28 Sep Lakeshore Trail – Hazel Creek to Tunnel
Shuttled from Tunnel Road to Nowhere to Fontana Marina by one time resident of Hazel Creek. – Marina Ferry to Hazel Creek. – Backpacking with swim breaks. – Chambers Creek. – From lake elevation to over 5000 feet on Bear Creek trail to High Rocks. – Tunnel Bypass Trail – Goldmine Loop Trail – Lower 1 mile of Nolan Creek trail.
Day 1, September 26, 2014 – “Meeting original resident of Hazel Creek for 17 years”
Hazel Creek to Chambers Creek (Campsite 98) – 14.6 miles
Thursday night I arrived at the tunnel outside Bryson City and slept in the back of my van. No moon and clear skies made the Milky Way and stars spectacular. I had arranged a pick up at 6:30 AM Friday morning by Gene Lamey. Gene pulled up about 5:45 AM. I explained that I had arrived late the night before. It took me only a few minutes to put on my hiking boots and grab my pack. Gene is 86 years old. He lived 3 or 4 miles up Hazel Creek until he was 17 years old. In 1944, after Fontana Dam was built the government moved all of the people out and promised to build a new road on the north shore of the new lake. The old road to Bryson City was submerged in most places.
As Gene drove, I asked a few questions with the hope that he would share stories of the time he lived in the Smokies. Gene talked about coon hunting up Cold Spring Gap toward High Rocks and he mentioned that there were a lot of bears this year with all of the acorns. “There were a lot of grapes, but Bears won’t eat grapes.” He told of how you could pay the mailman 50 cents to give you a ride from Hazel Creek back to Bryson City (about 30 miles). The mailman made his run twice a week.
I told Gene about my hike on Hazel Creek trail where I saw large buildings in the woods. He explained that these were the drying kilns for the lumber mill. They weren’t torn down because they weren’t made of wood. He said that during WWII with men sent to war, the boys cleaned off the mud and rocks picked up in the bark of the logs. The older men rolled the logs off the train.
I paid $25 for the one way ferry from the Fontana Marina to Hazel Creek. The one-way charge to Forney Creek is $110. I had expected the ride to Hazel Creek to be a short hop directly across the lake, but it was actually much farther. Luckily, I had not decided to plan a trip where I kayaked across.
A better name for this post might have been “Hiking the Welch Ridge” area. Within an hour of hiking I had climbed from Hazel Creek to a high point (2300 ft) on the lower end of Welch Ridge. I could have taken the direct route, bushwhacking straight up the ridge and through a few intervening gaps to High Rocks. Instead, I continued on Lakeshore trail over the next 2 days before reaching High Rocks. My first night’s campsite, nearly 15 miles down Lakeshore trail, Chamber’s Creek, flowed from Welch Ridge. For three days I was hiking along and around Welch Ridge. Finally, on the 3rd day, I crossed the lower part of Forney Ridge and went beyond the Tunnel to hike the lower part of Nolan Creek (Nolan Ridge). From Hazel Creek, the main ridges in order running toward the AT are Welch Ridge (to Silars Bald), Forney Ridge (to Clingman’s Dome), and Nolan Divide (to Clingman’s Dome).
Lakeshore trail is long and at least for me mentally, seemed very long. Hitchhikers covered my socks and shorts and even my shirt. I eventually began listening to some Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead. It wasn’t until I took a couple of breaks to swim in the lake and eat lunch that I could shake the boredom. I noticed persimmons growing in the shallow lake bed. I tried some of the ripest looking persimmons were spread beneath these trees. They were still bitter. I began noticing bear scat full of persimmon seeds.
After the 2nd swim break, the trail leveled on a road covered with wildflowers. A male goldfinch skittered along ahead of me for a while moving from perch to perch. My mood shifted to the glorious.
At Chambers Creek I set up my campsite and went back to the lake for a swim. In the clear water I could spot small trout. Eventually, I spied 2 large trout about 18 inches long. I laid on the beach in the sun and later brought out my supper to enjoy the last views of the sun. The channel opened up with a nice view of a mountain that I guessed was Cheoah Bald. This reminded me of the rainy and foggy day hiking the AT when I crossed Cheoah Bald.
A large group of mostly young canoeists had paddled in from 4 miles up the lake. They camped at the next tent site further up the creek. Other than these camper-canoeists, a couple of fishermen on the lake, and a pair a couple miles from Hazel Creek (probably locals paying respects at one of the many cemeteries), I saw no others. I was the only one out for an overnight hike of this trail.
Day 2, September 27, 2014 – “A last swim in the lake and climb to High Rocks”
Chambers Creek to Forney Creek on Lakeshore Trail – 6.6 mi, Forney Creek to High Rocks via Bear Creek Trail and Welch Ridge Trail – 6.3 mi, Return to Poplar Flats Campsite 75 on Bear Creek – 3.3 mi, Total distance – 16.0 miles
This Lakeshore Trail seems like it never ends. After the usual morning glow of hiking I began wondering how much further and began tracking progress on my Iphone GPS App. This app nearly got me into trouble the night before when I very nearly walked past Chambers Creek. The map and the trails didn’t overlay correctly at times making it appear that the campsite was on further at the top of the next ridge. This morning the app made me thing that I had an inlet to walk around before reaching an final inlet that was Forney Creek. I soon found out that the inlet I was already following was Forney Creek.
I stopped and made my way around to the right side bank to avoid bothering a couple of men fishing the creek from a boat. Working across the steep lake bank, the sandy bottom gave way and I caught myself with my hiking pole. The pole bent double and broke in half when I tried bending it back.
The last swim was nice. I used a boulder to deposit my things and floated around in the lake. I liked dropping down to just where my eyes were lake level where I would look across the still water to the mountains beyond. It was a peaceful perspective.
At the campsite near Forney Creek I met and spoke to a couple from Knoxville, TN. They had been thinking about hiking to High Rocks and back to Forney Creek, but were thinking better of leaving that late on a 13.5 mile hike. Later after I had set up my camp at Poplar Flats they came hiking up Bear Creek trail. They had changed their minds and had decided to hike to High Rocks even if it might mean some hiking in the dark.
I completed Bear Creek trail and visited High Rocks for the 2nd time. The first was when I hiked Hazel Creek, Welch Ridge, Cold Springs Gap and much more. I noticed as I moved away from the lake that the bear scat no longer contained persimmon seeds. Up on Welch Ridge again, I thought a lot about how it would feel to continue up the ridge to Silar’s Bald shelter. When hiking I used to talk to myself and think about all sorts of things and ideas. Now, I hike quietly and if I think of anything it is about other hikes. I see rocks, ridges, trees, trail beds, etc. that trigger memories of other trails and other hikes. I suppose I have this large store of memories of hikes that I did not have years ago when all I could do while hiking was talking to myself, memorizing poems, or dreaming up wacky ideas while I hiked. Other hiking thoughts are often devoted to the latest pain or soreness. When I was younger I thought about the piece of my body that currently hurt the worst. I wanted to stop and rest. Now, I think about the pain that could be a sign of getting old. Now, the worry is worse than the pain. Will that slight soreness in my right knee get worse and leave me unable to walk? Will that pain in my back radiate to my hip causing me to be unable to go on?
Supper was the 2nd night of Tofurky spicy sausages (meatless). This time in red beans and rice with a little Stovetop Stuffing mixed in. I drank a cup of coffee before bed. Between the coffee and the sloped ground under my tarp, it was hard to sleep. I turned around to put my head uphill, but that left my feet sticking out from under the side of the tarp. No worries about rain, but unable to sleep, my mind naturally wandered toward bears making sleep even more impossible. I occasionally got up to throw the remaining wood on the fire.
Day 3, September 28, 2014 – “Finishing all of Lakeview Trail and all trails southwest of Bryson City”
Bear Creek trail below Poplar Flats campsite is downhill and gentle and becomes easier as it becomes an old road. Once back on Lakeshore Trail the ups and downs start again. I don’t recall exactly, but at one point I believe that I climbed up to 2800 feet. The temptation was to walk back to my car and complete the trip, but I had to detour and recross my path some in order to pick up the Tunnel Bypass Trail and the Goldmine Loop trail. I hiked these unremarkable trails that were more like a replay of Lakeshore trail. I actually hiked Goldmine Loop without a pack since I first returned to my van via Tunnel Bypass trail.
After returning to my car the 2nd time, I drove to Nolan Creek and hiked 1 mile out and back on the Nolan Creek Trail between the road and Fontana Lake. Nolan Creek trail was an easily walked road along a beautiful creek. It would be a nice place to revisit for an easy walk some day. Maybe with Sandra. Gene Lamey told me that the government occasionally opens the gate to Nolan Creek trail drives earlier inhabitants and their descendents up Nolan Creek for a visit to their origins. They do something similar on Hazel Creek.