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Steph’s AT Hike, Days 21-25: Near Fontana Dam to Bluff Mtn

Near Walker Gap to Fontana Village

5.2 miles

Due to my huge mileage the day earlier than, at present was a shorter mountaineering day for me. The AT on this part was virtually solely downhill, so I lingered on the best way down and was rewarded with a snake sighting plus very fascinating rocky outcrops in the course of the morning’s walk.

Howdy, Mr. Snake.

The trail right here was utterly paved with giant, principally flat stones.

I arrived on the Fontana Village resort just in time to snag a chew to eat at the essential restaurant, do a fast load of laundry, and seize a couple of drinks to take to the close by shelter.

The shelter right here is likely one of the largest and most nicely maintained alongside the whole of the AT. It sleeps 24 hikers, has picnic tables, a huge hearth pit with benches, potable water from a spigot, trash cans, and flush bogs. No nasty privy right here! And – that is the most effective half – showers! It’s straightforward to see why this shelter has been dubbed the “Fontana Hilton”.

The Fontana Hilton, one of many largest shelters on the AT. 22 hikers slept inside the night time I used to be here.

Unfortunately the local mice are as fond of the the Fontana Hilton because the hikers are. All night time long I might hear mice operating around the shelter, scurrying around the individuals lined up of their sleeping luggage like sardines in a can. I used to be additional careful to remove anything from my pack that could be engaging to a mouse, however others who were not so thorough found luggage and gadgets chewed by means of and ruined.

View of Fontana Lake from the Fontana Hilton shelter space.

There were some nice views of Fontana Lake from the shelter. Just down the street is Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Rockies. It was accomplished in 1945 by the Tennessee Valley Authority and stands at 408 ft tall. It’s right here that AT hikers walk the street atop the dam to enter into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Fontana Dam

Fontana shelter to the marina, then shuttle from Fontana to Davenport Hole

1.4 miles

In the present day was a “nearo” day, which means my mileage was almost zero. I used to be picked up by Steve “Mustard Seed” Claxton around lunchtime at this time and shuttled to Davenport Gap. He was a bit late to decide me up, but more than made up for it in nice dialog and a free lunch 🙂

I knew my brother was on his approach to meet me and coming from Illinois, so we determined to get bunks simply off the path at Standing Bear Hostel for the night time and start climbing the subsequent morning. The hostel was rugged however my linens have been clean and having a bed to sleep in was so cozy! The opposite hostel friends have been also hikers, and very friendly people who welcomed newcomers across the communal campfire.

Sign that welcomes hikers to the country Standing Bear Hostel.

Bunkhouse at Standing Bear.

My brother arrived later in the night, and we stayed in one of many semi-private cabins that slept a total of four individuals plus one German Shepherd dog named Camo. The shared cabin we bunked in was constructed immediately over a creek, offering an ambient noise that I found extremely soothing.

Stream that runs underneath the cabin I slept in.

Standing Bear Hostel to Groundhog Creek shelter

7.7 miles

After a ultimate post-breakfast gear verify, my brother and I set off from the hostel and hiked again to the AT trailhead simply down the street. Unfortunately for him, the first four miles of path have been a steep climb from the gap up to Snowbird Peak, gaining 2500’ in elevation over a short size of the AT.

Morning break, earlier than it received too tiring and we have been not quite as smiley.

We moved at a reasonably good tempo at first, nevertheless it quickly turned obvious that his lungs have been undoubtedly not yet adjusted to the elevation difference in these mountains versus the flatlands of Illinois. So we slowed it down a bit, making an attempt to benefit from the path itself as an alternative of simply powering up the hills as quick as potential. So many extra wildflowers have been in bloom, and I couldn’t resist snapping pics of as many various ones as attainable.

Wildflowers of the North Carolina Appalachian Trail

Extra wildflowers – I simply couldn’t get enough of the flowers alongside the AT.

Lunch was eaten atop Snowbird, the place we obtained our first more open views of the encompassing peaks. Snowbird is a “bald” mountain, which means the summit is covered in grass and small shrubs relatively than timber. This is in distinction to nearly all of mountains that I’ve hiked across, which have a tendency to be thickly wooded with viewless summits.

My brother on the ultimate push to the highest of the bald.

The view from Snowbird Mountain, wanting east.

The rest of the afternoon we hiked downhill in the direction of Groundhog Creek, where we camped close to the shelter. We discovered a flat, clean spot that was far sufficient away from the shelter that we wouldn’t be bothered much by mice, and it was proper along the trail to the creek. It wasn’t until after I’d set up the tent and brought the whole lot out of my pack that I noticed we had a direct line of sight to the within of the privy from our website as properly. Let’s just say this campsite didn’t provide my favourite views – however it did make for a number of good laughs 🙂

Tenting spot close to Groundhog Creek shelter, complete with privy view!

My brother was definitely drained out at the finish of the day, but he hiked quicker than I expected for someone without “trail legs” but. Tomorrow can be less steep, so I’ve informed him will probably be a more satisfying hike and less like an all-day intense exercise.

Groundhog Creek Shelter to Max Patch

6.9 miles

It was a lot hotter in the present day, undoubtedly the warmest day I’ve had on the AT up to now. Often it’s been a bit of chilly when waking up within the mornings however at the moment I didn’t even take additional time snuggling in my sleeping bag once I awoke. We took our time breaking down camp, leisurely enjoying our coffee earlier than heading out.

After a number of hours of climbing, we determined to take a break and sit down for a snack at Lemon Hole. Once we arrived there we discovered the few remaining gadgets of path magic left behind, so I snagged myself a can koozie emblazoned with an AT emblem. Rating!

Something’s missing right here…anyone need to deliver a cold beverage ASAP?!

I additionally ran into a number of other hikers that I’d beforehand seen on the trail early on during my first week of climbing, and it was gratifying to catch up and listen to how their very own hikes have been going. Since these are hikers putting up much more day by day miles than me, I gained’t possible cross paths with them again anytime quickly.

We had a very good mountaineering day, and the most effective was saved for last. In the late afternoon we ascended to the summit of Max Patch, a mountain topped with a grassy bald and standing at 4615’ elevation.

A heat sunny day and lovely views from Max Patch.

With vast open 360 diploma views, this was my favourite summit to date. Other AT hikers as well as day hikers sat on the prime of Max Patch, soaking up the sunny views of the mountain ridges surrounding us.

One other pleasing view from Max Patch.

I’ll have pushed him a bit of too onerous on the uphill climbs. LOL 😂

With clear skies and hotter temps predicted overnight, my brother and I moved down off the summit just a little methods to prepare dinner and eat our dinners while watching the sundown. We arrange our sleeping pads and luggage instantly on the grass, and are awaiting the celebs to come out and shine down on us. I really like cowboy tenting! Aspect observe: the tent is about up just behind us, because I needed it ready to go simply in case of a pop up shower through the night time.

Max Patch to Phil’s Hole, zero.2 miles under the summit of Bluff Mountain

eight.9 miles

Camping out on Max Patch in a single day was a superb call! As well as to a stupendous sundown final evening, we have been treated to a tremendous sunrise this morning.

It pays to get up early typically.

As we speak’s hike led us down from Max Patch and into a fairly degree part of the AT that skirted a stream for several miles, crossing forwards and backwards multiple occasions. The trail was a gradual downhill with many wider portions so I nicknamed this half Le Boulevard.

Accumulating water from a nice little stream.

A wide, degree section of trail makes for a cheerful hiker.

We noticed a bit more wildlife at the moment, together with wild turkey, several deer, mega snails, and a plethora of unfamiliar (to me) songbirds. As I used to be strolling alongside in the early afternoon, a small grayish-blue hen startled me by flying immediately out of the embankment on my left aspect. It seemed odd that a chook can be nesting on such a steep incline, and technically on/within the ground. Nevertheless, a better look revealed a small cavity in the aspect of the hill and inside have been four eggs. Colored a pale blue and speckled with brown, they have been so very small in measurement!

Close up of the eggs from an unknown species of chook. You’ll be able to see that the nest was crafted instantly out of the hillside.

Any Spongebob followers out there? I feel I found Gary.

So many mushrooms!

We completed our day by making camp at Phil’s Hole, slightly below the summit of Bluff Mountain. Having spent three days now climbing at some elevation, my brother has acclimated and I’ve deemed him ready to deal with some huge miles. We’ve solely received another day of climbing earlier than he has to head again house although, which isn’t almost long sufficient. It’s been a few years since we’ve had an journey like this together, nevertheless it has been such a good time that I hope we get to do something like this again someday soon. He’s a fantastic mountaineering associate who understands my name to the trail life.

Sidewalk marker for the Appalachian Trail. #hiker4life

It’s now been a month on the path for me, and I’m missing my husband and youngsters and pup and household and buddies and…nicely, so many issues! Since I have the chance to hitch a free experience back to Illinois with my little bro in a number of days, I’m taking every week off the path and heading house to go to and loosen up. Once I get again on I hope to have my oldest son climbing with me for every week or so (and perhaps his girlfriend, too – the extra the merrier!).

Until subsequent time, joyful trails to all 😁

— Steph D “Smiley”

A friendly reminder… All the time comply with Depart No Hint rules whereas on the trail.