View Full Version : Southern Smokies Advice Sought

Hikes in Rain
10-10-2006, 08:05
Good morning, gentle people. My non-hiking but otherwise lovely wife has decided that it’s been far too long since (as she put it) I’ve slept on cold, rocky ground in the barren mountains and peed out into the cold night air. We’d rented a sumptuous cabin near Bryson City, and last weekend she sprang her surprise on me. She is strongly urging me to drive up a few days early and resume my section hiking of the Trail into the Smokies!

I need advice from those who’ve done it. Tentative plans are to leave work “early” November 2, and drive up to Franklin for the night. Then, after a last shower and hearty breakfast, arrive at Fontana Dam early to mid-morning and head for Newfound Gap, where she’ll meet me on Sunday afternoon, where she’ll whisk me away to the Jacuzzi and soft bed.

Which brings me to my questions. Of the first three shelters, grouped a few miles apart (Mollies Ridge (10.3 mi), Russell Field (12.9 mi) and Spence Field (15.6 mi)), which is the nicer and more desirable to stay the first night? Given the latish start and fierce assent, not to mention early onslaught of nights in November, Spence Field may pushing it a bit. What do you think?

Second night is tentatively Silers Bald or Double Springs Gap. Again, all opinions are welcome (including that I’m an ambitious idiot who needs to rethink his plans!)

I’m also beginning to play with alcohol stoves, beginning with the Supercat. So far, I’ve made one, and the silly thing worked great in the controlled conditions of my closed garage. One ounce of alcohol brought two cups of tap water to a boil in five minutes, and kept it there for five and a half more. (Warm garage, and in Florida, you have two water temps, hot and warm!) Obviously, I’ll test it further before relying fully on it in November in the Smokies, but to help answer my lovely bride’s somewhat founded accusations of “you’ve got that expensive Whisperlite, and you’re going to use something you dug out of the trash?!?”, what experiences have you folk had that I can allow her to read?

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. My main concern is reserving the shelters, and making sure I meet her in a timely fashion without biting off more than I can chew, er, walk. Thanks, folk! :banana

Frolicking Dinosaurs
10-10-2006, 08:52
Unless you are in top shape, I would not recommend trying to get to Spence Field from Fontana Dam in a single day. As you note, the climb up from Fontana is a tough. Mollie's Ridge would be my choice, but Russell Field is probably doable. Spence Field is having a lot of bear activity right now and might not be the best choice for an overnight spo (http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm)t.

Re: the alky stove. Carry it and your fuel in pockets close to your body and it will work fine in the temps you will likely encounter.

10-10-2006, 09:42
since you are near Bryson City, have you considered the BMT through the Smokies? That's not a bad three day hike and cuts out that long climb up Shuckstack. Plenty of campsites with almost no one around. The prettiest trout streams you could ever hope to see, and moderate climbs, especially after the first day. Here's a link to my Trailjournal for that section if you have any interest in reading it.

Rain Man
10-10-2006, 11:05
I did the GSMNP a year ago April (nephew's Spring Break). I/we did the Smokies in 5 days. Could have done 4 perhaps, but 5 was much more enjoyable pace for me.

Send a PM if you'd like more info.



white rabbit
10-10-2006, 11:44
Unless you are in top shape, I would not recommend trying to get to Spence Field from Fontana Dam in a single day. As you note, the climb up from Fontana is a tough. Mollie's Ridge would be my choice, but Russell Field is probably doable. Spence Field is having a lot of bear activity right now and might not be the best choice for an overnight spo (http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm)t.

Re: the alky stove. Carry it and your fuel in pockets close to your body and it will work fine in the temps you will likely encounter.

I was at Spence Field shelter a few weeks ago. Lots of Bear activity is correct!! Saw a single one at dusk and a mom and three cubs in the middle of the night up a tree beside the food bags. One tried to dig into the privy for about an hour just after dark. It was a long night to say the least. If you are scared of a bear encounter at night, Russell Field shelter still has the bear fence up as does Derrick knob shelter on the other side of Thunderhead.

10-10-2006, 15:05
i was up there this june for a section hike and was shocked at how incredibly much colder it was compared to the bottom at fontana. there's not much tree cover or shielding so the wind can also get lively. that was the hardest part about the smokies for me. i actually had to tent at the shelters most nights while passing through b/c some huge family reunion was having their annual hiking trip and taking up the entire shelter whenever they stopped (which was quite early to reserve it). it was annoying but also sort of funny, mainly b/c, if i wasn't laughing, i'd be yelling at them....:rolleyes:

10-10-2006, 18:27
activity can mean anything, including that a bear was seen quite some time ago. I've stayed at all the shelters over the years, but I've seen the most activity at Spence, Pecks Corner and LeConte. The most terrifying night was at Pecks. My wife and I hiked up to Icewater from Kephart a couple of weeks ago and then over to LeConte. There was a "bear activity" warning for Icewater (good luck on trying get details out of the NPS; it's like talking to a lawyer - and I am one). However, we saw nada. The skunks even seem to have deserted Icewater, probably because of the no-fence policy and more bear cables than I've ever seen in my life in one place...

Hikes in Rain
10-10-2006, 19:39
Wow, thanks for all the replies! I agree Spence Field is probably not reasonably reachable the first day (really thought so when I posted), and the bear activity warnings are being taken much to heart, especially by my wife. I'm going prepared for the cold, with my old Arctic weight bag I used up in Alaska, and my vintage down parka as well. (Makes a great pillow when stuffed into a bag)

Is Mollies Ridge a "nicer" shelter than Russell Field? Better view, more amenities? (I think it has a privy and Russell Field doesn't) It would mean slightly longer hikes on day two and three, but not that much more.

Sandy B
10-10-2006, 21:12
Mollies Ridge shelter is much nicer than Russell Field (IMHO) NO Priveys at eather one, There is a nice privey at Spence Field Shelter.
I hiked through in late Aug, this year. I saw 5 bears in the fontana to Newfound Gap section and none north of Newfound Gap
Good Luck
Sandy B

10-10-2006, 21:15
I saw 5 bears in the fontana to Newfound Gap section and none north of Newfound Gap
Good Luck

And..... ?

10-11-2006, 15:07
Russell Field and Double Spring shelters are dumps, I would avoid them as much as possible. Spence Field and Siler Bald are both in nice settings. Mollies is not bad either.

Sandy B
10-11-2006, 21:06
Sly, what I should have said... Is that I hiked north into rain rain rain, for three days and did not see anything, much less bears. I did eat a lot of blue berrys during the rain. I was thinking that the berrys were 'clean' due to the rain. I did see lots of LARGE bear scat and I would sing out loud around corners and the ridge walks. During the rain I was hoping not to see anymore bears.
As for the 'good Luck' It seams to be a good sign off

Sandy B

10-11-2006, 21:43
Well hello everyone:

I have been away in Louisville, KY working now so I have not had much time to surf WhiteBlaze.

In regards to Mollies, Russell Fields and Spence Field I have been to them many times and as most know here on WhiteBlaze I talk about Russell Fields and Spence Field most of the time.

Mollies Ridge is of the new design and it has been a number of years since it was renevated but it has a nice front porch and a place to sit in the evening. The water source is off to the left of the shelter and it is a little walk to it. Just remember that it is an uphill climb to Molies Ridge and I have not been on the trail from Russell field to Mollies since they rerouted the trail a couple of years ago.

Russell Fields is your next shelter and this time of year it should be smelling pretty bad from everyone using the south side of the hill for the toliet area. It does have the fence still around it and the spring is not the best and you have to watch out for the horses since they let them take craps in the water supply.

Spence Field was redone last year and I was there three times last year and this year with my last stay in June. Very nice shelter and it is the one that I have spent the most time at over the years. The spring is behind the shelter and I have only seen it run slow once in the 8 years that I have been backpacking to Spence Field.

If you will go to the photo area of this website and look for pictures of CaptChaos you will find some photos of Spence and Russell.

If you have any questions about Spence or Russell then please let me know and have a good trip.

Capt Chaos

Hikes in Rain
10-13-2006, 09:17
Interesting discovery: if you wimp out and start from Newfound Gap, it's an easy walk to Mt. Collins. Derrick Knob is 13.5 miles farther, Mollies Ridge 11.6, and Fontana a downhill 10.3. Sure makes for more consistent miles per day. You'd think it was planned that way. And the best part, all three shelters were available on my dates. The section hiking is resumed!

10-13-2006, 12:58
Hikes in Rain:

I did your hike from New Found Gap to Cades Cove a number of years ago with my son and two of his friends. It was a great trip and we still talk about it.

Do enjoy the view from Thunderhead Mtn and Rocky Top. I know we blew over the top trying to outrun a thunder storm and I did not take advantage of the view on that day and I wish that I had.

After you come off Thunderhead Mtn on your way to Molies be sure to check out Spence Field Shelter. it would be a nice place to rest a spell before you continue to Russell and then Mollies.

Try to overlook Russell Field when you walk past it as in the past I have had some great times there. I have just noticed over the years that this late in the season it smells pretty bad there this time of year. It needs a face left but I have spent many a night there and have enjoyed it very much.

Be safe and be sure to take your camera.


Hikes in Rain
10-13-2006, 14:42
My lovely wife and I have deliberately allowed more time than strictly necessary for this hike, for those very reasons, Colonel. I want time to stop and view, and to take tons of pictures to show my non-hiking wife what she's missed. Digital cameras are great, as long as the batteries hold. I don't need to economize on film, and I can download the photos immediately so show her. (Note that her knees and a heel spur preclude hiking, not a lack of desire to do so) In fact, it was your previous post that helped me finalize my decision.

It's my understanding that the water source at Mollies runs low at the best of times, and since things have been pretty dry (at least here in Florida), I plan to fill my bottles at Spence Field, and heck, maybe even my pot, just in case the spring at Mollies is dry. Should be plenty of time to relax a bit. I was very tempted to stay there for my last night, but plans are for my wife to pick me up at Fontana around mid-afternoon and I wasn't that sure I could get down the mountain without having her wait for hours.

Hopefully the chill will damp the odor at Russell Field. I do have some fond memories of that shelter, as well. Back when I finally got my Masters, my brother and I climbed up there from Cades Cove sometime between Christmas and New Years to celebrate. Got eight inches of new snow that night; what a lovely sight to wake up to!

For that matter, I plan to linger a bit at each shelter, whether I stay or not. I like these old places; I sit and wonder how many people have visited since they were built, the great times they must have had.

Also considered the BMT strongly, with a side trip to High Rocks, the existence of which I just discovered here in this very forum, but in the end, the lure of reaching Katadin before they have to carry me up was too strong. Perhaps on another trip; after all, the Smokies are only eight hours away.

Thanks, everyone, for all your help. The only thing that could make it better is a really long delay in peak leaf season! However, the Ranger lady who took my reservations this morning mentioned that it frosted at LeCompte last night, so I think that's not likely to happen.