Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spiders and Snakes on Lakeshore Trail in August

Fontana Marina at Daybreak

Over the last six weeks or so, we've done quite a bit of hiking, but since I'm also back at work, I've done very little writing! This late summer season began with a hike along Lakeshore Trail, from Pilkey Creek back to Campsite #90, just past Eagle Creek. That hike commenced and ended with a boat shuttle out of Fontana Marina, and I found myself thoroughly enamored by beginning and ending a day of hot, humid, tiring hiking by swiftly skimming across Fontana Lake, surrounded by the very mountains I've spent so much time hiking in over the last four years. I must admit, though, that watching our pontoon boat transportation pull away from the shore and leave us in the middle of nowhere was just a tad unnerving. There was nowhere to go, now, but up the trail to where he would meet us in the evening to take us back to our car.

In summer, Lakeshore Trail is hot and dry due to its lower elevations and is prime habitat for all kinds of spiders, bugs, and snakes. We encountered an untold number of spiders and two, thankfully, fairly docile timber rattlers along this section of trail.

If you look closely in this photo, you can see the head of a large timber rattler just below the branch that stretches across the top of the picture. If you follow it along down and to the right, you can see its rattlers raised at the other end. He was a good four and a half feet long and when we first saw him, he was headed down the trail directly at us. Jennifer and I were alone on this hike, and she was in front. Neither hiker nor snake saw the other until it was almost too late! She was well within striking distance when that sound...that sound that strikes fear in my heart...that unforgettable, immediately recognizable rattle...erupted from the middle of the trail within just a few feet of Jennifer's hiking boot. After an instantaneous retreat, Jennifer and I waited patiently for the snake to decide he didn't want to be in the middle of the trail anymore. Within a couple of minutes of us talking to and stomping our feet at him from a considerable distance, he zigzagged up the hill to the left of the trail and allowed us to pass. We thanked him profusely as we passed for being such a good and accommodating boy! I would be lying though if I said we didn't spend the rest of the hike scanning the trail for more timber rattlers. Fortunately, he was the last one we saw or heard.

Probably my favorite part of this hike was the little town of Proctor through which the Lakeshore Trail passes. So much history is here in what once was a booming logging town on the banks of Hazel Creek. We were able to spend a few minutes wandering around the old Calhoun house and having a snack on the front porch while looking out over the rippling waters of Hazel Creek. What a wonderful place to grow up that would have been! It does make me sad knowing that folks were forced to give up their family homes to create the Park. I am appreciative of their sacrifice every time I come across old remnants of homesites back in these woods.

Lakeshore Trail made its way along through the dry forest until coming to Campsite #90, which is a large and well-used site. There were quite a few tents and people there including some folks canoeing in the inlet. Looked like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon! We arrived at the campsite with enough time to spare to finish the small connector up to Lost Cove Trail which we did in just a few minutes. We had been a bit worried about not having time for that since we had also, without having planned to, done the little Ollie Cove Trail that we stumbled on earlier in the trip. Just as we returned to Campsite #90, our shuttle pontoon arrived to pick us up. Our timing couldn't have been more perfect.

I will say that Lakeshore Marina does a nice job shuttling hikers (and fishermen too, so I hear) across the lake to the parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park rendered unreachable by the creation of Fontana Lake. The shuttle prices are reasonable, and the captain was nice and also informative. On our way back to the marina, he shared stories of the hikers he carries and pointed out places of interest along the peaks of the mountains that drop into the lake. He knew and showed us the location of Spence Field, Shuckstack Fire Tower which you could see along the crest of the mountain, and other trails and peaks in which he knew we would be interested. Thanks, Captain, for such a great way to end our hike!

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