Posted by: pjbarr | April 6, 2010

A Dam Good Time

Start: Brown Fork Shelter
Finish: Fontana Hilton Shelter
Distance: 12.7 mi.
Trip Distance: 163.7 mi.
Side Trips: Fontana Hilton, Fontana Village
Side Trip Miles: 0.0 mi.
State: Georgia
Highlights: Fontana Hilton and shower, Fontana Village, Reconnecting with So Far, Bryant & Lola

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress” -Barack Obama

Today’s walk was exceptionally pleasant and did not endure long, in fact despite the distance it almost felt like a zero day. Thanks to the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club for the well graded trail through the remainder of the Cheoah Mountains as well as the Yellow Creek Mountains. The descent to Fontana was knee jarring, but really couldn’t be helped much.

The miles flew by and once again I was attacking the trail today. My sore left achilles heel seemed to be much better today than yesterday, though it remains tight and I feel it will still be problematic in the Smokies. The bottoms of my flat feet have become very sore and I may look into getting new insoles for my boots in Gatlinburg if there is an opportunity. I enjoyed an unexpected narrow ridge walk between Brown Fork Shelter leading towards Wacchecha Bald. The views were nice to both sides of the drop offs with the Unicoi Mountains visible to the west and the Smokies visible to the northeast.

I opted out of the side trip to Wacchecha Bald today despite the clear weather. The side trip would involve in excess of a mile off trail and steep slopes. I was too concerned for my achilles and too eager to reach Fontana to side trip to this location where I had already visited before. Additionally, the fire tower has it’s lower flight of stairs removed requiring a dangerous acrobatic climb that I didn’t want any part of today, and the trees have grown high around the tower blocking all views except to the west.

Wacchecha Bald hosts a CCC built live-in lookout tower, of the shambles of what remains of it. The AT once climbed mostly to the summit from Hog Back Gap before descending to Cody Gap and a short side trail went to the summit and tower. Now the AT contours around the west side of the mountain at a much lower elevation to connect the two gaps. I once explored the area years ago and was excited to find old white blazes still on the trees on the old ridge route.

Years ago, the USFS briefly entertained the idea of converting Wacchecha Bald’s lookout tower to an observation deck, like that on Wesser Blad, and rebuilding the old AT as a side trail and incorporating the tower as an AT landmark once again. The idea never cam to fruition but it is one I resurfaced in discussion with the USFS’s archaeologist in addition to cutting trees at the summit to restore the view. It is a distant project, but one I hope will ultimately come about and I plan to eventually work hard to see it through. Morgan Summerville is probably rolling his eyes right now at my ambitious lookout tower agenda involving the AT.

At Cody Gap the AT used to turn west and follow a road paralleling the creek until hitting the 4WD fire tower road and descending to Yellow Creek Gap. I once walk the route, following in Earl Shaffer’s footsteps, and found an old AT mileage sign that easily dated back to the 1950’s. Speaking of the old AT, which I clearly do at length, I later reached Walker Gap where the original AT continued west along the Yellow Creek Mountain until 1948 when Fontana Dam was completed and allowed the trail to cross the Little Tennessee River atop the dam. The trail still exists today as the Yellow Creek Mountain Trail, though it is rarely maintained and scarcely walked. My Smoky hiking friends and I only somewhat successfully followed it down to Tapoco during a rainy but memorable get together last September, though we started from near Lookout Rock just south from Fontana Village. The remnants of the trail are hardly visible leaving Walker Gap today.

The descent to the dam was tedious and tiring but unexpected vantage points looking down on the dam itself were neat. The final mile from NC28 to the Fontana Hilton shelter had to be one of the most terrible miles of the entire trail; steep, hot, dry, unscenic and deceptive in that it lures you into believing you are almost there. I did enjoy crossing NC28. This is one of the many places I have crossed the trail by car and often looked into the woods in wonder – daydreaming about if I ever would thru-hike the trail and cross here. Though otherwise mundane, crossing here was a small, albeit, long loved daydream come true. It was finally me popping out of those woods and tomorrow it will be me crossing that dam on my long walk.

The Fontana Hilton is a wonderful shelter and aptly named. It has real bathrooms with hot showers within 100 yards. Trash cans and picnic tables too with a scenic lake view to boot! Kept clean and mice free by the TVA, it is a trail palace and I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay here.

I was very excited to see Bryant and Lola here today and spend the night with them again. I so much enjoy talking to them and they remembered my name and everything about me. I also reconnected with my buddy So Far, who is also staying the night. The four of us were at the Blueberry Patch together over a week ago and I enjoy their company as much now as I did then.

3 Bears is here too and I am glad a member of the original March 22 start group remains with me – I am going to dub us the 22nder’s perhaps. I got a text from Cope today who said he is at he NOC zeroing and he expects Superman to arrive there this evening. The Professor headed out of the gorge this morning.

I also got to see Silverback and Night Crawler (Lonnie), the funny and fast guys from California that I spent several nights with back in Georgia. Those are funny, good humored guys. They hung around the shelter for a while but passed on into the Smokies tonight.

Following a nice shower I joined 3 Bears at the road and we caught a shuttle van into Fontana Village. Now a resort town, it was created for the housing of thousands of workers who were constructing Fontana Dam for three years in the 1940’s. I picked up batteries and four sodas, three of which I drank immediately. I saw Max Factor in the village. Sadly, he is leaving the trail. His knee is bothering him with much pain and he has decided to go home. We will miss you Max, please stay in touch and you’ll always be a 22nder and be with us in spirit all the way to Maine, buddy.

I got a ride back to the dam with 3 Bears. The shuttle driver was an easy going college kid named JP doing an internship with Fontana Village. Really nice kid, and funny too. Thanks for the ride man!

I had JP drop me off down at the dam itself where I walked around and took pictures, the dam is an amazing structure of grand size. Fontana dam was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority as a means of supplying electricity for the production of aluminum as well as the Manhattan Project ongoing in nearby western Tennessee. Flood control was an additional benefit. Constructed in just three years using three shifts a day that allowed work to continue 24 hours a day, it was completed in 1947. The dam is 480 feet high, the tallest in all of the eastern United States.

I am elated to head into the Smokies tomorrow and once again come home. Tomorrow I will climb to Shuckstack, where this all began six years ago. I can see it from here now, and it is calling me back.

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