Homer's Travels: Appalachian Trail: Fontana Dam To Gatlinburg, TN

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Fontana Dam To Gatlinburg, TN

UPDATED 10-18-2020

Last post I said that I like the primitive nature of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  While this is still true. I am often annoyed by the competition between the rocks and the roots to see who can trip you up the most.  At this time I would say it's a dead heat.

The view from the Fontana Hilton.
Day 24 - I spent the last day in the Fontana Dam area at the Fontana Hilton.  It is a rather spacious shelter with an actual bathroom and shower ... which are located in a separate building up the trail.  This shelter has, by far, the best views so far with a clear view of the lake.

On this zero day I met Mary Poppins (a guy who knows how to properly pack pop tarts), Super, My Way, Bob (a German girl - she liked the sound of the name), Barefoot, Lunger, Strider, Hemingway, Cricket, and others.

An older lady was parked at the parking lot up the trail from the shelter.  She had bins full of food and toiletries.  Her grandson (I think) was hiking the AT and she was driving along the way giving out trail magic.  She said she'd watched a lot of videos on YouTube to figure out what hikers needed.  I helped her pack up her SUV and then she joined the hikers down by the shelter and enjoyed talking, drinking, and partaking of a joint or two.

Day 25 - I'd been dreading this day for some reason.  The Smokies were notorious among AT thru-hikers for being difficult.  I left the Fontana Hilton, along one of the few paved sections going to the Dam visitors center, over the dam itself, and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Beautiful reflections.
My original plan was to do the Fontana Dam to Gatlinburg section in four days.  In Franklin I decided it was too aggressive of a plan so I made it five days.  This new plan died when I arrived at my first stop at 10:40am.  I still felt pretty good so I made for my old goal.  Mollies Ridge Shelter was 11.8 miles (19.0 km) with over 4,000 ft (1219 m) gain in elevation.  I felt oddly refreshed when I arrived.

All the shelters in the Smokies are made of stone and have fireplaces.

I was joined by most of my new trail family here as well as Ridgerunner David who helps maintain the shelters and trail.  Ridgerunner David laid out all the rules such as you have to stay in a shelter in the Smokies.  He was a nice guy but some didn't appreciate there being 'law' on the AT.

One of those laws what that everyone except AT Thru-hikers needed reservations to stay in the shelter and, if it was full, thru-hikers had to give up their spaces in the shelter.  I was mildly worried about this but never was kicked out of a shelter.

Day 26 - Having been a bit overconfident after the prior day's hike I decided to push again and make for Derrick Knob Shelter.  Ridgerunner David had implied that it would be easier than the previous day.  Shame on you Ridgerunner David.  You fibbed.

A great view after a difficult climb.
When I arrived at Derrick Knob Shelter I'd hike a brutal 12.1 miles (19.5 km) up some pretty steep hills.  The only consolation was that everyone in my trail family felt the same way about this section.  I went to bed at 6:30pm but didn't fall asleep until my legs finally stopped aching.

Day 27 - I had a decision to make.  It was a gorgeous day weather wise and I really wanted to reach Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT.  To do this I would have to climb over three thousand feet and hike 14.1 miles (22.7 km).  The other choice was to stop three miles short and do it the next day when the weather might not be as good.  I decided to play it by ear.

The observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome.
When I reached the shelter before the final push to Clingmans Dome I stopped and took a rest.  I felt surprisingly good.  I decided to move on.  I reached the peak of Clingmans Dome and celebrated not only reaching the highest point on the AT but it turns out that the peak is also at the 200 mile (322 km) point - another milestone.

While at the top a lady gave us brownies and cookies while her husband gave Six (a new hiker for my collection) a back stretch.  Another family with a sweet little girl shared her candy with us.  A nice trail magic surprise.

I left because I still had four miles to go.  On the way down I kept hearing sirens.  Turns out a person suffered an heart attack at Clingmans Dome.  One of the thru-hikers I knew, Godspeed, had administered CPR until the EMTs arrived.

I arrived at the Mt Collins Shelter feeling pretty good.  No major aches or pains though I had been taking ibuprofen (vitamin I) due to a mildly cranky left foot.  Despite feeling pretty good I still went to bed early.  Going to bed early was a bad habit that I developed on the AT.  In hindsight I should have tried to stay up longer to socialize more.

Days 28 & 29 - I hiked the short 4.6 miles (7.4 km) to Newfound Gap and tried to figure out how to get to Gatlinburg.  Most of my impromptu second trail family did not stop here so I was alone again.  I noticed a thru-hiker named Letters that I met briefly getting back on trail.  Her friend who was dropping her off offered me a ride into town.
Follow the old wooden path.
Turns out she was interested in the Camino and I mentioned that I'd done it twice.  I talked about the Camino as we headed into town and ended up giving her my email address.

She dropped me off at the NOC satellite store where I found a nearby hotel and got checked in.  I navigated the trolley system in this tourist trap of a town to get to the post office to pick up my new rain fly and to mail the damaged one back to the manufacturer.  The rest of the day was doing a partial resupply for when I reenter the Smokies and exploring the Old-Time Photograph capital of the world not to mention marveling at the multiple Ripley's Believe It or Not attractions just on the main drag.  This place is hard to believe … or not.

I had a high priced … and disappointing steak here.

On my second day in town I once again navigated the trolley systems of both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge so I could see the new Avengers movie.  Most of the navigating consisted of waiting.  I waited way too much today.  The movie was worth it.

After the movie and waiting I finished my resupply, got some food in my belly, and made preparations for getting back on the AT.  Not sure how I will be getting back to Newfound Gap.  The church sponsored shuttle services had literally been discontinued the day I arrived.  This may be my first hitchhiking experience.  I wonder if the rain in the forecast will help or hinder my first attempt.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 214.87 Miles (345.80 km)
Section Distance: 43.27 Miles (69.64 km)
Section Elevation Up: 12,143 ft (3,701 m)
Section Elevation Down: 9,466 ft (2,885 m)

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