Diane scheduled our “not Easter, but a backpack in the Smokies” in perfect timing for the wildflower show. Eight ladies from Nashville, Murfreesboro, Maryville, and Pikeville out for an adventure. Diane, Sue, Nancy, Amy, Sara, Ann, Garnett, and me. Mom drove me to Crossville to meet them. We drove to Twentymile Ranger Station via the Dragon Tail. We saw the Blount County FD putting out a car fire in one of the curves. Hope the driver got out ok. We shuttled one van to Fontana Dam. At the trailhead we celebrated Sue’s retirement from REI with mimosas. Congratulations Sue! We had to get started cause possible severe weather was in the forecast for the night. We got to the creek crossings and all 5 had log bridges. 3 of us looked off trail for a cascade that we did not find. We got to campsite 95 and set up camp. This is a big camp, lots of space for tents. We gathered firewood and got a fire started and cooked supper before the rain came. We saw a big bird in camp, never figured out what it was. Bigger than a hawk, dark colored. Wildflowers we saw- Trilliums, white, yellow, Sweet Betsy, Wood Betony, Hellabore, Star Chickweed, Foamflower, and several violets.
We started uphill on the Wolf Ridge Trail, up, and up. We had lunch at Parson’s Bald which is not maintained by the park. Lots of briars and blueberry bushes. We set up at campsite 13 at Sheep Pen Gap. Four of us continued hiking down the Gregory Bald Trail to Parson’s Branch Road. Diane spotted a wild hog and yelled “WHOA”. She said it flew across the trail from the bank. I saw it running across the next ridge in the distance. Pigs really can fly!
I spotted a snake and screamed “EEK” after Diane and Nancy stepped across it. They said it was just a garter snake…..Whatever, it’s still a snake. We didn’t stay long at Parson’s Branch Road, the gnats were biting. Back up we went. We stopped to get water at the “seep” which is the water source for Camp 13. It had enough running water to catch it in water bags or to filter from the stream. It was actually flowing. Last time I got water here I used a sandwich baggie to try to collect the water. As we arrived at camp the other ladies had finished supper and were heading to Gregory Bald to watch the sunset. Nancy started a campfire from all the wood the other ladies had collected. Ann had rebuilt the fire ring. It looked pitiful when we arrived. The temp had dropped considerable as the sun went down. The deer were roaming the camp, looking for handouts and any sweaty socks or clothing they could steal. The stars put on a show.
Saturday morning we had to cook breakfast behind a log and from the doors of our tents to get out of the howling wind. There was frost on the leaves at Gregory Bald when we got there. We finished the Gregory Bald Trail to the junction with the AT at Doe Knob. On the way up we saw a big bear, they’re awake! We met a few NOBOs at the junction. Hiked back down to the junction for the Long Hungry Ridge Trail and ate lunch, the started down. We met several FSU students, and a dad with two young kids. The dad and kids were doing a 16 mile day. Did I mention the YOUNG kids? They were only about 8 to 10 years old and didn’t look the least bit tired. They had started at Twentymile, hiked to Gregory Bald, going down Long Hungry Ridge heading to Fontana! Wow. cool kids! We had 2 foot washings that felt so good on our hot feet. Set up camp at 92, and took a bath with cold creek water. Wheeeeee! Nice campfire, good times, sharing food and stories, watching stars pop out.
Sunday morning I woke up and got the fire started. We finished Long Hungry and got on Twentymile Trail to get to the AT. We climbed the hill to Shuckstack Fire tower; .2 or.5 from the junction depending on which Little Brown Book you read. Climbed the tower, the higher you climb the more wind there was. Took pics from inside the tower and from the stairs. 360 degree view from the tower. Went back to the junction to have lunch out of the wind. The gnats were chewing, so you had to sit in the wind or get eaten alive. Sue and Garnett left us here to hike the AT down to Fontana. The rest started down the Lost Cove Trail, and I do mean DOWN; STEEP! Met 4 Duke U students hiking up on the advice of a guy that told them what a great trail to get to Shuckstack. Glad it was them and not me! As the trail leveled out we saw green everywhere, spring had arrived and wildflowers were everywhere. We saw Bellwort, Wild Oats, Wild Ginseng, Vassey’s Trillium, and several other wildflowers. Pictures won’t do it justice; you just have to see it for yourself. We had 13 creek crossings, most small streams and rock hopping, 5 foot washings, some of those knee and thigh washings too. We finished Lost Cove and took the Lakeshore Trail .3 miles to campsite 90 where we found a rock sectional sofa built around a huge fire ring right by the water. We gathered wood and then went back to the trees to a huge campsite to set up our tents. We had one other camper who joined us around the campfire. he was hunting plane crash sites in the Smokies. It was sprinkling on our fire and the wind was sending sparks and ashes flying so eating supper without ashes was a challenge, and you couldn’t sit down for long for getting covered with ashes and sparks. The fire ring is too high. We need to take shovels and tear down the ring, shovel out the 3 foot high mound of ashes and start over. No shovels to be found. The rain came and we abandoned the fire and got in the tents. After running off a frog trying to set up camp under my tent flap, I settled in for a long night, too early for sleep, made notes for a future backpack, read map and trail descriptions for the next day and finally got some zzzz’s.
Monday morning and didn’t have to go to work! Woo hoo! Found lots of violets around the campsite and Little Brown Jugs. We hiked the Lakeshore trail to Fontana Dam on our last day. Crossing the streams we found some Dwarf Crested Iris in bloom. So very pretty to see. We all celebrated as we finished the trail. We still had a mile to the car, crossing the Dam we looked back to see Shuckstack high on the ridge. Looks so small from here. Sue and Garnett met us at the visitor’s center. We said some goodbyes; Sue took Garnett, Amy and Nancy to the Fontana Hilton shelter, came back and picked up the rest of us to take us back to Twentymile Ranger Station. She dropped us off and went back to the shelter. They were staying to hike Tuesday to finish the Twentymile Loop Trail. The rest of us headed back down the Dragon Tail. We drove the Foothills Parkway to get toMaryville. We stopped at the Little River Trading Company to look for bargains. We ate lunch on the way; they dropped me off at Cracker Barrel in Crossville. Craig picked me up; our reunion in the parking lot was great, we didn’t embarrass anybody or anything. We did stop at Sonic for an M&M Blast, two spoons.
Total miles 35.2