North Carolina Appalachian Trail - NOC to Fontana Dam / Fontana Village - June/July 2004

I did this solo as a 3 day, 32 mile shuttle hike mid week in late June / early July. This was my now standard pre-family reunion backpacking trip close to Fontana Village. This particular section of the AT used to be known as the most difficult section. It doesn't hold that title anymore but it is pretty challenging nonetheless as over the 32 miles you gain and lose 10,500 feet of elevation. This is really quite a bit for the east coast and the AT if you stop and think about it.

I parked my car at the NOC (Nantahalia Outdoor Center), bought a new pair of gaiters as I forgot mine, and headed off into the woods around noontime. I started sweating about 15 minutes later and that was the last time I was dry for 3 days. It's not that I necessarily got rained on alot, but rather the humidity was 100% as I was essentially stuck in a cloud for most of the trip. The climb out of Wesser isn't as steep as I thought it would be, but it was a constant uphill battle for 7 miles. I found it to be very similar in angle and duration to climbing up a long western pass. I got in to the shelter fairly early and set about trying to dry my clothes out and read a book. Drying the clothes out turned out to be a futile effort. The problem here turned out to be the cold of all things. I was fully set up for summer weather and found the damp clouds at the shelter to feel colder than the 60 temperature would indicate. I knew I had a problem when I was wearing my thermal top and my hat just to be comfortable sitting around the shelter. I climbed into my fleece sleeping bad (read warm weather only) still wearing the top and the hat and hoped for the best. Sometime awhile later I woke up cold and put on my Frogg Togg rain gear. Then again later I woke up cold and had nothing more to put on. Unfortunately it turns out it was still only midnight. Oh well. There was little chance I would freeze to death but the comfort level for the rest of the night left something to be desired. Had quite a bit of mouse and deer activity during the night too. Did I mention that it rained all night on the metal roof of the shelter too? I was the only one in the shelter tonight. Also there is a very nice spring here. Had to write in the register using small pieces of loose paper.

Next day I got up, put on my sopping with sweat clothes from the day before and headed off to Cheoah Bald. Through a wet overgrown trail I got up to the top to find no view's whatsoever. The picture doesn't show it, but the view was totally obscurred by clouds. This was unfortunate as it turned out to be the last view at all on the trail and I imagine on a clear day it would be pretty darn good. Oh well again. Going down the otherside was almost as hard as going up as the trail isn't particularly smooth or overly maintained. The rain made it very slippery and my hiking poles saved me from falling multiple times. Made it down to the road and stopped for lunch. Heading up the hill on the otherside I ran into the first people I had seen since the NOC, two day hikers. Onwards and upwards for a stop at Brown Fork Shelter. This is an unusual shelter as the front section of the floor is missing. Not really sure what this is suppose to do. Further down the trail I found a note under a rock indicating that there was a yellow jacket nest on the trail after the Cable Gap shelter. Made a note of that and kept going. A while later I ran into a whole family backpacking the trail who asked me if I had run into the yellow jackets. I said that I thought they were still coming up. Apparently they hit a nest that I missed about 0.1 miles before the note on the trail and got hammered. Bummer for them. They said they were going to Fontana Dam that evening but I never saw them again. Got to Cable Gap shelter and decided that the shelter smelled like old moldy socks so I pitched a tent instead. A good stream runs right by the shelter so water was again plentiful. The problem I encountered here was with mice. The little SOB's didn't make a move on my food bag, but rather decided to eat a hole in the bottom of my new and quite empty backpack. I can't imagine what they thought they would find in there. On the bright side it was warmer at this shelter and I stayed quite warm in my tent tonight. It of course rained all night again.

Next day was an essentially viewless mostly downhill hike through a drizzle to Fontana Dam. I had an epiphany on a trail name while hiking this section. After all this time I finally settled on Sunshine as it fits in with my two trail rules: 1) I'm all about a sunny disposition; 2) I'm all about the good weather karma. Having finally settled that, I rambled on down to the Fontana Hilton. Would you believe they had the water turned off? How rude! A little further down and I completed the section at the dam. Now I had to hike back up the road 3 miles to get to Fontana Village. I was hoping that someone would take pity on me and offer me a ride but alas it was not to be (the paid shuttle was too long a wait). Got up to the grill and had my cheeseburger.

Overall this section is a great backpack if you are looking for a lot of elevation gain and loss on the east coast. I was very surprised at the level of solitude that I experienced on the trail and at the shelters. However if you are looking for views and a well maintained trail you should look elsewhere. My opinion is I've done this section now and I probably won't do it again. Both of my trail rules were put to the test, but they held firm throughout. Despite the adversity it still was a pretty good time.

Mark at Sassafras Gap Shelter Mark on the summit of Cheoah Bald (5,062 ft) in the North Carolina on the AT on 7/01/04
Mark at Cable Gap Shelter  


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