5 days in the Smokies

wsp_scott

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May 16, 2016
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826
3/12 - 3/16/18 (4 nights)

Day 1 miles: 6.5
Day 2 miles: 10.75
Day 3 miles: 11.25
Day 4 miles: 18
Day 5 miles: 3
Total miles: 50 miles
Campsites: 70, 82, 81, 74

My planned trip was to start at the Tunnel at the end of the "Road to Nowhere" outside of Bryson City. Then Lakeshore Trail to White Branch Trail to Forney Creek Trail and site 70 for the first night. The 2nd day was Jonas Creek Trail to Welch Ridge Trail to Hazel Creek Trail and site 82 for the 2nd night. Day 3 was Hazel Creek Trail to Lakeshore Trail and site 81 for night 3. Day 4 was Lakeshore trail to site 98 and then day 5 Lakeshore trail to my car.


So I wake up Monday morning and I find that school is cancelled because of snow and I look out my window to this.




I spent about 45 minutes shoveling 6 inches of wet heavy snow so I could get the car out of the driveway. And then I was off to North Carolina. Driving down I got a little nervous because it was still snowing near Knoxville and it was very windy, did not look like a great day for hiking. I was especially worried that the snow would turn to rain. Thankfully, by the time I got to Bryson City, the snow had stopped and the sky was clearing up.

The tunnel at the end of the "Road to Nowhere"


The Whiteoak Branch and the Forney Creek trails are next to the respective creeks which means lots of cascading water. I love hiking with the sounds of a creek next to me.




Bridge across Forney Creek at site 70. This was a great place to sit after dinner and watch the sky get dark. The bourbon was nice as well.


The first day was easy even with a full pack, 6ish mostly flat miles (or at least flat for the Smokies). The second day was going to be a lot harder. I knew that the Hazel Creek trail was going to involve a lot of creek crossings, but I thought that the first part of the day would be dry feet and a climb up and over Welch Ridge. It turns out that the Jonas Creek Trail has 5 or 6 crossings, the first about 15 minutes after leaving camp. I had my trail runners, so I just wade through, unlike the older couple I caught up to who were taking off their boots for every crossing. So, I had cold wet feet/shoes all day long instead of just in the afternoon.

The Jonas Creek trail is great, with all the wet feet, it is probably better in the summer, but it was very pretty in the early spring. The water was very cold though.


Got up to Welch Ridge and there was still a bit of snow on the ground which made my wet feet even colder. In places the snow was 3-4 inches deep.


And then down the Hazel Creek trail and out of the snow. The Hazel Creek trail has a lot of creek crossings, but I had been here before so wasn't surprised. This is one of about 20 crossings over 4ish miles, most of them are no more than knee deep, so not hard, just cold and just as your feet start to dry out and warm up, there is another crossing.


In other parts of the trail, the creek just flows down the trail. At least it was not muddy.


Got to site 82 about 4pm and got water and firewood and just relaxed, crawled into my hammock to read a bit and slept through the night. I woke up to this and the snow was still coming down. Since I wasn't in a huge hurry, I used my hiking poles to prop up the tarp and had a leisurely breakfast and watched the snow. When it became apparent that the snow was stopping, I packed up and headed down the trail.


The lower part of the Hazel Creek Trail is an old railroad bed, so it is very easy walking with a slight decline going towards the old town of Proctor. Nice walking and the snow stopped after about an hour. The day never warmed up though and I had my fleece on the whole day.


Hazel Creek starts to build up steam as it drops lower in the valley and more side streams combine.


Glad the crossings in this part have bridges.


Lower Hazel Creek


The only "hard" part of the day was the climb over Welch Ridge on the Lakeshore Trail, not really hard, but not easy like the Hazel Creek Trail.

I detoured to check out Fairview Cemetery which is not far off the trail. While there I heard a loud plane and looked up to see a C-130 flying low over the Fontana Lake, low like below the ridge line, I couldn't move quick enough to get a photo though. Kind of cool and confirms what I thought I heard in the middle of the night on a past trip in the area.

I got to site 81 which has easy access to Fontana Lake. I had deliberately planned the trip because the last couple nights were supposed to be clear and moonless and I wanted to see stars.

You can see how low the lake is this time of year. In a couple months, all of this will be under water.


I was disappointed by the amount of skyglow. I think that the lake must reflect a lot of light. It was cold enough that I did not spend a lot of time with my camera, but the stars were very pretty.

You can just make out Orion behind the trees on the right and the bright star near the middle is Sirius.


The next day I was hoping to check out some of the old cemeteries along the Lakeshore Trail. At one point, there was an obvious side trail and this tree. I suspect that someone bent this tree to mark the trail to the cemetery.


A couple minutes from the tree was two graves. One was marked "Infant Cook" and the other "Helen Cook, daughter of HB and Mac Cook". All of the cemeteries in this area are filled with young children which makes the father in me sad.


Just off the trail is the remains of an old car. That is the rear of the car and you can see where the spare tire would have been mounted, the bolts are still there.


Old stone wall and the remains of a chimney


I got to site 98 about 4:00 and the wind was blowing right up the lake with gusts in the 30-40 MPH range. I decided that this did not look like a nice place to relax and looking at the map realized that I was about 7 miles from site 74 at Forney Creek. I had been there before and knew that I could get to the lake shore easily to see stars. And if I hiked the 7 miles today, I would have an easy 3 mile day back to my car. So, let's see if we can still do an 18 mile day.

The last hour was hard and I was regretting my decision, but I eventually reached site 74. No one was there which sort of surprised me. I set up camp and walked out to check out the lake and then had dinner. As I was finishing up, a solo hiker appeared. He mentioned a fire, I said I was planning on being lazy, but I would gather wood for a fire while he set up camp. We chatted a bit, but I was tired from my day and turned in early to read a little bit.

I woke up to a beautiful day and headed back to the lake after breakfast.

Forney Creek flowing towards the lake. The sun was just rising above the ridge on the left.


Cool looking rock in Forney Creek. All the other are brownish and then this glowing white one.


Sunburst over Forney Creek.


After photo time, I said goodbye to the other guy and packed up and had an easy hike to the car. I was glad that it was only 3 miles because my feet were a little sore from the previous couple of days. I got back to my car after an hour and regretted that I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes. All in all, a great trip, I got a physical/mental challenge on day 2 with creeks and snow, another challenge on day 4 with 18 miles, and mostly great weather and only a couple of other people.
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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Joined
May 31, 2015
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2,348
This is awesome. Just a few weeks ago, I was reading about this area of the park and the history of it with the different settlements that were there until the mid 1900s. It's awesome to see your trip after reading about all that. A distant hope of mine is to get out and there and see all those cemeteries like Bone Valley, Proctor, etc.
 

KevinBoyer

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Sep 16, 2013
Messages
45
I've done quite a few hikes in the Smokies out of Bryson City and have found 3 different grave sites. Each one makes me stop and ponder just how rough the people who lived in those times had it. All the infant grave stones were very sad. Once I find these sites, I always spend 15-30 minutes sitting off to the side just wondering, and then as I get up to leave, I will say a little prayer to the deceased.

Great write up wsp_scott.
 

wsp_scott

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Joined
May 16, 2016
Messages
826
This is awesome. Just a few weeks ago, I was reading about this area of the park and the history of it with the different settlements that were there until the mid 1900s. It's awesome to see your trip after reading about all that. A distant hope of mine is to get out and there and see all those cemeteries like Bone Valley, Proctor, etc.

I think I posted a report that involved Bone Valley, but I can't remember. Easier to add a couple photos here
The Hall Cabin at the end of the Bone Valley Trail


And the Hall Cemetery



I've done quite a few hikes in the Smokies out of Bryson City and have found 3 different grave sites. Each one makes me stop and ponder just how rough the people who lived in those times had it. All the infant grave stones were very sad. Once I find these sites, I always spend 15-30 minutes sitting off to the side just wondering, and then as I get up to leave, I will say a little prayer to the deceased.

Great write up wsp_scott.

The Bradshaw Cemetery outside of Proctor. This family lost infants twice in 2 years and they were not the only ones. Makes me very happy for antibiotics.


Nice view of the Proctor Cemetery


This whole part of the park is interesting from an historical point of view and is much less crowded than the TN side of the park. I highly recommend it.
 

scatman

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Dec 23, 2013
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@wsp_scott - Great report and a beautiful area of the country! Your images make me a bit homesick for western North Carolina. My mother, who passed away two years ago this August was a Noland. The Nolands were forced to relocate from Cataloochee, located in the NE section of the Park, when GSMNP was established. She is also related to the Palmers who had an even bigger presence in Cataloochee. As a girl growing up in western North Carolina, she knew many of the families who were displaced from the North Carolina side once the Park was established. Also, their was a small community named Noland that was inundated after the completion of the Fontana Dam and the subsequent filling of the lake. To this day there are some factions of Palmers and Nolands who harbor ill feelings about the relocation of their kin folk.
 

scatman

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Dec 23, 2013
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@scatman, is Noland Creek named after your mother's family? I've hiked a long section of the Noland Creek Trail before, and that's where I saw my first cemetery site.

Yes, Noland Creek is named after her/my relatives. Two brothers settled the area where Noland Creek flowed into the Tuckasegee River in the 1790's. This was the beginning of the community of Noland that I mentioned above that is now under water. A different family settled further up Noland Creek in what is now the present day Park. I'm guessing it was their cemetery that you saw and perhaps the old homesteads.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
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Dec 31, 2017
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What a lovely share! Your photos are all so stunning! I loved looking at them.
 

wsp_scott

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Joined
May 16, 2016
Messages
826
@wsp_scott - Great report and a beautiful area of the country! Your images make me a bit homesick for western North Carolina. My mother, who passed away two years ago this August was a Noland. The Nolands were forced to relocate from Cataloochee, located in the NE section of the Park, when GSMNP was established. She is also related to the Palmers who had an even bigger presence in Cataloochee. As a girl growing up in western North Carolina, she knew many of the families who were displaced from the North Carolina side once the Park was established. Also, their was a small community named Noland that was inundated after the completion of the Fontana Dam and the subsequent filling of the lake. To this day there are some factions of Palmers and Nolands who harbor ill feelings about the relocation of their kin folk.

Interesting connection to history you have :)

I met a young man and his lady near the Palmer Church in Cataloochee a couple years ago, they were out for a dayhike and I was in the middle of a 4 day backpacking trip. For some reason we got talking a bit and he mentioned his last name was Palmer. Of course, I asked if he was related and he said his grandparents had grown up in Cataloochee and his family still lived nearby.

I love the park, but there were a lot of people that got screwed when it was established and then expanded. This sign is right outside the park and captures the ill feelings pretty well

 

Reef&Ruins

Colorado Plateau is calling...
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Feb 3, 2017
Messages
579
Great TR. My first backpacking experience was a high school trip to the Smokies many years ago. Cold and sore feet was how I have remembered it. But lots of fun! My buddy even carried a jar of spaghetti sauce until the last night.
 

Ugly

Life really is better Here
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History, backpacking, and sweet pics all in one.
Fantastic!
 
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