We woke up early this morning in the Cable Gap shelter campsite. I’m glad that I had time to dry my tent out since we are required to stay in shelters through the Smokies. Even with the early wake up, I delayed us by having to re-dress my problem toe. After a warm breakfast, we saddled up and started an 800 foot climb to 3800 feet.
Once we reached the top, most of the remaining five miles were rolling at elevation and then a steep downhill run, as fast as my hurting right knee would take us. We passed Bacon Dog, Mo Mo, Two Tricks, and Wet Bandit as we closed in on the bottom, then, per our plan, hiked 1.1 more miles to the “Fontana Hilton” shelter by Fontana Dam. Most of the hikers we saw there went into Fontana Village to the hotel, which at $60/night is quite reasonable when sharing four or five to a room.
We arrived at the Fontana Hilton to tales of a crazy night before. A trail angel had brought lunch, dinner, and 13 cases of beer to the shelter for the 30 hikers there. It turned into a huge party lasting late into the night. We lucked out, since tonight there are only eight in the shelter and maybe another eight hammocks and tents overlooking Fontana Lake.
After throwing down our air mattresses and sleeping bags, we said our goodbyes and went up to see about a shuttle from the dam parking lot to Fontana Village. We lucked out in 10 minutes and caught a ride to the General Store. We first hit the hiker box there and were surprised to find enough food to supply us with five dinners and a few breakfasts. We ended up having to spend only about $45 to supplement other meals to get us through the Smokies.
We hung out on the porch there, charging our phones and my battery pack. We talked to hikers we had just met, joked around with some staying in the hotel, and I treated us to some ice cream from the store freezer, since the ice cream shop is closed for the season. Bennett had an ice cream Snickers.
We got hungry for real food around 16:00, so we grabbed our stuff and walked down to the Pit Stop for sausage dogs with chili and cheese. After dinner, we asked a nice couple from Ohio for a ride to the dam. They were headed the other way, but gave us a ride out of the kindness of their hearts. He wants to hike as well, so they enjoyed our company as we talked about our thru hiking experiences.
Back at the shelter, there was beer to be had, so we each drank one. We passed on the pot, though. Three of the rowdy hikers left 30 minutes later to night hike the Smokies. After they left, Bennett and I grabbed showers and I plugged in my battery pack. There is no AT&T signal here.
I repacked my food and hung it up, took a couple of sunset shots of the shelter, lake, and mountains, then swapped my battery pack for my phone to charge overnight.
This morning was our fourth or fifth time waking up in a shelter. We didn’t cook breakfast, so we were able to get on the trail by 9:15. We enjoyed crossing Fontana Dam and took pictures with our now-charged phones. We walked a road for about half mile until we left it to being our climb from 1700 feet to 4875 into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Being a big climb day, we opted to do only 12 miles today to the Russell Field shelter, which is the second in the Smokies NOBO.
We enjoyed climbing the Shuckstack Fire Tower, and then we had lunch at the bottom where there were great views of Fontana Dam and the lake. When we arrived at Mollies Ridge, the first shelter in the Smokies, it was 16:00, so we stopped for an early Ramen dinner. After dinner, It’s Time To Eat showed up to stay at Mollies. We moved on another three miles to the Russell Field shelter where we found 10 other thru hikers. One pair was father and son, and both had recently been involved with Boy Scouts, the son getting Eagle in 2009.
The evening entertainment was rating each other’s bear bag raising ability. When it was my turn, I walked confidently out with our two bags, deftly lowered a single bag to add ours to, and briskly raised them back up to high scores and applause. Our first Smokies shelter — twelve are sleeping here tonight. Tomorrow’s plan is 14.7 miles!