Day 17. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We thought we’d get up at 4am to beat the rain, pack up camp, and hike into Fontana Dam before sunrise. But when the alarm went off at 3:45, it was already raining. So … why fight it, back to sleep.
Around 8am, the rain slowed to a putter and I decided to get up. All in all, it was a great night’s sleep. Warm, quiet, and deep. I think it may be the first time I slept through the night with only one wake. It was fantastic.
We packed up camp, had a quick breakfast, and headed uphill for today’s short hike around 9am. It started raining more heavily almost immediately, but only lasted an hour. After that it was clear blue skies and temps in the 60s the rest of the day! Honestly, may have been one of our best weather days so far, after that short shower. It was gorgeous, and since it was a short mile day, we could take our time and really enjoy it.
After 5 miles, we reached the start of Fontana Dam. The first milestone in this village/resort is a road crossing and small marina to the lake. We dropped our packs and walked down to find a surprise … at the end of the marina was a small convenience store! Candy, chips, beer, sandwiches, and more. A hot dog, sleeve of pringles and can of Budweiser made for an amazing trail lunch. We ate it on the dock in the sun, and it … was … amazing. It’s the small things that really make this hike so enjoyable! When else would that be the highlight of my day?
From there, one could shuttle in to the lodge where we are staying tonight. But most of us opted to hike the final 1.7 miles to the dam and visitors center. As Nubs jokes, “it’s mostly just uphill and downhill anyways.” Which, is a great joke on the 17th day of a thruhike!
I’m very glad we did those extra 1.7 miles bough, because it a) makes tomorrow’s hike easier, and b) is an amazing sight to see. The Dam is an incredible structure and worth visiting on a beautiful day like today. Look at the panoramic pic below!
Fun Fact’s cousin, Lillian, met us at the marina and drove Huevos and Julia to the lodge, then hiked the last stretch with us. She lived close by and wanted to meet up to say hello. When we reached the Dam, she got a ride back up to her car and came back for us. We squeezed 6 people and packs into that tiny thing and had a nice ride up to the lodge. I’m very laid she joined us, as there was no cell service at the Dam and we would have been forced to hike multiple miles uphill to the lodge without her. Plus, she is totally nice and fun!
The Fontana Village Lodge is amazing. It’s a beautiful facility with a main hotel, cabins, pool, laundry, and multiple stores. Unlike the NOC, it’s actually well maintained and beautifully put together. It resembles a great ski or golf resort, and is a great stop for anyone planning to hike in the Smokies. It is a stand-alone oasis in this county (fun fact, where only they can sell beer), and has fun activities for the whole family. I bet this place is extremely popular during the summer, and I would definitely come back with the family some day.
We checked in around 3pm, and were happy to see we have a real hotel room. Shower, 2 beds, television … all the amenities of normal societal living. We split up in to two rooms this time so the girls could have their own place, and Culligan, Nubs, Ground Score and myself took the other. Huevos is currently working out which room he stays in, but his lovable personality is of course welcomed anywhere.
For the next 3 hours we showered, laid out gear (read: air dry the wet and smell), and did laundry. The laundry house was down the hill, but next to the general store with food and beer. So we stocked up on both and hung out with a dozen other hikers all trying to clean clothes in the 2 working machines. Also here are Happy Feet, Tarzan, Jack, and 6-8 other new hikers we’ve newly met. Dynasty, Sherpa, Sunshine, Trench-foot, Buckeye and others. Most of this group zero’d here today, but we are all headed out tomorrow.
There is no camp store here, but it sounds like Lillian will drive a couple of us in to town (or back to the NOC) for the cold weather gear we need. It is supposed to be nice tomorrow, so the start of the Smokies should be decent.
I picked up a resupply box here as well, so I’m good on food for 4-5 days. The whole Smokies section could take 5-10 days, depending on speed. We may stop in Gatlinburg halfway through to resupply and warm up, but it depends on the weather. For now, all looks good for a warm start and wet finish of these majestic blue ridge mountains.
Side note, I can not express how upset I am that the pool/hot tub are closed right now. This place could have been perfect if we arrived a couple weeks later! Note to any future 2019 thruhikers, wait until at least March 15th and you’ll get to fully appreciate these destinations!
- Start Mile: 158.8
- Start Time: 09:00
- End Mile: 165.9
- End Time: 14:30
- Miles Hiked: 7.1
- Miles to Go: 2025.0
- Lodging: Fontana Dam Lodge