Fontana Dam Shelter to Russel Fields Shelter
Miles Hiked: 14.9
AT Milage: 180.8
Last night at the shelter I had my worst shelter experience yet. Everyone was really mad and so was I, but I found a lot of humor in the situation. The shelter we were staying at is really close to town and it’s the last place to stay before Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), so a lot of people typically end up there at once. At the Fontana Dam village there was a big mini coop convention where people gathered to party and drive their cars down the “Dragon”, a really curvy road on the border of GSMNP. Somehow a few people from the shelter either got invited to the party at the convention or crashed it, I’m not sure. Anyways, I was almost asleep in the shelter when a group of about four people came in at midnight yelling. One of the men was absolutely ridiculous. Everyone in the shelter was awake and got really mad. Someone even yelled out “shut up!”. The man that was going crazy was screaming so many rude things inside and outside the shelter. One of the people in the shelter said “If that guy comes back in here I’m going to kick his ass!”. One guy went out and then two more followed. I was kind of scared a fight was going to happen but I was also laughing at the whole situation and how idiotic these people were acting. Apparently there was an open bar at the mini coop party and everyone got trashed. About three hours later I woke up again to Rockslide yelling at one of the drunk people who layed down right on top of his stuff. If this whole thing happened at 3 or 4 am I would have just packed up my stuff and started hiking. Unfortunately it was only midnight. Later today I learned that that craziest drunk person who was being very aggressive has been basically stalking this one older lady on trail for about four days. I feel so bad for her, hopefully we have left that guy behind for now!
After I packed up my stuff and left the shelter I began my hike across Fontana Dam. I was really excited to hike across it, but was totally disappointed. I just wasn’t as impressed by the dam as I had imagined a I would be. Apparently it is the highest dam East of the Mississippi River. All I thought about as I walked across it is humanity’s capability to tame and destroy once wild places. I know the dam is in place to provide water to civilization, but that is just what crossed my mind. There are very few wild and scenic rivers left in the world that have not been altered by humans via a dam or other mechanism.
The first mile of the trail today was 100% road walking. It was only one mile but I hated it so much. I wanted dirt beneath my feet and a place to put my trekking poles. After that first mile I entered the southern boundary of GSMNP. I expect it will take me about 7 days to walk through the park. All thru hikers must purchase a $20 permit to hike through the park on the AT. It is good for a 30 day period, but once you enter the park you have 8 days to get out. To enforce the permits, there are people called ridge runners who patrol the trail to make sure everyone is following park rules and minimizing impact on nature via leave no trace principles. As I walked up to the box I was to place half of my permit in, I ran into the ridge runner who was collecting them all so I gave mine directly to him. His name was David. If I didn’t run into him at the permit box and he saw me on the trail later he would ask me to show him my papers. Ridge runners will always ask hikers in the park to show them their permits to make sure they signed up to camp. Speaking of camping, GSMNP has a special set of rules about camping for thru hikers. The first rule is that you must always camp at an established campsite. This means an official designated camp (there is one) or a shelter. You should be doing this to minimize impact in nature anyways, but stealth camping is allowed elsewhere on trail. In the National Park you can be charged a heavy fine for stealth camping or not having a permit. Stealth camping means that you set up camp at an unofficial site. There are many of them along the whole AT. The other rules about camping are about who can stay in the shelter. Everyone absolutely must sleep in the shelter if there is room. Only thru hikers are allowed to set up a tent if the shelter fills up. Section hikers must make a reservation for each shelter they stay at. All thru hikers must first set up camp inside the shelter until it fills up. If a section hiker with reservations arrives the thru hikers get kicked out and they must set up a tent. This is very irritating for many people. A section hiker can arrive at 1am and you can be forced to set up a tent in the pouring rain after you already won a warm cozy spot in the shelter. The last thru hikers to arrive get kicked out of the shelter first.
I was expecting to see a lot of old growth forest in the smokies, but it did not appear to be the case for the first five miles. I climbed the Shushtack fire tower which was very sketchy but had pretty views of Fontana Lake from atop. I ended up hiking all the way to Russel fields shelter where I was lucky enough to get a spot inside. Rockslide kept me company for about half of my hike. It was nice. He should be taking off for a 20 mile day tomorrow. He has rested himself up the past few days and feels ready to start hitting his high mile days to finish the AT in 100 days or less. My feet and knees were super achy today and I had to duct tape my big toes to keep them from painful rubbing in my shoes. Tomorrow I plan to do a shorter day to rest up. Some of the hikers around me have seen bears at places right after I walk by. I am sad I keep missing them because I really want to see one in the Smokies. One other interesting thing about the Smokies is that most of the shelters do not have privies. Instead they have a toilet area which is essentially a poop minefield. It’s not ideal.