Friday, October 25, 2013

Antidote For A Bad Hike

Appalachian Trail in NC – 7/24/13 - AT/Lost Cove/Lakeshore Trail Loop – 11.5 Miles

My last hike of the ATC Biennial:  If I don’t like the looks of these participants, I plan to bail out and go home.  Thus had the slow-motion fest inured me to the hiking-with-strangers concept.

Good news, karma believers!  As I waited at the meeting spot, several participants from yesterday’s hike came by to say hi, offer condolences and thank me for taking on the responsibility of the slow hiker so that the group could continue.  I was very surprised and appreciated them seeking me out.  Two of them were signed up for today’s hike! 

Everyone showed up ahead of time and looked well prepared, seven hikers including myself.  The hike leader gave a description of the route, multiple creek crossings, wet feet, and everyone was okay with that.  I decided to stick with it but drive my car separately so I could leave directly for home.  Besides, the hike was a loop in my beloved Smokies, so if I got stuck once again at least I would be in heaven.

Our loop started on the AT as it crossed Fontana Dam and entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The participants were multi-sport, also into biking, half-marathons, paddling.  Two were involved in their home state’s AT maintainers’ club.  Karma instructing me once again:  this group was fast from the get-go.  Again I was the sweep and I had to hustle as the AT ascended 2,100 feet in 3.25 miles.  No talking for me, I stayed far enough back where they couldn’t hear me gasping.  What a difference from 24 hours earlier!

The mountainside was covered in a cloak of midsummer flowers, yellow sundrops, white flowering spurge, blue tall bellflower and purple phlox.  The steady breeze foiled attempts at photographing the display other than this tall white spike of…galax?  Snakeroot? 

A short, steep side trail took us to the Shuckstack lookout tower, constructed in 1934 by the PWA and used for fire detection until the 1960’s.  The tower has fallen into disrepair.  The stairs are rickety and missing a handrail and some steps.  I climbed four of the six flights of steps and lost my nerve to go higher.  The chimney and cistern are all that remain of the tower-keeper’s cabin.

Looking down from Shuckstack

 We backtracked to the AT, continued on to Sassafrass Gap and made a right turn onto Lost Cove Trail, a fun interior trail that few people get to.  Combined with the AT and the Lakeshore Trail, I think it makes for one of the best loops in the Smokies.  Lost Cove Trail careens roller coaster steep downhill.  The group was still moving at a fast pace but my knees were not a problem.  After the first mile, Lost Cove Creek appears and braids back and forth across the trail 13+ times.  I do love a good rock hop challenge and I managed to hop them all, but the other three women put on their water shoes for this section.  I will admit, on a hot day it looked like it felt good to just wade in the water.

A mushroom as large as a punchbowl

Being last in line on a summer hike has its advantages.  I heard yelling and saw trail dancing ahead, which meant that someone had disturbed a yellow jacket nest.  Two people got stung several times.  The last three of us in line backed up quickly and made a wide detour up the hillside to avoid the nest.

We stopped for lunch at Campsite 91, a former homesite, a broad level area with room for plenty of tents and also accommodates horse campers.   A lumber company railroad spur once ran up alongside Lost Cove Creek past this point from the confluence of Eagle Creek and Little Tennessee Rivers (prior to the creation of Fontana Lake). 

Rattlesnake plantain bloom

Rattlesnake plantain foliage

Chris crossing Lost Cove Creek on a high log.  The crossings got wider and deeper as we followed the trail down.  

We turned right onto the not-flat Lakeshore Trail and began a series of rolling ups and downs with glimpses of the lake edge through the trees.  Highlights of this section included two bears up in the trees, another hornets’ nest (two more people stung, still not me) and a garter snake that Chris picked up for us to examine.

Chicken-in-the-woods in abundance along the Lakeshore Trail

The entire Lakeshore Trail runs 35 miles along the north shore of Fontana Lake and passes multiple home sites, town sites and cemeteries.  It is an excellent multi-day backpacking trip to explore the evidence of days past before Fontana Lake was created.  Parts of the trail were once Route 288. In the last two miles of our hike we passed old 1930’s cars.  I’ve heard that during the early days of WW II when rubber was in short supply, cars were abandoned where the tires blew out.

All in all, this hike was an excellent antidote to the previous day.  The group blended together like peas and carrots, lots of stories and laughter, and more than once someone would stop to comment on how great the day was.  Fun folks, a lookout tower, snakes, bears, yellow jackets, beautiful flowers, stream crossings and old cars, all in the Great Smoky Mountains.  It just doesn’t get any better.

The cherry on top:  taking a shower at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center to be clean for the long drive home!

What day is it?” 
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. 
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.


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