Before I dive in to my recap from day four, I have to share this article that my cousin sent me and this update that I found. Basically, while I sat and typed my Day 3 post on Sunday night, a teenage boy who was camping on the SAME TRAIL that Bill and I were on (Hazel Creek) was attacked by a bear, while sleeping in his hammock! (Insert jaw dropped emoticon here.) Um, SCARY! It could have just as easily been us who were attacked, I’m thanking my lucky stars and praying for a speedy recovery for him!
Day 4: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Loop
Planned Itinerary: 12.5 miles along the Lakeshore trail to the Forney Creek trail, where we should “spend the bulk” of our day at campsite 70. (How to spend most of the day at a site that is 12.5 miles away is beyond me…)
We woke up after a restless night, thankful we had not had an encounter with a wild animal. As we packed up camp, we planned our attack for catching up. Bill’s foot was feeling better and my body was less achy than it had been, so we were going to do our best to make it to site 70, which by my estimate, was probably about 16.5 miles away, and where we were scheduled to spend the night. I got out the map and read the narrative for the last part today’s journey, and I read ahead for tomorrow, our hike out. As I compared the map to the narrative, “Day five is only 5.5 miles…” I realized that I had made a big mistake. Five and a half miles from site 70 would NOT put us back at Clingman’s. It would put us at site 68, where, had I read the narrative more carefully, I would have told the ranger that we were spending 5 nights on the trail, not 4! Oh, and we would have packed food for a 5 night, 6 day trip rather than a 4 night, 5 day trip. Oh crap.
We were fairly confident that we’d have enough food if we needed to stay for the 5th night, but we decided to try our best to stick to our original plan. Yeah, the plan that had us doing a 5 night hike for experienced hikers in 4 nights.
I have this problem of not reading recipes to the end before starting the recipe…Apparently, for me, that carries over into hiking as well…
The reality of being barely halfway back and only having a day and a half to do it was certainly motivation for us to finish packing up camp quickly and get on the trail.
The last four miles to get to site 76 felt long, but not painful. Today we decided that we’d stop more frequently for shorter amounts of time, rather than pushing on until we were pretty beat, taking a longer break, and then rebooting for the next part. So, we stopped at site 76, put our packs up in the bear rigs, and went down to the water for a quick snack and to refill our water. The water was cool and refreshing, and as soon as we stuck our feet in, a few fish started swimming near us. Off to our left was a small fishing boat, where two women were fishing. I presumed it was a mother-daughter pair, which I just thought was pretty cool. Fishing is not just a man’s sport!
Bill and I snacked on some GORP (trail mix) and joked about how we had no idea where we were right now, other than on the shores of Fontana Lake. What state were we in? We hadn’t a clue. (We were in North Carolina.) It didn’t matter. We were just taking in the beautiful lake in front of us, enjoying out time together outdoors. Soon the silence broke when one of the women said “Look! Snake!” Sure enough, about halfway between us and them was a snake slithering on the surface of the water. It disappeared into the marsh, so we decided (and so did the women) that it was time to go. We walked back to our packs and started hiking again.
Bill made a friend 😉
We came to a fork shortly after leaving camp, and we followed the path that was closest to the water. It didn’t last long, and quickly dead ended into the lake. The water was crystal clear, and the massive lake was just sprawled out in front of us, calling our names to come and swim. It was hot out, and the cool water would feel so refreshing…So, I did what any hiker would do and jumped (more like waded) in! This was the swimming hole tour after all! I dipped my head under and floated around for a few minutes before I started getting a little chilly and got out. As I put my pack back on, Bill noticed that I had a rash on my lower back. It didn’t itch, so we were pretty sure it was heat rash that had been aggravated by my pack sitting on my back. Hopefully it wouldn’t get worse!
We continued on our journey, rejuvenated by our little dip, and eventually made it to the next site, 98, where a wooden bridge crossed over a rushing stream. We laid out Bill’s poncho and did legs up a wall for some recovery while we munched on a granola bar.
As we packed up, I spotted what I believed was an inchworm. I had never seen one in real life, so of course I took a video. They’re such neat creatures!
At this point, I figured we had at least 6 miles to get to the next site, and about 4 more after that if we were to make it to site 70. Yikes. It was already early afternoon at this point. We decided to get to site 74 and then evaluate when we arrived.
It was a hot afternoon, and we were both keeping up on our hydration, so somewhere on the way Bill ran out. Of course it happened to be on one of the driest sections of the trail, so when we happened upon a trickling of water a little off the trail, Bill gingerly climbed up to the source to fill up one of our liter bottles. We figured that we would soon enough come across more (we did) where we could fill up all the way.
Shortly after filling our packs, we were chatting about how tired we were and how we couldn’t imaging running right now, when off to our right about 25 yards or so, down by a stream, we saw a flash of movement and realized that we had startled two wild hogs. They ran lightning fast away from us, but judging by the curve in the trail ahead, they had just ran towards where we would be walking shortly. Bill started his barking again, and I was talking loudly. As we approached a blind turn, we heard another rustle and I saw one of the hogs barely 15 feet in front of us. I promptly turned around and started to run. Its amazing what a little adrenaline will do! I didn’t go very far, just enough to get out of the immediate area. Bill was right behind me, and we stopped to evaluate the situation. The boars had run back down the mountain, away from where we needed to walk, so we decided to continue on our journey on high alert. Bill barked (now and then, he asked me to clarify that he wasn’t barking non stop like a crazy man), I talked. That’s pretty much how it went for the majority of the next 30 minutes.
Finally, we made it to site 74. By this point it was close to 6. We sat down on the bridge and did legs up the wall again and talked about our options for the evening: We could stop and spend the night here, leaving us still 4 miles behind schedule, or we could go another 3 miles to get to site 71, leaving us only a little over a mile behind schedule. Knowing that the big river crossings would happen tomorrow, and if they were bad and we needed to reroute, adding on even more mileage, we figured it was in our best interest to continue on to site 71. As we walked on the outskirts of the camp, we noticed a few others who had set up camp for the night. We briefly asked these two college kids where they had come from, and I’m pretty sure they said they drove there. I was confused until I saw the sign indicating the trailhead was only a short hike away. It didn’t hit me until later that night, but had things been terrible, that probably would have been our out.
I was so glad that we decided to keep moving on. Maybe it was because we knew we only had 3 miles to go, but those three miles were some of the best on the trail (to us). The terrain was not challenging, so we plowed through those three miles in about an hour and 15 minutes. I don’t think that was a good gauge for our overall pace, but that’s what we can do when we’re motivated!
Camp 71 was huge, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. We made camp in plenty of time to eat before the sun set. We even were proactive and gathered fuel for our stove for tomorrow’s breakfast, just in case of rain.
We went to bed that night exhausted but proud that we had covered so much ground and were nearly caught up. Tomorrow, we hike out!