Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beer and Chainsaws

Lakeshore Trail Overnight Backpack – 4/2/09 – Day Two – Campsite 76 to Trailhead at Tunnel – 12 Miles 

My 15-degree sleeping bag was much too hot but I had a somewhat restful night. We woke up, had some hot tea but didn’t feel very hungry, so we packed up and were on our way shortly after 8:00 a.m. The packs seemed heavier today, possibly because we were thinking about all the stuff we were carrying that we did not use, but “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”…But the weather was warm and the lake was still there and we are the Mighty 900 milers, so on we went.

The first point of interest we came to was after three miles, Campsite 98 – actually, we saw the spur trail to the real campsite, but there is an illegal campsite right on the trail where it skirts a finger of the lake. As we sat for a bite to eat (we were finally hungry) we looked across the small stream and noticed a pile of stuff. We figured that someone had brought their camping gear up by boat and dumped it and were coming back later and we went to check it out. Pictured is what we found: trash and lots of it. This is not trash from one visit, but a dump site that continues to grow. There are parts of boats and Styrofoam coolers, old shoes, liquor bottles, even an old ripped up tent. Most puzzling was the fact that people take the time to gather it in one place…so why don’t they put it on the dang boat and haul it away?

The Lakeshore’s character continued to be Sybil-like (changed a lot) and at times seemed to slide off the mountain. We met another lone backpacker today doing a multi-day trip, this one on the AT from Fontana to Clingmans, then down Forney Ridge/Forney Creek, and now heading on Lakeshore back to Fontana. After talking with him and the fellow from yesterday, I realized that I have followed my own hike plans very narrowly and there are countless ways to form loops and multi-day trips. All good things to remember for the next time around, right?

We passed two more spur trails for cemeteries today but we did not investigate them. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak – feet were beginning to get sore, some blisters were forming, and those packs continued to bear down. I have concluded that 12-mile backpack days are too much starting out and if (when) I do the Lakeshore again I will break up the days more and truly devote myself to exploring the artifacts. We found several homesites close to the trail, more chimneys and rock walls and rusting buckets. One large site featured terrace walls made of stacked stone where the owners farmed their land on the hillside. Apples were a staple crop and we saw a few apple trees blossoming along the way.

After seven miles the mostly level trail began its ups and downs that would continue to the end. We continually stepped over blowdowns, too many to count. And then we heard a funny noise…is that a chainsaw? Are they allowed in the park? The regulations are different for national parks and national forests – one of them only allows hand saws to do trail maintenance. But heck, we were thrilled to hear that whining sound because it meant no more blowdowns to haul our butts over! As we got closer we could hear guys talking, and I speculated that they were probably on horseback to be carrying such heavy equipment. Sure enough, here come our heroes! There were 5 guys and 6 horses. They had strapped a couple of milk crate type baskets across the work horse so he could carry the gear. We got as far off the narrow trail as we could to let the horses pass. Everyone said “hey” and the last guy in line was careful not to spill his beer. Yep, beer and chainsaws, my kind of party – after all, it was 10:30 a.m.! But the hiking was easier from that point on.

We paused at Campsite 74, a huge spot beside Forney Creek, and then pressed on to the trailhead. This was Judy’s first time in this part of the Park and I had told her about the dreaded Tunnel at the end. Because the Tunnel is straight and you can see one end from the other end, it looks benign. But it’s longer than it seems, right, Judy? I’m always glad to get out of the Tunnel. Here’s a little graffiti near the entrance by one of the local high school artists.

And thus the Lakeshore Trail was conquered.

We stopped at McDonald’s in Bryson City for the bathroom and French Fries and then drove back to Fontana Marina for my car. Then Judy headed home and I drove Highway 129 (the Tail of the Dragon) over to Townsend – I would be hiking out of Cades Cove the next day. As I looked at my watch, I made a deal with myself. If I could get there by 5:00 p.m., I would make another run at that pesky Wet Bottom Trail.

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