Balding Mountains and the Fontana Hilton

  Stumbling to the first shelter out from Rainbow Springs in a civilization induced stupor, we had a chance to make a delightful re-entry into Trail life. The shelter provided fine spring water and good company. Bilbo and Swiss Miss shared conversation and a few games of Blisters, the game that evolved from those dice I snagged at Neel’s Gap. The weather was just right and the greens and flowers of the emerging spring were eye candy of the sweetest kind.

     We walked on through some georgeous southern forest and over wide open balds. Balds are curious mountains denuded of trees at their summit. Affording spectacular views and fine walking, they were a memorable segment of our hike to Maine. We ambled over Wayah Bald, through Licklog Gap and Burningtown Gap, to Copper Bald, Wesser Bald, Swim Bald and Cheoah Bald. This place is in serious need of some Rogaine! The wildflowers were exploding as a colorful carpet throughout the woods: spring beauties, bloodroot, mayapple, phecelia, violets, trillium, dutchmans breeches… they all competed for space on the living canvas. It was truly a great place to be hiking.

Stopping overnight in Wesser, we were anxious to move on as Mark didn’t get his boots and would have to go to the next stop and hope they were there. So it was up and over the grueling Stecoah Mountains and toward Fontana Dam. After a sleepless night at a bad shelter (Cable Gap… it has since been improved.), Mark and I strolled into Fontana Village.

   Fontana Dam is an important place for AT hikers. Not only is it a real cool dam where the Trail crosses, the host location of the famous Fontana Hilton and a place to get a free hot shower, it is also the entrance to the much anticipated Smoky Mountain National Park. Many hikers were already at the Fontana Hilton, a huge, well built and squeaky clean shelter. We met tons of old and new friends. G-man, Lido Bandito, Happy Feet, the Traveler, Rambo, Redbeard, Tom and Terry, Shred, Skeeter, Lone Wolf, Little Engine, Mule, Turtle, Running Bear, Liz and Kai and even Wingfoot passed through while we were there. Quite a collection of hikers on the Trail on this 50th anniversary of the footpath. Each person we met added to the experience and proved that the AT is far more than just a hiking trail.

Mark and Tim on Fontana Dam

    We hiked 166 miles of the Appalachian Trail and seem to be adjusting to the lifestyle. Our aches and pains were now tolerable and the blister situation finally stablized. Yes, Mark and I have become one with the Appalachian Trail. We were eager to get into the Smokies so we got our park permits, shouldered our packs and entered another world.

…continue the expedition, read: Smokin’ Though the Smokeys [link]