Martin Steel

NOC to Fontana Dam

Day 21: Sassafras Gap shelter

  • 6.7 miles
  • 22,091 steps
  • 392 floors

A relaxed start to the day with coffee and omelette from the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) restaurant and picking up a few supplies, Cade and I left the NOC at about 10:30 heading for Sassafras Gap shelter.

Unlike the first hour or two of the day the rest wasn’t so easy, the NOC is at 1,700 foot so we had 5.8 miles to climb 3,000 feet of hills with paths ranging from wide flat muddy trails through to rugby ball sized boulders. Then finally down a few hundred feet to the shelter.

View from Swim Bald

We made it to the shelter with perfect timing there were only a few people there and we just beat the rain and hail. Cade and I grabbed ourselves spaces before it filled up and settled in for a long afternoon (there’s not much to do).

Within a couple of hours the shelter was jam packed - 16 people in a shelter designed for 14 - with our final arrival being Chatterbox (or The Gatherer as he thinks he’s called) who only shut up once he’d started snoring. We passed the time with chatter and food including some good anecdotes from Argon about making explosives in high school chemistry classes (he’s the teacher) and Cade about spreading MDMA across a road.

Day 22: Stecoah Gap

  • 6.7 miles
  • 19,375 steps
  • 173 floors

As with all shelter stays we were up fairly early, once one person is up everyone ends up getting up.

It was then just over a mile of uphill to the top of Cheoa Bald at 5,062 feet where there was snow/hail on the ground and fog in the air.

Hail on the ground heading up to Cheoa Bald

The amazing views from the top of Cheoa Bald

From there the guide made it look easy, a 1,900 foot drop down to Stecoah Gap over about 5 miles. What the guide glosses over are the 3 small but very steep peaks we’d need to go up and yet more rugby ball sized rocks on the way down.

On finally arriving at Stecoah Gap we found a great welcome, free apples and bananas, and then waited for Cynthia to shuttle us to Creekside Paradise on the A.T., our home for the night.

Day 23: Yellow Creek Mountain Road

  • 7.7 miles
  • 19,963 steps
  • 232 floors

After a tasty breakfast of fresh fruit and bagels Cade and I got a lift back to Stecoah Gap from Jeff and then slack packed (carried just a day pack, leaving the backpack behind) up some steep hills called Jacobs Ladder for just under 8 miles before spending another night at the B&B. Surprisingly Jacobs Ladder wasn’t too bad at all, it seems people online have been exaggerating.

Jacobs Ladder

View from the top of Jacobs Ladder

Day 24: Fontana Dam

  • 8.7 miles
  • 20,845 steps
  • 194 floors

Another day of slack packing - we’ve got a cabin reserved in Fontana for Monday night so there’s no point hurrying - this time only a relatively short 500 foot ascent followed by a long descent down to Fontana Dam. Fontana Dam is the tallest dam in the eastern US and a hydroelectric power station built during World War 2.

Fontana lake hiding behind the trees

Fontana Dam

This was our first day of hiking where we could see the days goal for a good chunk of the day. Fontana lake and dam could be seen through the trees getting closer as we went. We also had a nice smattering of Spring plants starting to appear along the trail and at last saw a Sassafras plant, the namesake of four gaps so far.

Red Trillium

Sassafras plant

Milage so far: 166 miles