GSMNP, Lakeshore Trail (Days 4-6) – April 2021

Photo Album for this hike.

The title of this post is indeed correct. We took a whopping six days to do the 35 miles of the Lakeshore Trail. The average hiker would likely do it in three. The ambitious hiker, two. There are those select few that might knock it out in a day. Bulldog and Loonie? Nope. Six days and we’re not ashamed of that one bit! It was great to simply take our time to enjoy the beautiful weather (thank the good Lord!), beautiful scenery and interesting relics that we encountered. Additionally, so long as we kept to some sort of loose schedule, something you’re forced to do in this park due to the reservation requirements, we would get into camp with plenty of time to relax beside a small fire before heading off to bed. Excellent!

Now, picking up from my last post. The next morning Ian and Juerg hit the trail first, followed by Loonie and I. We assured David and Steve that they would soon overtake us and sure enough, they did. We make our way along a narrow path for some time, negotiating occasional easy rock-hops over a number of small runoffs. A nice, small cascade is passed as we continue on. Phlox dots the side of the trail through here.

Phlox

The trail now widened, turning over to old roadbed again. More rock hops and some mud here and there. The threat of rain discourages us from taking the time to be more observant. Initially, the rain jackets are donned. As so often happens, you warm up and start to sweat only to get a few sprinkles. Off come the jackets and we hike on. Sprinkles return. We stop, drop the packs, put on our jackets, put the packs back on and the sprinkles subside once more. Fed up with this whole ritual, I decide to continue on, sans jacket. The skies seem to obey my command (more likely God heard my prayers) and never really open up. Nothing more than an occasional sprinkle fell all day. I would only have to resort to the jacket as a wind breaker at rest stops until we arrived at campsite 86 later in the day. The cloudy skies did bring cooler temps and we would wear long sleeved 1/4 zips for most of the walk.

The wide path continued on to and past campsite 81. Another old home site is here. A fern grows up through the bottom of an old washtub as though someone intentionally planted it there. What we believe to be Narcissus, a Daffodil, grows here. That must certainly remain from a long gone resident. A rock wall lined stream runs beside the old road and home site.

Our old road bed walk continued and we were loving it. I regret now not having picked up a copy of the Little Brown Book sooner and making some notes of the area we would pass through. There’s a lot to see that we completely missed by sticking strictly to the marked trail and not having those notes. The book is invaluable as an introduction to the history of the park.

The old road now dropped sharply and it wasn’t long before we arrive at Hazel Creek and the site of the former town of Proctor. Proctor boomed during the time this area was logged. A large mill operated here and a prosperous community grew up around it. Many who lived here before that time remained after the logging ceased, leaving only when forced out by the government. Its a beautiful area and I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be pulled away against your wishes. We have a brief look around before heading to site 86. A more thorough examination would take place the next morning.

Hazel Creek

We get to 86 to find the four X-Mid’ers (Ian, Juerg, David and Steve) already set up. They point us to a nice spot nearby, next to Hazel Creek. A former visitor has left their folding chair behind. It’s a large, nice spot off to ourselves and we rarely see or hear the other guys. Apparently this is a very heavily used site and we’re the only ones there. Awesome! We tuck the tent under some trees, complete the remainder of our camp chores and then spend a nice evening beside the fire. It couldn’t get much better!

Backcountry Campsite 86

We’re up and walking a little later than we would have liked. Our intention had been to turn off onto the Hazel Creek trail and walk up it a ways before backtracking and continuing our walk of the Lakeshore Trail. We do indeed walk a bit up Hazel Creek but not nearly as far as I had hoped. That’s one disadvantage of our late starts and snail pace. Seems there’s always more to explore that we never get to.

Hazel Creek
Hazel Creek Trail

We do take the time to look over the Calhoun House though. It sits on an idyllic spot just above and overlooking Hazel Creek. The Little Brown Book states that the house was built in 1928 and purchased by Granville Calhoun, a railroad builder for the Ritter Lumber Company. Ritter cleared the entire area of trees and basically put themselves out of business. The park service “maintains” the home for historical purposes. The exterior appears to have been kept up but the interior looks like its ready to be condemned. It does however provide some insight into how the more affluent folks in the area lived.

Calhoun House
Calhoun House
Calhoun House

Shortly after leaving the Calhoun House, we come to a short side trail which leads to a cemetery. Moses Proctor and his wife Patience, the first settles on Hazel Creek, are buried here. The cemetery is actually the former site of their first cabin. The monument states that Moses was born in 1794 and Patience in 1801. Moses died a year before the end of the civil war. Wow! There are also many markers from the Welch family, who must have been prominent in this region as well.

Moving on, we come to some old homesites. Some chimneys still stand. Various tubs, pails, bottles and car parts are strewn about. There’s some interesting stuff through the area and we take quite a bit of time looking over things. Be sure to look through the photo album of this hike. There are lots of artifacts through this section. We also spot some Toadshade Trillium.

Toadshade Trillium

It appears we leave the old road behind for a bit but the path is still wide and the tread is good. The first half of our five mile walk this day was mostly up but now we descend, making our way to Eagle Creek. We arrive to find a gentleman fishing just upstream from the bridge. We snap some pics of the bridge and beautiful stream and move on another half mile to site 90. Once again, we find Ian, Juerg, David and Steve already set up for the night.

Eagle Creek

Ed, the gentleman we saw fishing earlier, and his buddy Wayne boated in and have an extravagant base camp set up so they can fish for trout, eat like kings and drink beer. Loonie and I have fun talking with them after we get our crap taken care of. She and I then spend some time creek-side before the sun gets too low. This is an absolutely beautiful setting! It looks more like something you would see out West rather than here in the Smokies. Gorgeous! Its no wonder that people flock to this spot and we surprisingly find it trash-free. Fortunately, its only the gang of four, the two fishermen and Loonie and I that are staying this night.

Eagle Creek
Eagle Creek
Wayne’s boat anchored on Eagle Creek

While its frowned upon to construct fire rings, stone “furniture” and the like in the wilderness (runs against “Leave No Trace” practices), previous visitors have erected an elaborate “Stonehenge” circle of seats around a large fire pit along the rocky bank of the creek.

We return to camp to discover that the gang of four have now punted and gone to Plan “C” or “D” or something like that. I’m not sure they know which plan they are now on but they’ve decided that, like us, they will hike out the next day across the dam. Only problem is their cars are parked up at Clingmans Dome and that’s going to be one VERY costly shuttle. So, they ask us if, by chance, we might be heading that way after we get across the dam and back to the van. Loonie and I say “Sure, we can do it”. This will just add to the adventure and these guys are too funny to not drag into it! Of course, we tell them the van is absolutely stuffed with crap but we’ll do our best to cram them in. We finish the evening off at the fire. Ed and Wayne are heading out the next day so they start dumping stuff on us. Some tomatoes, fruit and leftover corn-on-the-cob, followed by some beer. I don’t drink but I’m sure the other guys enjoyed the beer!

Ed and Wayne at Backcountry Campsite 90
Backcountry Campsite 90

Once again Ian and Juerg are first out of camp. David and Steve say they’ll hike out with us but we assure them that we’ll be piddling around, taking far too long looking at stuff. We don’t want to hold them up from finishing the hike and spending some time relaxing before we come strolling across the dam.

We have a short, stiff climb right out of camp. We knock that off quickly but Loonie and I are soon lagging behind, looking for more wildflowers. And sure enough, we find ’em. David and Steve move on. I imagine they’re thinking to themselves “Crap! We could walk to Clingmans Dome before these two goobs get back to their car!”

Wake Robin

Just as the trail starts to wrap around a depression, we spot a large wild hog below. And then another. Then two more. And then several little ones. At this point it seems they are oblivious as to our presence. They’re more concerned about rooting around, tearing crap up. However, they’re moving uphill towards us. We watch for a bit before they finally hear us talking. Fortunately they decide to do an about-face and head the other way. That means though that they are heading straight for the other side, right where we need to go. Not wanting to get into a scrap with them, knowing full well that we would come out on the losing end, we wait for a while before moving on.

Once we’re reasonably sure that the army of viscous swine are no longer a threat, we proceed, soon coming upon a surprisingly well preserved car body. It’s sitting on it’s side, a tree beginning to grow over one fender.

We walk on, coming upon another. More picture taking ensues.

The walking resumes and more car parts appear. Once again, we take some pics before strolling on.

Obviously, if the wreckage were to continue there would be no way the guys would get back to their cars before the next day. Fortunately for them, the car-nage was now behind us and we got back to putting some trail behind us. We eventually pop out of the woods and proceed with the same road walk out of the park that we had done a week prior to finish the hike out of Twentymile.

Crossing Fontana Dam once more

We make it across the dam to find the guys waiting by the van. I open the hatch. They look at the mountain of crap stuffed in back and one of them says “Oh we can make this work”. I’m thinking to myself that someone, maybe more, is going to have to be strapped on top. Loonie works her Tetris magic and everyone fits inside, though I’m relatively certain that not a one was comfortable.

We head to the bar and grille at the lodge to knock down massive quantities of food. The guys graciously pay for ours (thanks again!). Everyone crammed in the van again and we make our way to Clingmans Dome. Along the way, we debate over who the coolest James Bond was, which Peter Sellers movie was the best as well as other highly intellectual topics. The concensus on Bond was Pierce Brosnan would be the easiest one to beat the crap out of. At least that much was settled.

We eventually make it to the Clingmans lot and as is so often the case, you couldn’t see much of anything. We take some groups pics and they’re off. We discover that they have left cash in the van to cover the gas. Too much in fact. Thanks guys but you really didn’t have to do that. It was our pleasure!

We had reservations for that night and the next at a campground outside Townsend but with a good chance of rain for that night and the next day, we decide to see if we could luck out and get into the timeshare in either Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Both showed to be booked solid but we crossed our fingers and headed to the one in Gatlinburg with the plan being to give them a sob story and beg our way into a room. What did we have to lose? It worked! They had a no-show and we got in. It was SUPER LATE before we got in but we got in. Excellent! Showers out of the way, we hit the sack, praying the meteorologists dropped the ball and the rain would hold off the next day. We had a couple more things to see before heading back home.

More to come…

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