Trailhead: Tunnel at the end of Road to Nowhere
3/12 - 3/16/18 (4 nights)
2018 bag nights: 5
Day 1 miles: 6.5
Day 2 miles: 10.75
Day 3 miles: 11.25
Day 4 miles: 18
Day 5 miles: 3
Total miles: 50 miles
Campsites: 70, 82, 81, 74
So I wake up Monday morning and I find that school is cancelled because of snow and I look out my window to this.
I spent about 45 minutes shoveling 6 inches of wet heavy snow so I could get the car out of the driveway. And then I was off to North Carolina.
Driving down I got a little nervous because it was still snowing near Knoxville and it was very windy, did not look like a great day for hiking. I was especially worried that the snow would turn to rain. Thankfully, by the time I got to Bryson City, the snow had stopped and the sky was clearing up.
The tunnel at the end of the "Road to Nowhere"
The Whiteoak Branch and the Forney Creek trails are next to the respective creeks which means lots of cascading water. I love hiking with the sounds of a creek next to me.
Bridge across Forney Creek at site 70. This was a great place to sit after dinner and watch the sky get dark. The bourbon was nice as well.
The first day was easy even with a full pack, 6ish mostly flat miles (or at least flat for the Smokies). The second day was going to be a lot harder. I knew that the Hazel Creek trail was going to involve a lot of creek crossings, but I thought that the first part of the day would be dry feet and a climb up and over Welch Ridge. It turns out that the Jonas Creek Trail has 5 or 6 crossings, the first about 15 minutes after leaving camp. I had my trail runners, so I just wade through, unlike the older couple I caught up to who were taking off their boots for every crossing. So, I had cold wet feet/shoes all day long instead of just in the afternoon.
The Jonas Creek trail is great, with all the wet feet, it is probably better in the summer, but it was very pretty in the early spring. The water was very cold though.
Got up to Welch Ridge and there was still a bit of snow on the ground which made my wet feet even colder. In places the snow was 3-4 inches deep.
And then down the Hazel Creek trail and out of the snow. The Hazel Creek trail has a lot of creek crossings, but I had been here before so wasn't surprised. This is one of about 20 crossings over 4ish miles, most of them are no more than knee deep, so not hard, just cold and just as your feet start to dry out and warm up, there is another crossing.
In other parts of the trail, the creek just flows down the trail. At least it was not muddy.
Got to site 82 about 4pm and got water and firewood and just relaxed, crawled into my hammock to read a bit and slept through the night. I woke up to this and the snow was still coming down. Since I wasn't in a huge hurry, I used my hiking poles to prop up the tarp and had a leisurely breakfast and watched the snow. When it became apparent that the snow was stopping, I packed up and headed down the trail.
The lower part of the Hazel Creek Trail is an old railroad bed, so it is very easy walking with a slight decline going towards the old town of Proctor. Nice walking and the snow stopped after about an hour. The day never warmed up though and I had my fleece on the whole day.
Hazel Creek starts to build up steam as it drops lower in the valley and more side streams combine.
Glad the crossings in this part have bridges.
Lower Hazel Creek
The only "hard" part of the day was the climb over Welch Ridge on the Lakeshore Trail, not really hard, but not easy like the Hazel Creek Trail.
I detoured to check out Fairview Cemetery which is not far off the trail. While there I heard a loud plane and looked up to see a C-130 flying low over the Fontana Lake, low like below the ridge line, I couldn't move quick enough to get a photo though. Kind of cool and confirms what I thought I heard in the middle of the night on a past trip in the area.
I got to site 81 which has easy access to Fontana Lake. I had deliberately planned the trip because the last couple nights were supposed to be clear and moonless and I wanted to see stars.
You can see how low the lake is this time of year. In a couple months, all of this will be under water.
I was disappointed by the amount of skyglow. I think that the lake must reflect a lot of light. It was cold enough that I did not spend a lot of time with my camera, but the stars were very pretty.
You can just make out Orion behind the trees on the right and the bright star near the middle is Sirius.
The next day I was hoping to check out some of the old cemeteries along the Lakeshore Trail. At one point, there was an obvious side trail and this tree. I suspect that someone bent this tree to mark the trail to the cemetery.
A couple minutes from the tree was two graves. One was marked "Infant Cook" and the other "Helen Cook, daughter of HB and Mac Cook". All of the cemeteries in this area are filled with young children which makes the father in me sad.
Just off the trail is the remains of an old car. That is the rear of the car and you can see where the spare tire would have been mounted, the bolts are still there.
Old stone wall and the remains of a chimney
I got to site 98 about 4:00 and the wind was blowing right up the lake with gusts in the 30-40 MPH range. I decided that this did not look like a nice place to relax and looking at the map realized that I was about 7 miles from site 74 at Forney Creek. I had been there before and knew that I could get to the lake shore easily to see stars. And if I hiked the 7 miles today, I would have an easy 3 mile day back to my car. So, let's see if we can still do an 18 mile day.
The last hour was hard and I was regretting my decision, but I eventually reached site 74. No one was there which sort of surprised me. I set up camp and walked out to check out the lake and then had dinner. As I was finishing up, a solo hiker appeared. He mentioned a fire, I said I was planning on being lazy, but I would gather wood for a fire while he set up camp. We chatted a bit, but I was tired from my day and turned in early to read a little bit.
I woke up to a beautiful day and headed back to the lake after breakfast.
Forney Creek flowing towards the lake. The sun was just rising above the ridge on the left.
Cool looking rock in Forney Creek. All the other are brownish and then this glowing white one.
Sunburst over Forney Creek.
After photo time, I said goodbye to the other guy and packed up and had an easy hike to the car. I was glad that it was only 3 miles because my feet were a little sore from the previous couple of days. I got back to my car after an hour and regretted that I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes. All in all, a great trip, I got a physical/mental challenge on day 2 with creeks and snow, another challenge on day 4 with 18 miles, and mostly great weather and only a couple of other people.