BMT 2020: Day 17, Pilkey Creek to Lower Forney Creek

Behind the beauty, cracks appear

Sun glistening on Fontana Lake

A small group of older men camped near us last night. They brought a lot more gear with them than we did, including folding chairs. From the looks of all the stuff they had, it seemed unlikely they were hiking many miles per day.

We didn't socialize with them much because they were a little too far away for that. We didn't ask about their trip, but I think they might have hired a boat to drop them off nearby. Seeing all of their gear made me think they didn't walk the whole way, as we did.

We couldn't see Fontana Lake from our campsite, but it was only a quarter-mile away. Several of the campsites on the southern end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Pilkey Creek, are accessible from the lake. It's possible to travel from campsite to campsite by boat or start a hike after being dropped off by a chartered boat.

DateMonday, November 9, 2020
WeatherPartly cloudy with temperatures from the mid-40s to low 60s; a light breeze on ridges
Trail ConditionsFlat to moderately rolling terrain, some blowdowns but otherwise easy trail
Today's Miles13.6
Trip Miles229.2

The temperature was mild overnight. When I woke up this morning, I found some condensation inside my tent, but it wasn't as bad as yesterday morning.

Once again, our hiking distance for today was one mile more than we hiked the day before. We didn't expect any difficulties to slow us down, though. The trail mostly followed the contours of the lakeshore.

Teng Hambre and Just Awesome return to the trail

We started with a modest climb immediately after leaving our campsite. After getting back to the trail, we didn't have enough elevation change again to qualify as a climb until late in the afternoon.

Pilkey Creek

I haven't figured out why our campsite last night was named for Pilkey Creek. Campsite 77 was actually next to Clark Branch. At any rate, we crossed Pilkey Creek after walking about a half-mile.

Pilkey Creek flows into Fontana Lake

The creek flowed into an embayment of the lake. There were a lot of these coves along the lakeshore.

This time of year, the lake is rimmed by a strip of dirt and gravel. TVA drops the water level about 50 feet from September to mid-March.

Fontana Lake

I walked along the lake without haste, enjoying the tranquil beauty of the water and the trees. I had hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park many times, but this hike was the first time I had been on Lakeshore Trail. It was lovely and enjoyable.

Then, a thought occurred to me. I remembered the people who lived along the Little Tennessee River before there was a lake and a park. They also sought a quiet, peaceful life, but were forced from their homes on the very soil I found so serene.

The Cherokee who lived here first were driven from their homes by white settlers. Then the settlers were pushed out, either because of logging, the formation of the national park, or the damming of the river.

The suffering and sacrifice they endured cannot be undone. I am hoping, however, that we are finally beginning to understand that and will never forget it.

Tengo Hambre walks next to Fontana Lake

With mostly flat terrain, this wasn't a challenging section of the trail. Then when it followed an old roadbed again, it became even easier to walk.

Today's weather was much like yesterday. A clear sky made the temperature feel warmer than it really was.

We've been lucky for several days with good weather. The last chance I had to look at the forecast showed some rain may be headed our way in a couple of days. For now, we'll enjoy what we have.


I wasn't expecting to see many wildflowers this late in the season, but I saw a few asters along the trail. They grow well in full sun and were getting plenty of it today.

Fontana Lake

The flowers and the many views of the lake caused me to lag behind Tengo Hambre and Just Awesome. That wasn't a problem, though, because our destination was already known. We're required to have reservations for each night, so I didn't have to wonder where they might stop.

The foundation of a homestead

Once again, the trail passed reminders of people who lived years ago in this remote part of the Smokies. Stone fireplaces and foundations were all that remained of their homes. Many of these had been occupied until the early 1940s.

According to Hiking Trails of the Smokies, nearly 600 families were forced to leave their homes because of the impoundment of Fontana Lake. More than half of them lived within today's park boundary.

On a narrow section of the trail, I stepped off the side to allow a group of seven women backpackers to pass by. The first one in the group asked, "Are you Gravity?" I laughed, knowing that JA and Tengo had told them I was a short distance behind.

Tengo and JA take a break at Chambers Creek

When I reached a bridge at Chambers Creek, I found Tengo and JA had stopped to take a break. This was a little too early for lunch, so we agreed to walk a couple more miles before stopping again.

We had just 6.5 miles to go to reach our campsite and plenty of time to get there.

Chambers Creek

After resting for about 15 minutes, we crossed the bridge and continued down the trail.

We stopped again at about 12:30 p.m. and spread out our tents to dry while we ate lunch.

When we finished and prepared to leave, I decided I should collect and filter some water. We still had a little more than four miles to go for the day. Tengo and JA left while I stayed to filter a liter of water.

Forney Creek

The last section of the day's hike included some ups and downs. I began to get sweaty on the climbs, so I was glad to find a breeze on the last ridge. I paused there to allow my shirt to dry.

At the bottom of the last descent, the trail crossed a wide bridge at Forney Creek. Our campsite was upstream of the bridge, and I arrived there just before 4 p.m.

A smoldering campfire

We were surprised to find a log smoldering in a fire pit. Previous campers had failed to extinguish it, so it had been smoking all day long. We shook our heads in disappointment, then doused it with six liters of water.

There was plenty of daylight left for taking care of camp chores. I also had time to repair a blister on one of my toes.

By 6:15 p.m., I had eaten dinner, hung my bear bag, and crawled into my tent. I wasn't tired, but the night air was turning chilly.

The guns replace the plow
Facades are tarnished now
The principles have been betrayed
Would dreams gone stale but still let hope prevail?

The history's debt won't be repaid
Beneath the noble birth, between the proudest words
Behind the beauty, cracks appear
Once with heads held high, they sang out to the sky
Why do their shadows bow in fear?


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