Distance: 54 Miles
Break Down: Day 1--13.1 miles to Russel Field Shelter
Day 2--14.7 miles to Siler Bald Shelter
Day 3-- 26.2 Miles to Fontana Dam
Date: March 17-19, 2013
Trip highlights: Shuckstack fire tower, wildlife, Views of Fontana Lake, 19th century ruins, Hazel Creek
The road across the dam to the Trail Head was closed due to construction so I parked at the TVA visitor center and walked about 1.5 miles to the trail. The road dead ends at two trail heads; the Appalachian Trail section and Lake Shore Trail. I started on the AT and completed my loop with the Lake shore trail.
The first few miles were a real work out. Leaving the lake and getting up to the ridge line takes about 10 miles and requires climbing over 3,000 feet. That 10 miles, however, offers several great views of Fontana Lake and a chance to climb Shuckstack Tower for one of the best views in the park.
Climbing the 60 foot tower is a bit nerve racking, as its old metal frame and wooden stairs rest 4,020 feet up. The climb is worth it, though, for the view of Fontana Lake and the surrounding ridges. Even on a cloudy day I could see Clingmans Dome and Thunderhead Mountain and to the South I could see Hangover and Haoe Mountains in Nanthala National forest.
Although the view was great, I couldn't stay long.. I climbed down and continues my ascent to Russel Field. The trail intersects with the Lost Cove Trail soon after Shuckstuck, which makes a popular day hike or short overnight loop. Past several peaks and gaps the trail comes to Mollies Ridge Shelter. 10.3 miles into the hike, this makes a good place to take a break and get water. The shelter's water source is a short hike behind the structure and offers very good piped spring water.
After getting water and chatting with a couple thru-hikers I continued from Mollies ridge. The next couple of miles consisted of several quick elevation gains and losses that bring you to Little Abrams Gap. I followed the trail as it descended into to the gap. As the trail made a hard right turn I looked left and saw a bear foraging in the woods about 50 yards off the trail. I stopped and took a few steps back. I quietly reached for my camera but by the time I got it out the bear was gone.
With Mister Bear out of sight, I continued out of Little Abrams Gap and made it to Russel field Shelter in about 20 minutes. A couple from Montana were at the shelter cooking dinner. They had strted from Springer Mountain just two weeks before and were making really good time on their way to Katahdin. They were hiking with mostly homemade Lightweight gear with packs weighing only 18 lbs including several days food!
I went to bed early and awoke to heavy fog. After making breakfast and coffee I started up the trail. The plan was to hike 13 miles to Spence field and another 9 miles down a creek to Campsite 83. With the heavy wind and dense for I knew the weather might stop me from making it to my planned destination.
I continued passed the side trail to Spence Field Shelter and hiked through the field, with the supposedly great views hidden by fog. The trail intersects with Eagle Creek Trail making another popular loop. I hiked past the intersection and over Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain. The wind was picking up and the fog showed no signs of lifting so I missed the views from these two peaks.
The trail continues with quick and short ascents and descents and gains a total of about 1,000 feet over the 14 miles to Silers Bald. About a mile past Thunder head it started raining. I had my rain gear ready and wasn't slowed down much and soon I reached Derick Knob Shelter.
I stopped and ate a quick lunch at the shelter before moving on. As soon is I started hiking the rain turned to hail. There's really nothing good about hiking through hail but I kept on heading North hoping the weather would clear up.
By the time I Reached Silers Bald Shelter the hail had really started coming down and was accumulating on the ground. When I started seeing lightning I knew I had to cut my day short. I decided to stay at the shelter and make up the lost miles the following day. The couple from Montana had also sought the refuge of the shelter, as well as about 10 Boy Scouts from Tallahassee.
It was a cold morning and everything was frozen. I had no time to cook a hot breakfast so I ate some frozen fruit and a frozen Cliff Bar before putting of my frozen boots and hitting the frozen trail--but at least the sun was shining. Silers Bald is just passed the shelter and offers great views. Just beyond the bald the trail comes to the intersection of Welch Ridge.
I took the Welch Ridge trail 1.7 miles to the hazel Creek Trail. the Ridge trail winds through hardwoods and offers some nice views through the trees. The trail was littered with debris and downed trees but was a pretty easy hike.
Hazel Creek Trail descends quickly to its namesake creek. The trail is narrow and somewhat hard to follow for its first few miles. The creek must be crossed several times and usually can be done by rock hopping. However, in a couple of places it is best to take off your boots and forge the creek. I unfortunately misjudged a couple crossing and out of my own stupidity ended up hiking the next 20 or so miles with soaking wet boots.
Eventually, the Creek becomes to wild to cross and the Park Service put in bridges. The trail becomes Horse accessible and becomes very wide and gravel in sections Hiking on gravel is a bummer but the sound of the creek and the hardwood forest make it good hike anyway. A campsite is located about 7 miles down the trail and another couple are a few miles past that. When I got to Campsite 83 I was a little bummed that I hadn't made it there the night before. It looked like a great place to camp near the creek with lots of huge hardwoods, a few boulders, and green grass.
About 5.3 miles of wide gravel trail near a growingly wild creek the trail passed several old foundations and ruins from a community that existed along Hazel Creek in the late 1800s. The trail then meets up with The Lake Shore Trail and continues another 10 miles to Fontana Dam.
The Lake Shore trail offers views of Fontana Lake and traverses over ridge lines and through gaps. Water is plentiful on the trail as it crossed several springs and small creeks.
It had gotten dark quickly and I hiked the final four or five miles with my head light on. The night was clear and it was nice finishing the hike under the stars. The last couple of miles were tough and I was exhausted. The trail ends at the end of the same road from where I had began two days before.
PackOsprey 70L Aether pack
Nylon pack cover
ClothingFila fitness synthetic T-shirt
Smartwood lightwieght base layer crew
Two pairs Smartwool socks
One pair heavy wool socks
EMS convertable hiking pants
Patagonia lightwieght fleece ($3 at goodwill!)
Vertical Ascent 800 fill Microtherm down shirt
Polartech Long Johns
Marmot Mica Rain Jacket
Asolo TPS 135 Boots
SleepVertical Ascent 10 degree synthetic bag
Cocoon silk liner
Thermarest Zrest pad
ShelterGrand Trunk Nano7 hammock
Marmot 3 person foorprint (used as a tarp)
Home made amsteel/webbing suspension
2 tent stakes
Cooking/kitchen/waterPrimus Ti Micron Stove
110g fuel canister
GSI Glacier cup/pot
Hario Mini Coffee Mill
Aeropress coffee maker
Snowpeak Ti Spork
Katadyn Hiker Pro Filter
OtherSony Cybershot Camera
Cassio Pathfinder watch
MSR small pack towel
First aid kit (bandaids, antiseptic, Ace Bandage, Ibuprofen, moleskin)
Case Texas Toothpick knife
Leatherman CS Multitool