27 Sep Eagle creek double loop hike
Eagle Creek Double Loop Hike – Smokey Mountain National Park
This hike starting at Fontana dam completes a double loop formed by hiking up to the Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN divide 2 times via Eagle Creek, then by Hazel Creek, returning to the NC valley via Jenkins Ridge and Welch Ridge respectively. Highlights of the trail are the areas documented by Horace Kephardt in “Our Southern Highlanders” when he lived near Hazel Creek / Jenkins Ridge near the settlement of Medlin for 3 1/2 years in the early 1900’s.
Sept 2009 Reservations – 865-436-1297 Permit 75447
61.9 miles hiking distance over 5 days.
Friday night – Fontana Hilton Sat
Tue, Sept 5, 2009 – Campsite 86: total 16.6 miles Wed – : total 9.6 miles
Day 1 , Sept 5
Fontana Hilton on AT to Lakeshore Trail is 1.5 miles, on Lakeshore Trail 5.2 mi to Lost Cove Trail, Eagle Creek trail 8.7 mi to Spencefield shelter, Appalachian Trail 0.6 miles to Jenkins Ridge Trail for 1.8 miles to Gunna Creek (17.8 miles)
Hiked from Fontana Hilton over dam and was treated to the sight of a bald eagle climbing and climbing up the valley and finally over the 400 plus foot dam. It circled over the lake and finally settled on a tree top on the Smoky Mountain side. Lakeside trail, former hwy 288, had a number of rusted out old cars from the 30’s. Saw my first wild pig razorback. It had long legs and was black. Standing in the trail and not noticing me. Cool!! Eagle creek was very easy to cross. Not like December when it was a raging river. The next to last part of the Eagle Creek Trail ascends steeply. It is a leg buster. Ridge Runner older couple had tent set up at Spencefield. They questioned me and when I told the lady that I didn’t have resaevations at Spencefield, she told me that she was a ridge runner and that I wasn’t welcome. I went on up the trail and told people I met that I was headed down Eagle Creek. Actually, I headed to Jenkins Ridge. Wanted the Ridge Runner to think I was camping at 97 on Eagle Creek. I’m actually stealth camping of sorts on Jenkins Ridge at Gunna Creek. Only flat place for miles. Trail is overgrown with nettle and blackberries. Not ideal spot, but it is home with rain now coming down with me laying under my tarp, nestled in my down bag with a belly full of mashed potatoes and wine.
Razorback Hog on Lakeshore Trail – Notice the bristles standing up on its back!
Day 2, Sept 6
Gunna Creek on Jenkins Ridge Trail 7.1 miles to Hazel Creek Trail, Hazel Creek Trail 0.8 miles to Bone Valley Trail, Bone Valley Trail up and back to Bone Valley Campsite 83, 3.6 miles – (11.5 miles)
Litted and Tied up the corner of my tarp to open it up like a lean-to. Made more room for cooking. Didn’t want to chance a storm as I ate breakfast. Began raining a couple of miles into the hike. Crossed tailings of a couple old copper mines. Saw a side trail going uphill with only a no horses allowed sign. Found a cemetery on top. Later learned that it was Higdon cemetery. There was one grace just outside the boundary of the cemetery with a stone reading “A Black Man”. It was a man who died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919. He worked for Ritter in the logging operation and died while helping others with the flu. Maybe that was why he was welcome at this cemetery, sort of. At Bone Creek I set up my tent lean-to style in order to give me more room. It opens toward the creek which runs about 25 ft away. After settling in and eating tuna fish wraps for lunch, I Took a hike up Bone Valley to see the Kress Cabin and another cemetery. Saw a bear in the middle of the road. Got a photo, but the flash was enough to make him move off the road. Wish I could have gotten closer. Back at camp, I did laundry and took a bath in Hazel Creek. Now I smell good! Noticed that my boots are coming completely apart fr the sole. It seemed like the Gortex wasn’t keeping water out. Now I know why! Guys at the campsite were Rick and Cairo from TN. They were 61 years old and had canoed across Fontana then hiked up Hazel Creek. Shared their dehydrated apple crumb cake. Thanks guys!
Post Office at the Settlement of Medlin (Now the campsite at the intersection of Jenkins Ridge Trail and Hazel Creek Trail.)
Day 3, Sept 7th
Hazel crk tr 1.3 mi to intersection with Cold Spring Gap trail, continue on Hazel Creek trail 8.1 mi to Welch ridge trail, Welch ridge 1.7 mi to Siler Bald shelter: total 11.1 miles
Hazel Creek trail was nothing like Jenkins Ridge. It has a gradual climb with plenty of switchbacks. The lower portion follows a road where tire tracks can be seen. The middle portion is a true trail that requires many rock hopping creek crossings. Saw a great number of animal tracks, but none of the owners. Did not see anyone until I reached Silar Bald on the AT. Soon after I summited on top of Welch Ridge, I noticed darkening clouds directly ahead. There was a drenching rain shower just after I made Silar Shelter at about 1 PM. Ate yummy mashed potatoes for lunch. Visited with passing through hikers. My shelter mates are Terry (big man, bigger backpack) and Craig from Knoxville. Terry is a first timer carrying over 50 pounds. He hiked the 6 miles from Clingman’s Dome and was exhausted. He was out for 10 days, but already rethinking his trip. He brought a full sized coffee pot and brewed us some coffee. Saw a buck and doe at our bear line. They were scampering and playing before taking much notice of me. Once I moved back, the buck again approached the bear line. Got a photo of the buck. My Ridge Runner pals showed up for the night. As they walked up, I loudly said, “Well, it’s the Ridge Runners”, in order to ruin their sneaky cover as regular hikers. They later started giving a couple of late arriving kids a hard time about not having a hiking permit, but they did offer to make arrangements to get them set up with a permit. Well, at least we had shelter monitors for the night. I go out here to get away from people telling me what to do.
Day 4, Sept 8th
Appalachian Trail to 0.7 miles to Welch Ridge Trail 7.3 miles to Cold Spring Gap Trail (side hike to High Rocks 0.6 mi), 3.5 miles to Hazel Creek Trail, follow Hazel Creek Trail 6.5 miles to Lakeshore Trail, Lakeshore Trail toward Fontana approx 1 mile to Campsite 87 (Campsite 87 is not on maps or guide) – (19.6 miles)
Went out of shelter to use the bathroom and saw glowing eyes of a deer on the trail just in front of me. Later when there was a little light, I went back and when I came around the corner there was a buck about 15 feet from me. Terry was up before 5 am cooking and making noise. I didn’t mind, but I wondered about the others. After about 5:30, I finally decided to get up for an early start. Welch ridge was a pleasant walk, but overgrown in places with blackberries. I tried identifying some of the plants. There was the orang jellybean plant; similar to Solomon’s Seal. There was a plant that always growing over the trail that had leaves like green bean plants and whip like racemes withe tiny white buds running the length. Did not see any one until I arrived back at Bone Valley CS. Now I sit by the campfire at unmapped CS 88 without seeing anyone other than the 2 fishermen at Bone Valley. Pleasant level walk on road along Hazel Creek for over 5 miles. Stopped for a refreshing swim and wash. The Gennet Magnolia overhanging the river had bright red fruit. The sun was shining through the green leaves of a river birch. I found a sunny rock in midstream for my rest spot. Nearer the site of the former sawmill town of proctor, I spied a large old building through the trees. I had to look several times to make sure it was really a structure and not an illusion. Took photos of this giant brick and concrete structure. This turned out to be the old drying kiln for the sawmill. It had dikes in front where the log pond had been. Missed my campsite at Proctor. I should have crossed the bridge at Proctor and headed east on Lakeshore Trail. Instead, I went west on Lakeshore. I finally stopped to check my map and saw the error. Instead of turning back, I went on. I was lucky that in a short while I came up on campsite 88, a site that is not on the map. The campsite had plenty of dry wood nearby so I built a campfire. I had the camp by myself and had only seen the 2 fishermen all day.
Cabin at High Rocks with Chestnut Shake Siding.
Campsite 87 on Lakeshore to trail to Appalachian Trail near Fontana 8.6 miles, 1.5 miles to Fontana dam and on to Fontana Hilton (10.1 miles)
Again, didn’t see anyone while hiking. Hiked these last 10 miles quickly, finishing before noon. Had a great view of a ptarmigan. This was my 3rd sighting since yesterday. They always startle you, but you rarely get a good look at one. Also came up on a couple of turkeys. It was humid. I put away my hiking poles for the last couple of miles. Nice change for the easier terrain. While crossing Fontana dam I began losing my balance. A work crew was jackhammering the cracks in the pavement along the road that traverses the dam. The dam was swaying. At more than 400 ft tall, the dam is scary enough when it doesn’t move. I walked faster.