Dec. 31 – Climbing Shuckstack 

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.

 

Nov. 17 – Back to LeConte

Mount LeConte via Boulevard Trail – 10/10/16


It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 2 years since I last hiked Mt. LeConte. You can read about that experience HERE. Alot has happened since that last hike 2 years ago and the craziness of life has kept me from going back. When the opportunity became available to climb the mighty mountain once again I couldn’t pass it up. This would be my 4th time hiking LeConte and the previous times have always been via the wonderful Alum Cave Trail. This time I vowed to venture outside my comfort zone and try another route to the summit. Enter the long and winding Boulevard Trail.

 


Make no mistake, this trail is a BEAST! 17 miles roundtrip makes for a LONG day on the trails, but for the views it’s a gem from start to finish. The first third of the trail starts on the AT from Newfound Gap, It’s relative easy and enjoyable as it matches the route to another of my favorite spots…Charlies Bunion. Once you come to the split in the trail (Where Boulevard begins ) the trail immediately drops to a ridgeline that connects Mt. Kephart with LeConte. You’ll enjoy the drop until you realize that you’ll have to climb that guy on your return. This is one reason many people turn this hike into a loop (Up Boulevard, down Alum). Did I say this hike is beautiful? The views this particular day was gorgeous and at one point as we were making our way close to the top of LeConte we passed a clearing that we could clearly see our starting out point at Newfound Gap. As we reached LeConte we finally passed Myrtle Point and the actual summit of High Top before make our way to eat our lunch at Cliff Tops. This particular day was special because I got to visit with Phillip aka P-NUT,  He’s a buddy of mine that works on the crew at the LeConte Lodge. He took us  for a behind the scenes tour at the lodge, showing us the kitchen area and their bunks that they get to stay in during the season. Ultimately, I wish we could have stayed longer visiting and enjoying the weather up on the mountain but we had to get back on the ‘vard as we still had another 8 miles to knock out before the day was done.  I won’t comment on the return trip other than it was long and my knees were struggling as we made our way back to our vehicle. Advice: Hit the trail early and give yourself plenty on time because you’ll need it…Also, consider staying at the Lodge overnight or doing a loop and come down via another trail.

 

Aug. 18 – Journey on Middle Prong

Middle Prong Trail – July 15, 2016

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Last month I had the pleasure of hiking this trail with my good friend, Ryan. We were short on time for the day and needed to hike a trail that was “closer” to home. Enter, Middle Prong and it’s amazing waterfalls (4!!!!) and fascinating history (including an abandoned Cadillac and homesite) …. Here’s a trail that I’ve never hiked before (I’ve hiked West Prong ALONG time ago) and always seem to overlook it for the higher elevation hikes at Newfound Gap. Being a member of the Hike the Smokies Facebook page, I would always see pictures of this area and comments of people raving about this hike….you could say it finally intrigue me enough to venture out on my own and give it a try. I appreciate anytime I’m fortunate enough to spend time in the woods but I have to say I was blown away by this trail and everything it had to offer. Below you’ll find the trip highlights.

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Dec. 31 – Into the Foggy Abyss 

AT to Charlies Bunion – 12/21/15

  
I started my Christmas break on the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains…. jumping on the icy AT at Newfound Gap and reaching the foggy outcropping of Charlies Bunion. Going into the dayhike,  I hoped for a better view at the bunion but something was special about the solitude of feeing like you are in a cloud in the middle of the wilderness. It was a great reminder also that it’s not always about the payoff view at the end… It’s about the adventure getting there. 

 In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day. -Horace Kephart

     

   

Nov. 10 – Rainy night in the Backcountry 

Blogger note: So I’m way behind on documenting my recent trips this fall. I’ll try and catch up my recent excursions in the next few posts.

Backcountry Campsite 17 –  10/09/15


Early in the month of October I went on a overnight backpacking trip with a group of my friends. We had been planning this trip for several months and we all were looking forward to getting out into the backcountry. For several of the guys, this was their first experience doing a overnight trip.


Leading up to the Friday we were supposed to hit the trail the weather forecast was not in our favor. Rain was expected with heavier amounts in the mountains…. Chance of storms and wind. All of that equals not much fun for a overnight backpacking trip. I expressed my concerns with the group and we planned on possibly postponing our trip to another time. Funny thing happened like it always tends to do in relation to weather…..Especially, weather in East Tennessee. That Friday afternoon, we had beautiful weather with an abundance of sunshine….. Right on cue I began fielding questions from my friends asking if we could attempt our trip. Luckily I hadn’t cancelled or changed our reservation and we decided that the trip was back on. By that time, there was a line of showers that was expected to be in the area around 7 and hopefully move on out in a few hours. (I WISH WE WERE THAT LUCKY) My idea was if we could at least get camp setup before the rain showed up we’d be alright….


We got to the trailhead around 5, and began our journey. This was the real beginning of Fall in our area and you could see the trees begin to show some color. Since this would be the first trip for several of the guys I wanted to do a campsite that wasn’t too far but far enough that we could enjoy ourselves and not have to worry about people being right on top of us. I have a love for Backcountry Campsite 17 and the area around it. If you missed my earlier post about this trail, You can READ IT HERE. We easily made it to BC 17 and began searching for small brush, fallen limbs and anything else we could get a fire going. Once we got our fire established we began to cook our dinner…. around the time we began to finish up we heard the rain in the distance begin to move in. For me, In those moments there’s always a fear that pops up in my head… Did I pack everything I need? Am I prepared for what is about to happen? Are the guys I’m with  ready for this? The rain began to fall and we all got comfortable. I had my tent with a trusty tarp to deflect the rain , the others had ENO hammocks with rainflys and tarps. We all thought at worse the rain would come and go….

…..Little did we know that it would rain solid for the next 17 hours or so. I was shocked when I woke up and IT WAS STILL RAINING…. WHERE WAS IT COMING FROM?!?!

Our whole group was great about the situation and we all stayed dry the whole night. I hated that the rain messed up our plan for hiking to the falls that day. After a night of rain and and the conditions of the trail we all decided it was best to head back to the trailhead…and just like that our trip was over. Overall, it was an experience that was fun and I think the rest of the guys had a good time considering. We already are planning another trip…. we just hope that the rain won’t follow us next time. 🙂

Pictured: Chad, Ryan, Matt, Andy, and Jason