AT 2017: Day 14, Stecoah Gap to Fontana

Shadowboxing the Apocalypse

Jacob's Ladder

The Bible tells about the contentious relationship between Jacob and his twin brother, Esau. The relationship became so bitter that Esau vowed to kill Jacob as soon as their father, Isaac, died. Wisely, Jacob decided to leave.

While he was traveling, Jacob had a vision of a ladder reaching into heaven. Jacob’s ladder was difficult to climb, but the view of heaven and the many of the blessings received from God once the top of the ladder was reached made the climb worthwhile.

I begin with that story for a reason. On today's section there was a climb known as Jacob's Ladder.

It's fair to say there were no angels or blessings for me when I reached the top of this Jacob’s Ladder.

DateMonday, April 17, 2017
WeatherMostly cloudy with a late afternoon shower
Trail ConditionsMore annoyingly steep ups and downs
Today's Miles13.4
Trip Miles163.9

Shortly after Quiet Man and I awoke and prepared to hike from our stealth campsite we began to hear a church group singing an Easter hymn.

The volume was oddly loud, considering the remoteness of our location. I wondered if maybe a church in the valley had a loudspeaker system. After just one hymn the singing was over.

Later as I was leaving the gap I noticed a crude cross had been mounted there. I'm guessing now the church group met at the gap, sang their song at sunrise, then departed.

I can only imagine the looks on those hymn-singers faces if they had seen us two dirty hikers walk from nowhere into their midst.

Steps at Stecoah Gap

Across from the parking area at Stecoah Gap the trail goes up a set of stairs. I noticed with a smile that the steps were built as an Eagle Scout project.

This was much like the project my younger son, Landon, did for his Eagle project. His steps were constructed on the Cumberland Trail.

Jacob's Ladder

Before long I reached Jacob's Ladder.

I recall the first time I reached this point, which was during a section hike with a friend a few years ago. I looked up at the suddenly upward direction the trail was about to take and said, "You've got to be kidding."

I was less incredulous this time, but was still not pleased to be undertaking this climb.

It is a lung-sapping, knee-buckling monster.

Jacob's Ladder

To make matters worse, the climb up Jacob's Ladder has a false summit. That is, when you get near the top and you think you see the summit, you are only being fooled. Soon you realize the trail turns and there is more mountain yet to climb.

Once I finally made it over the top the rest of the trail was not too difficult.


Trillium were everywhere today.


At times whole beds of trillium, usually white, but sometimes pink or deep red, lined the trail.

View of Fontana Reservoir

Once again, I felt as if I would never reach my destination, even when I could see it in the distance.

I was headed to Fontana, where I would be meeting Kim and Landon.

Landon was planning to join me for my hike through the Smokies, so Kim would be dropping him off.

We planned to meet at the reservoir's marina, then she would drop us off at Fontana Village Lodge.

Forest after rain

During my descent toward the reservoir it began to rain. I resisted putting on my rain gear, thinking it might be a brief shower.

It continued to rain, though, so I stopped and put on my rain gear.

Almost immediately, it stopped raining.

I might have been grumpy about that, but seeing the bright green after being at leafless higher elevations, and smelling the fresh forest smells after the rain, I could not be grumpy.

Junction with Benton MacKaye Trail

Near where the trail crossed a road and turned to Fontana, the Appalachian Trail rejoined the Benton MacKaye Trail for a short section.

The last time the AT and the BMT shared a footpath was near Springer Mountain.

I continued to press hard to reach the marina as quickly as possible. When I arrived I was relieved to see Kim and Landon, but also exhausted.

We headed to the lodge, where I had made a reservation for Landon and me. Kim had to work tomorrow, so she could only stay with us a short while before heading home.

As I checked in I asked about laundry facilities. The clerk told me the laundromat was next door to the general store. She added that the store closed at 6 p.m., so if I needed change for the machines I could also get that from the front desk.

Kim salvaging laundry soap

Later after getting in our room we got necessary change for the laundromat and headed there.

When we arrived we discovered the front desk clerk had failed to mention one important thing. The general store, which by now was closed, was where laundry soap is sold.

We discovered that the store had placed a box for customers to drop their empty detergent containers for recycling. Being resourceful people that we are, we thought we might be able to salvage soap from remnants in the empty containers.


It worked, more or less. We didn't collect enough detergent for a full load, but my few clothes also were not enough for a full load.

With clean clothes in hand, Kim took Landon and me back to the lodge, then headed home.

The two of us, though, had one more important detail to complete before bed.

Hiker Burger


We both ordered a Hiker Burger. Though we weren't entirely sure we knew what we were getting, we knew we were hikers and we were hungry.

What we got was a monstrosity of gluttony. The Hiker Burger contained one hamburger patty, one chicken patty, a heaping pile of pulled pork, and bacon.

The calories will be beneficial for us tomorrow as we hike into the mountains, but only if we don't first die in our sleep after eating this mountain of meat.

Esau skates on mirrors any more
Meets his pale reflection at the door
Yet sometimes at night I dream
He's still that hairy man
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
And wandering the land
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
And wandering the land


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.