Fontana Dam is a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) hydroelectric dam on the Little Tennessee River in the state of North Carolina. The dam is 2,365 feet (721 m) long and 480 feet (146 m) high making it the tallest dam in the Eastern United States. It impounds Fontana Lake. For thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT), it marks the beginning or end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, depending on their direction of travel.
After scratching plans to run from Clingmans Dome to Fontana Lake solo due to weather conditions we came up with a new itinerary. It was me, Ann, Paul, Jason, and Wendy. Everyone was interested in a 13 or so mile hike, and I really wanted to get a long 30 mile’s out of my system. So we planned to take two cars and drop them at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) and Stechoa Gap. Paul and Ann would hike in the direction of the NOC and me, Jason and Wendy would hike from the NOC to Stechoa gap. When we intersect, we do a key swap. My plan was to keep going from Stechoa gap and run all the way back to the cabin in Fontana Village 16 miles away from Stechoa.
We began the hike a little later than I would have wanted around 9:55am. It had been raining all night and had just stopped raining around 9:30ish. We strapped our packs and headed up the AT towards Cheoah Bald, 5,062 feet (1,543 m). This 8 mile section of the AT wasn’t new to me, and recent memories of finishing the Bartram Trail came back to life. I climbed 3,700 feet to reach the summit in 2:35 and with almost perfect timing meeting Ann and Paul. After spending a little over 15 minutes at the top I decided to keep trucking along. Despite weather forecasts, the day was pleasant with a sprinkle here and there. I picked up my speed after the summit on the downhill and I was alone from here on out.
Every April hundreds of thru hikers start a journey from Georgia to Maine to cross the entire 2,174 mile of the Appalachian Trail. I started passing a few thur hikers at this point stopping for a few seconds to exchange hellos. When I reached Stechoa Gap in 4:10 I unlocked my car and grabbed a turkey sandwich, some salty chips, and drank the rest of the water I had in my car. I was down to a one liter bottle of water.
I still had 16 miles to go, and the next 2 miles were uphill. This section of the AT was new to me. It was getting very warm and I was drinking more water than I thought I would and by this time I had drank a little over 3.5 liters. I stopped at Brown Fork Shelter and filled up 2.5 liters to take me the entire way. I kept running the flat and downhill sections and hiking up the hills. There were many stealth knobs that don’t show up on the contour lines on my map. When I reached Cable Gap Shelter I had 6.6 miles to hwy 28 or 8.8 miles to the Cabin. I met a few more thru hikers, most of which had been hiking for three days from the NOC to reach Cable Gap Shelter. A few miles later a great view of Fontana Lake appeared and the Dam was visible from high above. I knew I was getting closer at this point and from here on out it was downhill. Although I was tired, I was still moving. I finally reached hwy 28 and turned left. Two miles left on asphalt to make it back to the cabin. I began to run, and then it was impossible to run because the road was too steep. This slowed me to a hiking pace, and I finished the 30 mile speed hike trail run in 9 hours exactly.
Ann, Paul, Jason, and Wendy all made it back to the cabin with all the vehicles and the logistics worked out perfectly! Maybe next time I am in Fontana I will have bagged the Clingmans Dome to Fontana 30 mile section.
Start time 9:55am
Finish time 6:55pm
Start at the NOC
Finish at Fontana Village
Total distance 30 miles
Total calories burned 7,880
Total elevation gain ~6,700 feet
Summit: Cheoah Bald 5,062 feet (1,543 m)
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