DAY 6: CABLE GAP SHELTER TO SOUTHERN BOUNDARY OF THE GREAT SMOKIE
MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (7.9 MILES)
We woke on the last morning of our section hike to the sound of rain. This presented us with a whole list of new challenges. Don't get me wrong. We've hiked in the rain before. In fact, we have yet to hit the trail and not get rained on at least once. This hike we were about to end was actually delayed by a day thanks to Mother Nature. What we hadn't had to do yet was break down camp in the rain. After deliberating for a few minutes, we decided to just throw everything into our packs and make a run for the shelter where we could lay it all out and pack it correctly. I'll give credit now to my sister because she has an innate ability to get things done faster than anyone else I know. By the time I was done fumbling around inside the tent, trying to get my sleeping bag rolled up and stuff, she had practically shoved all of the gear we had left out by the fire pit into her bag. We took the tent down and shoved into one of the empty odor-proof bags. The clouds and rain made it much darker out than we were use to. Still, Debbie worked with a purpose and we were soon donning our Crocs and ready to make a run for it. Now...our camp was downhill so the trail was wet and a bit steep (what isn't steep on the A.T). We had water running down our legs and into our camp shoes, which served to make it next to impossible to keep them on our feet, let alone get traction on the slick ground. After what seemed like forever, we made it to the shelter where we made short work out of spreading our wet gear out. We sat there in the quiet of the early morning, having our last cup of instant coffee before making our final meal for breakfast. I say final because before we left the NOC, we counted out exactly what we thought we would consume over the next few days and then stuck in one extra coffee and meal just in case. Well...our "just in case" breakfast consisted of re-hydrated chicken and rice. For dinner, that was tasty. For that last breakfast...we had to force it down, knowing we couldn't hike on an empty stomach and we didn't really want to stop for a hot lunch later...so there we sat, water-logged and exhausted, literally gagging as we forced that chicken and rice into our empty bellies. All that was left was to pack up those last items, put on our hiking boots and head on out. While my sister made one last trip to the privy, I stood in the silence, taking in my surroundings. This is where the mixed emotions came in. I won't lie....I was MORE than ready to stop hiking, get a shower, real food and an ice-cold Diet Coke. But on that morning, as I stood in the woods, it all had a sense of finality about it....like when I left the woods this time, I wouldn't return. I can't say why it felt that way. It just did. After a few more moments of reflection, we hit the trail and began our final day.
The rain still threatened as we walked amid the clouds. It was humid. It was eerie. It was also beautiful...
|The colorful leaves carpeted the trail...|
|The Benton MacKaye Trail meets the A.T.|
|Yes...those are stairs....more downhill!|
Without warning, we came out of the woods and into a huge parking lot. To our left was a boat ramp for Fontana Lake...and this building, our first actually bathroom since leaving the NOC! Better yet, there was a vending machine filled with ice-cold soda. I didn't even notice the restroom. I went straight for the vending machine! We both chugged a Diet Coke faster than ever before. Damn, did that taste good! The last thing I wanted to drink that day was more water! We didn't spend much time at our pit stop...the end of our hike was in sight at last...
The 1.8 mile trek around Fontana Lake was beautiful! Every now and then, we'd get a break in the trees and got to see the lake. The water level was incredibly low and what shocked me was the amount of trash that lay along the shoreline. I mean big stuff....plastic chairs, coolers, and all kinds of stuff that truly shouldn't have been there. It was sad to see such a beautiful place in that condition. It made me wonder what our world is coming to....what made the ones who thought it was okay to dispose of their trash in this manner...dumping it into the lake. It was also along this 1.8 miles that my sister made the observation that a "mountain mile" and a "road or sidewalk mile" must not be the same distance. It seemed to take forever to traverse that lone mile. We finally happened upon the shelter lovingly known as the Fontana Hilton:
The Fontana Hilton is one of the nicest shelters we've been to yet. There are picnic tables, grills, and the visitor's center is just down the road so showers and restrooms are available. The views are stunning! I wish we'd had the time to spend a night at this one. Maybe next time....
The walk down to the Fontana Dam Visitor's Center is an easy one and when we rounded the corner and the dam came into view, I felt a new spring come into my step. Our journey was almost over. We still had to cross the dam and set foot in the Smokies before our hike was considered complete. They're doing work on the road that crosses the dam so we had to go down through the center and up some stairs in order to cross the dam. Our walk was a slow one. We were completely exhausted and hungry and just wanted to sit down. It was impossible to ignore the view from the dam...
|View from the middle of Fontana Dam|
|Looking back towards the Visitor's Center|
I felt almost giddy as we approached our landmark...the sign marking the southern boundary of the Great Smokie Mountains National Park. We walked up to the sign and stuck our foot into the Smokies, but not too far in....that's to be saved for another time...
|I made it!|
Looking back, almost three months later, I still have fond memories and laugh often when I see a certain picture. As for that feeling of finality...well....I don't know if we'll make it back next summer to do the Smokies but I'm glad for the chance to do what I've done...and for the memories I've made with my siblings. Here's to hoping there'll be more where those came from!
|HAPPY HIKING EVERYONE!|