearby, we see this small memorial to BamaHiker, the last place where James hiked on the AT. His wife has printed the paragraph below of his dream of thru-hiking the AT that was cut short due to pancreatic cancer.
She asks hikers to take a stone that she has placed in a pair of James’s boots to celebrate the journey that he wasn’t able to complete.
Since she left her email address requesting a picture of our hike, later I email her with some of these blog pictures near the Fontana Dam. The next day Brenda emails back. With her permission, I share her response.
Dear Dan, thank you so much for your email. Please know it so excites me to hear from hikers that stop, take the pebbles and carry them along the trail. I appreciate you and your wife, Hannah, for taking one of my husband’s pebbles. I look forward to reading your blog. I just went to the site and added my email so I can follow you and your adventures. I would count it as an honor if you would include my husband’s story in your blog. He was an awesome man, husband, father and Christian. He is sorely missed! I hope that his story inspires other hikers to press on and not give up. I pray that his spirit of determination helps them along the trail through those difficult days.
May God bless you and your wife, Brenda
What has been another good day on the Appalachian Trail has bumped up to a heart-tugging day of joy for us.
By the way, once home, Hannah emails too, and offers Brenda a homemade shawl from our friend Helen, who creates them in memory of her son. Helen hopes the shawls provide comfort to others experiencing a difficult time in their lives. Here’s Brenda’s response to Hannah’s outreach.
Please contact Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of someone who could use the loving warmth of a Maine shawl during a time of crises, acceptance, or reflection.