At long last we reached our first challenge – turned out to be a serious rock hop but we made it across. After the second and third rock hops Judy and I were feeling a little cocky and began to keep score – Smoky Scout & Heartfire 3, Eagle Creek 0! By the eleventh dry crossing we were congratulating each other. Judy was extremely good at crossing on wet logs. I was more timid but tried to follow her lead. Judy was also self-assured at jumping from rock to rock, and again I was not so nimble. At crossing #12 she was eyeing a log that was covered with an eight-foot length of ice and I started out on another route. And then…I slipped and my right foot plunged into the crystal clear, freezing cold water to about mid-calf. Judy skipped the icy log, chose another route, and also slipped in with one foot. We counted this one as a half-point for Eagle Creek, a half-point for us.
More crossings, some successful, some not. At one crossing someone had thoughtfully placed a railroad rail so we did not get wet. In the spring rains I’m sure this rail is not even visible. A few times there was no choice but to hold our breath and wade through water nearly up to our knees. I took very few pictures during the crossings because time seemed to be slipping away and we had a 4:30 boat shuttle to catch – and walking kept the blood flowing!
We had rolled our pants legs up each time and so avoided wet britches, but walking in soaking wet socks and boots was just not fun. We were very glad that we had hiked in the direction we chose, because the idea of hiking UP the mountain in that condition, into the snow, seemed downright sadistic. As it was, we had about a mile to walk after the last crossing to reach the boat landing to wait for our shuttle ride. We were 45 minutes early, and by the time we changed socks (and Judy had her Crocs to put on, why didn’t I think of that?), put on warm layers and had some celebratory bite-size Snickers and Milky Ways, the shuttle arrived 15 minutes early and we were all set to go. Turned out Jerry Span was our shuttle driver and we chatted about Fontana Village’s “75 Hikes For the 75th” plan for 2009.
Final score: Sharon 13.5, Eagle Creek 4.5 – Judy 14.5, Eagle Creek 3.5 (told you she was better at this than I was). I was elated that we had completed this challenging trail.
I had many thoughts today as we negotiated Eagle Creek. (1) We were not doing this particular trail in the best season to enjoy it (i.e. summer). (2) There are many trails that are wonderful spring wildflower hikes that I have hiked in a different season. (3) I don't like the "we may never pass this way again" feeling I get on some of my hikes (except for McKee Branch Trail). SO....I've decided that I will complete the Smokies 900 map a second time, with a looser time frame (by my 60th birthday?) What the hey, maybe I'll do it a third time by my 70th! But the Great Smoky Mountains are just too special to say that I've completed this challenge and moved on. I will be coming to these mountains for the rest of my days.
The boat ride was chilly but exhilerating as the sun went down. After reaching Fontana Marina, we began Phase 2 of the ridiculous shuttle, driving all the way from Fontana Marina, around the western end of the Park (hey, this looks familiar) and back to Laurel Creek Road near Cades Cove to pick up my car. From there, Judy headed home to Asheville and I drove through the Park on Newfound Gap Road and over to Bryson City - a total drive time of 3.5 hours and nearly three-quarters around the circumference of the Park. I met Danny and Lenny there and we went over our plans for the next day’s hike in the Deep Creek area. Then I face planted on my cozy king-size hotel room bed until morning.