Rags to riches

March 10, 2018

Destination: Fontana Hilton Shelter Today's Miles: 12.80

Start Location: Brown Fork Gap Shelter Trip Miles: 165.50

View of Fontana Lake from near the Fontana "Hilton"
I woke up at about 5:30am. The wind was still blowing, but not as bad as the night before.

I smiled when I realized it wasn’t raining. I slept fitfully the night before. Despite all the rain, the air is so dry. I feel like I need the roto rooter man to come work on my nostrils at the end of the day. Thar’s gold in them thar hills somewhere! I tossed and turned a bit more, then got out of bed at 6. I set about getting my gear ready and my wet weather hiking outfit on. It wasn’t raining now, but the forecast said it would. I moved as quickly as possible. I wanted to get as much distance as I could before the rain came to hopefully take a little of the slosh factor out of my day. I had almost 13 miles to cover to get to the famous Fontana Hilton Shelter. This is actually the shelter name because it is one of the nicest shelters on the AT. It’s big and clean, has a water pump, fire pit, solar phone charging station, bathroom and heated communal shower. Yep, awesome! You know what it doesn’t have? A ladder to get to the upper bunks. I’ll get to that. 

Admittedly, I was in such a hurry to get going that I didn’t make my normal breakfast or even brush my teeth. I just popped a snickers bar into my mouth and hit the trail! Good thing my dentist isn’t reading this. There was a couple who came into camp last night quite late. They had rented immediately behind the shelter, farther up “privy hill” than I. They were gone when I woke, so they must have left super early. 

The first part of the hike was a short but steep downhill. My feet were sore from the day before. I continued down into Brown Fork Gap and then quickly got pounded by a steep uphill called Bushnell knob. I was tired. I drank a lot of water and, since it hadn’t started raining, I took off my rain jacket as I was starting to get hot. I hiked on across lots of large rock fields. The boulders were large and strewn about in great cascades down the sides of the slopes. I couldn’t help but wonder if bears ever used some of the larger crevices as dens. Some of the rocks were covered with a beautiful green felt coat of moss. It was stunning. In a couple of places, underground streams were visible through the cracks between the rocks, as if they flowed into some secret cave somewhere. I picture that cave in the third Indiana Jones movie where he has to do the leap of faith, but it could be something different for you. I needed to get more water, and stopped at a beautiful water source (picture in gallery) with huge icicles hanging like stalactites. There was still snow on the northern face of the mountain. 

I passed a guy boiling water in a pot and he asked me if I was going to Fontana. I told him yes, and that I was trying to make progress before the rain really kicked in. He told me he read that it wouldn’t start raining until 4. Five minutes later, it started raining.

At first the rain was light. I hiked on without my rain jacket. Then it picked up a bit, so I donned the jacket and trudged on. It never poured during the day, but it did rain lightly for the rest of the time. As far as hiking in the rain goes, this was ok. I got excited when I saw the dam, but I still had a ways to go. I got more excited when I thought the hwy 28 road crossing was the shelter, but then I still had a little over a mile. The last mile of trail took me over one final smaller climb, and then along the side of beautiful Fontana Lake to the shelter. When I got to the shelter, the two guys from Mount Pleasant were there! I hadn’t seen them for a while. There was a lot of space left (for a change!), so I decided to take a spot on the top level. I thought it would be fun and I might get better rest. The shelter seemed almost too good to be true. I went up and had a HOT shower! In my normal life I would probably look at that shower and say “no thanks.” In trail life, that shower was like a Four Seasons bathroom! I guess that’s why they call it the Hilton! I scrubbed and scrubbed and then patted myself down with my buff. No room for towels on the trail! Reinvigorated, my next move was food. They have a number you can call and someone from Fontana lodge will come pick you up with a shuttle. For non guests it costs $3. I called the number and 15 minutes later the shuttle was there. They drove me down the road to the lodge. Unfortunately , the lodge restaurant didn’t open until 5 and it was only 3. I needed food, so I walked down from the lodge to a gas station called the Pit Stop. They have some resupply options as well as a small food counter. They sell hot dogs, small pizzas, and nachos. I ordered chili cheese nachos and a pizza, as well as a cherry coke (I wanted a root beer but they didn’t have any). I picked up some more M&Ms (peanut butter), some Reese’s peanut butter cups, two kinds of pop tarts, a Dunkin’ Donuts premixed coffee drink and a banana. I chatted with a couple of hikers while I destroyed the pizza, nachos, cherry coke, banana and coffee. The lady running the store was nice. We joked about a guy who came in complaining about the price of gas when he was driving a mega truck that probably got 5 miles to the gallon. She said she had gone to Vegas the weekend before and hated it. I told her I wasn’t fond of the tourist parts of Vegas either.

The shuttle came and picked me up and dropped me back at the shelter. I had a few hot spots on my feet from all the downhills and I was tired as all get out, but the food, shower, and good company went a long way to making me feel better. The only detail the Fontana Hilton left out was a ladder to the top bunk. There is just one post to step up on. It’s easy to get up but hard to get down gracefully. I already almost fell once. I hope I don’t have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!!

There were a few more people at the shelter when I got back. Swagman showed up but later left for a hostel. I called Gillian to catch up, and then stood by the fire the other hikers had built and chatted. A southbound thru hiker named Squatch was staying at the shelter! He started the trail back in July. He was a funny guy and told some trail stories. He was hiking with this huge knife and used it to cut up firewood. He said something about hiking in a loincloth. He seemed like he had been in the trail a little too long maybe. He told us he was ready to be done, but glad he did it. 

Tomorrow I plan to zero here (that means rest here and not hike any miles). The weather is going to be nasty and wet, and it would not be wise to go into the Smokies in those conditions. I’m watching the weather Monday. Right now the forecast Monday is better, but not great. Tuesday things clear up a bit, bringing colder temperatures in the 20s and possibly colder. I guess I’ll see! Tomorrow I will rest, eat, tend to my feet, and do laundry near the Pit Stop. It will be good to take a zero!

Despite the wet I enjoyed the trail today and took a picture of some cool vegetation for my photo book. Don’t know what it is - if you do let me know!

I’m grateful for the effort my body has given me thus far, and for the trail always providing what I need, when I need it. I’m grateful to not be thinking about fried chicken anymore, though I am thinking about breakfast at the lodge!

Hungry Cat sleeps.

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