I should note that once again I used my phone while Loonie used the 35mm and due to the date/time being off on the Canon, the pics are not necessarily in sequential order for the hike.
We escaped the madness that is Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and drove over Newfound Gap to the other side of the park. Once in Cherokee, we moved on to Bryson City and from there, the infamous “Road to Nowhere”. A sign planted just outside the park highlights the resentment that exists to this day over this unfinished road.
Hundreds of families were forced out of the area during the ’30’s and ’40’s to create Fontana Lake and add land to the national park. The government promised to replace Highway 288, now deep beneath the lake, with a new road stretching from Bryson City to Fontana. Approximately 6 miles and a tunnel were completed before environmental issues stalled the project. Eventually, the government abandoned it altogether, the exception being the 6 miles or so of road out of Bryson City and the tunnel. Those fell to the park service to maintain.
We weren’t going so far as the tunnel this day to begin our overnight hike up Noland Creek. We stopped short at the parking lot and trailhead for the Noland Creek Trail. From the lot, the trail makes a short, switchback descent to the main trail. A left turn and a mile of walking would take you to Campsite 66, a “Boat-In Only” site on Fontana Lake. We turn right to head upstream along the creek. We cross under Lakeview Drive (Road to Nowhere) and immediately cross a wooden bridge. The Little Brown Book says this trail was constructed by the CCC. Its more road than trail, making for an easy walk. At least most of the way to our destination for the day, Campsite 63, 5-1/2 miles from the trailhead. Site 65 is reached just over a mile into the hike.
Noland Creek and the small tributaries that feed it are beautiful. Several wood plank bridges as well as a couple of nice foot logs mean dry crossings, at least up to site 63. Just past the second bridge are the remnants of an old home-site. Even the steps and the boxwoods on either side of the walk leading up to them still stand. The Little Brown Book says this was the Decker’s home. The easy walking continues on.
Wildflowers were abundant along our walk. Crested Dwarf Iris, Showy Orchids, Robin’s Plantain, White Trillium, Painted Trillium, Wake Robin and Violets. Awesome! We reach yet another plank bridge to find the remnants of an old power station. The chute where a water wheel sat still stands. Over the bridge and the easy walking continues.
Up to this point in the walk, we had only crossed paths with four of five people, one a park ranger hauling out crap that people had left behind. This included two large blue tarps and even a pair of boots. Ridiculous. At just over four miles in, we come to site 64. This site even has picnic tables and fire rings. This is also the junction of the Springhouse Branch Trail. Only one couple is present. Their tent is pitched next to the stream and they are lying on the ground, basking in the sun. I’m sure they were glad to see us move on and have the place to themselves. We would take an early lunch break here the following day.
Just under 1.5 mi remained to our home for the night. We quickly cross the first of two foot log bridges before 63. Remains from an old ranger station are still present. Shortly after that, a huge Quartzite boulder sits beside the trail. Over one more log foot bridge and we reach 63. This is also a nice site located up against Noland Creek. And we’re the only ones there! No one would arrive behind us. Excellent.
It got down into the 30’s during the night and, as a precaution, we slept with the water filter and electronics, just in case. Breakfast out of the way, we broke camp and retraced our steps back to the trailhead and van. From there we headed back to Bryson City to spend a night at Stonebrook Lodge and make final preparations for the next hike to begin the following day.
Arriving at the lodge, we begin unloading our stuff and I happen to notice something sitting on the roof of the van. It was my freakin’ Black Diamond carbon fiber trekking poles!!! Now I remember breaking them down after finishing the hike and sitting them on the roof so we could load everything else. Miraculously, they didn’t budge on the 8 miles or so drive to the lodge. Those things seem to have magical powers. This wasn’t the first time I had left them behind or misplaced them. But they always seem to find their way back to me. Something tells me I shouldn’t push my luck further though and keep a closer eye on them!
More to come…