AT: Rock Gap -> Fontana Dam

I met Ethan and Mike at Fontana Dam on Tuesday night.  I arrived around 5:30 p.m. and checked out the shelter, affectionately known as the Fontana Hilton due to toilets and showers near by, and decided it would be a nice place to stay the night before we were going to start the trek from Rock Gap to the dam.  The shelter sleeps 26, and there was plenty of space.  They arrived a little after 10 p.m., and of course all the other hikers were already asleep so they crept into the shelter as quitely as possible.  We awoke a few minutes before 6 a.m. and were on the road right away, since we had a 90 minute drive to the start.

Here is a small map of the area… We started just south of US 64, and ended up at Fontana Dam, right where the “green” for Smoky Mountain National Park is.


Here are the elevation profiles for the section we hiked.  We started near mile marker 103, at the gap before Winding Stair.  The hike out of the NOC near mile 104 was quite the climb!  About 3300 feet to the top at Cheoh Bald, though we stopped at the shelter at Sassafras near 2900′ of climbing.


And we stopped at Fontana Dam, so next time we start it will be quite a climb up.  I am actually thinking of “fastpacking” the Smokies in one-go.  It has been done as low as 17.5 hours, though most people are in the 22-23 hour range.  I think I would shoot for less than 30 hours!  Anyone game? 🙂


Day 1:  Rock Gap to Cold Spring Shelter, 19.5 miles

We started just after 9 a.m. and hiked pretty hard.  We wanted to make good miles the 1st 2 days so we would have a short hike out on Day 4.  We got to the shelter, but it was very old and only slept 6.  We set up the tent on the ridge line above the shelter with the plan to have Mike and myself in the tent, and Ethan in the Shelter.  But apparently around 9 or 9:30 some younger guys got to the shelter, made their way into tight quarters, made a lot of noise, etc., so Ethan came up to the tent.

Day 2:  Cold Spring Shelter to Sassafras Shelter, 18.4 miles

We again pushed hard so that day 4 could be easy.  Sassafras shelter was packed, so we found a site for the tent and set it up.  There was no level ground so we adjusted a few times, but at the end we still had a good 5″ drop from head to toe, which I think adversely affected my leg and foot recovery!  One interesting point while here.  One guy, who I never actually saw, wandered off into the woods and was killing it on his harmonica and blues singing.  He was really good!

Day 3:  Sassafras Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter, 15.2 miles

Again pushed hard to get 15.2 miles in.  I was shooting to hold a 3.0 mph pace and made it in around 2.9, not including a 1 hour lunch stop at Brown Fork Shelter.   Many folks at Sassafras had said they were going to try to make these 15 miles, but after hiking it and arriving a little before 5 p.m. to find the shelter empty, I thought not everyone could make it since it was a pretty tough hike with a couple killer climbs.  I was surprised by the number of folks that did make it, but not everyone did.  While sitting around the camp fire (only one of the trip!), we were talking to one 69 year old and his son.  They had made it from Sassafras, so I was impressed with the older gentleman’s stamina and endurance, because it was tough.  Anyway, the son was someone that worked at IBM in Tampa where I had worked back in the 90’s, and we knew each other’s names and had probably worked together on a few things, but had never met face to face.  Small world! Here is a link to his blog.

Day 4: Cable Gap to Fontana Dam, 7.3 miles

I finally made the 3.0 mph mark I was shooting for!  We got to the dam a little before 10, showered up, and drove back to the car at Rock Gap.

All in all a great trip, though this is the 1st without any kind of major “story” to tell.  Like the blizzard we got caught in in 2005 — in April, in NC.  Or the many equipment failures we had last year.  Uneventful, but a great time.  Can’t wait to continue on towards Maine!

Here are a few photos, with a link to the full photo album below:

P1030133 P1030152

P1030212 P1030127

Photo Album: Click Here

Quote of the trip: On the last night at Cable Gap, we had been there fore a few hours and a couple came in really fast around 8:30 p.m.  When they found the shelter was full, they sad they had no tents so they were going to keep going.  I assume they at least had a tarp or something along those lines.  They treated water and looked at the maps for where they wanted to go.  We asked how far they had come, and they said Wesser, which is the NOC, so they had come about 25 miles and were now planning on at least 3 more.  We then found they had made it to this point, about 150 miles into the trail, in just 7 days, including a “Zero” where they rested up!!! That is just insane fast.   They explained they had to make it to Maine in 90 days to get a free ride home.  These two looked very energetic for having done so many miles already. I asked what they had done to get in shape.  The girl, with orange and pink hair, said:  “I just skate boarded.  Like 8 hours a day.  I’m addicted!  I guess all that moving like this did it!” where she demonstrated a kind of frog squat.   That was NOT an answer I ever expected!  I wish I had gotten their trail names so I could follow them to see how they hold up at that kind of pace.

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