Shuckstack Fire Tower via the Appalachian Trail – 12/30/16
I can’t believe another year is coming to an end. What a year 2016 has been. One of the many benefits of documenting our adventures in this space is looking back at the many memories and adventures that we did over the course of the year. I’m fortunate to have some time off during the Holiday season and I’m always trying to fit in a hike when I can. It’s always fun to try a new hike and yesterday I got that chance with two of my closest hiking buddies. Below is our trip report from a cold and windy Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Shuckstack Fire tower is a 60 ft structure that was built in 1934. It’s purpose was to keep an eye out for fires that would threaten the immediate area. It’s one of only several remaining towers still in the park, what more motivation did I need? I needed to experience this first hand. We started our journey on the NC side of the National Park, just above the massive Fontana Dam (Just so happens to be the largest dam this side of the Rockies) This is where the Appalachian Trail enters the park and we would stay on this portion until we reach the short side trail that would take us to the tower.
The total time we spent on the AT was just over 3.5 miles in length or 7 miles round trip. This portion of the AT is particularly gruesome as you gain several thousand feet in elevation to reach Twenty Mile Ridge. This is the ridge in which the tower sits on. I would compare this climb to be tougher then that of LeConte or the Chimney’s. Make no mistake this is a hard climb but the payoff is so worth it.
I had heard through the internet and several books that the tower hasn’t been maintained in some time, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I worried if we would even be able to climb it if it was in such bad shape as everyone was telling me about. When we finally reached its location, I was pleasantly surprised that the overall condition of the tower was in good standing. The base of the tower all looked good and you could even see the remnants of a small shelter that once stood just beside of the tower. The staircase and steps were in excellent shape as we made our way up the tower. This day was already cold with temperatures around the 20’s, but what made it feel even colder was the very strong wind that was blowing into us the whole climb up the trail. It only picked up as we reached the summit and as we made our ascent up the tower. We were literally having to hold on for our life as we reached the top of Shuckstack.
Once you make it to the top of the steps you will enter a small covered perch that has a INCREDIBLE 360 degree unobstructed view of the area around it. From this point you can see Fontana dam and lake, Fontana Village, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. I don’t know the exact visibility range but this particular day was very clear and I could see a incredible distance. No wonder they picked this location to place this fire tower. I will say that Once we entered the crows-nest of the tower it was in bad shape. The floors were the worst in my opinion. At any moment I wasn’t sure if i was going to fall through to my death, it was that bad. The sides of the perch were in decent shape and the windows were intact except for a few on each side. For the Tower to last much longer I would think that someone will need to renovate it at some point in the near future. All in all, we had a great experience and I really wish I could have stayed up there all day taking pictures of the awesome view but our fingers were literally freezing, so we gladly made out way down the AT back to the warmth of our vehicle. What a way to close out 2016.