Smoky Mountain Adventures
It was a cold but sunny day when Johnny, along with his
buddy John Cox, headed to yon Smoky Mountains, taking on the
two night backpack known as the Maddron Bald Loop. They left
the Cosby part of the park on the Gabes Mountain Trail.
John Cox and Johnny at the Gabes Mountain
They crossed streams that were full from recent rains on
the way to Campsite #34, Sugar Cove. Hen Wallow Falls, which
they passed along the way, was rocking.
Falls above Hen Wallow Falls
They hiked into snow as they gained elevation. Sugar Cove
was dusted in the white stuff. Upon arrival they gathered wood
for a warming winter fire.
Campsite #34, Sugar Cove
Clouds came in and it didn't get as cold as they thought, so it
was a little easier to get out of the bag the next morn. After
leaving camp, Johnny took a side trip down to the Willis Baxter
Cabin before meeting John up at Albright Grove, a special area of
old growth trees.
Willis Baxter Cabin
Willis Baxter Cabin
They climbed into the high country, rock hopping many
swollen streams, then passed a great view on the Maddron Bald
Trail before pulling into snow covered Otter Creek campsite
View from heath bald on Maddron Bald Trail
A chilly wind blew through the hollow, pushing them to gather
wood with determination.
Otter Creek Campsite #13
The night actually warmed as a rainy front was on the way,
luckily the precipitation held off, mostly, til the next
morning. They crossed over Maddron Bald with its great views
of the high country before descending via the wet and icy
Snake Den Ridge Trail.
Snow comes to Maddron Bald
The rain pounded as their adventure ended back at Cosby,
another Smoky Mountain adventure under their belts.
Backpack Fishing Hazel
Trout Fishing Hazel
Creek in the Smoky Mountains
The heat of summer is a great time to
escape to the Smoky Mountains, especially along its cool clear streams.
Hazel Creek is perhaps the most famed trout fishing destination in the
Smokies. Johnny used an old trick to access the stream, paddling his
canoe from Cable Cove Campground (Nantahala National Forest) and boat
launch located on the south side of Fontana Lake. It's about a 5-mile
paddle including heading up the embayment of Hazel Creek. The sun was
burning but the scenery made it worthwhile as Johnny crossed to the
Paddling across Fontana Lake
Into Hazel Creek Embayment
Johnny landed and immediately set up
his tarp and gathered dry wood to store at Proctor, Campsite #86. It
wasn't long before major thunderstorms began, and Johnny was temporarily
stranded under the tarp. Lightning was popping and thunder was pounding
but the rain ended that evening. Johnny later fish a bit, but the rains
resumed and Johnny barely got dinner cooked.
Johnny at Sawdust
Pile, Campsite #85
Next morning, Johnny headed upstream
3.3 miles to Sawdust Pile, Campsite #85. He fished between off and on
rain, landing enough to trout over the fire, putting the fish directly
on a grill and using the heat and smoke to cook and flavor them.
Johnny derived great enjoyment from seeing all the rhododendron blooms
that lined Hazel Creek.
Rhododendron blooms on Hazel Creek
Beautiful Trout Fishing Waters
Johnny then headed on up to Sugar Fork,
Campsite #84. The day cleared, and glorious sunshine filtered onto Hazel
Creek. After setting up camp and spreading out everything to dry, Johnny
went on a major fishing session and brought home several trout to cook.
This time he breaded them in cornmeal and fry them in oil over the fire.
What a Smoky Mountains treat!
Frying trout over the
If you are interested in backcountry
trout fishing, or cooking trout, see Johnny's book Backcountry
Fishing. Here is the link:
Another sunny day greeted Johnny, and
he headed up to Calhoun, Campsite #82, the highest backcountry campsite
on Hazel Creek. The bees were troublesome but other than that, all was
well. Johnny had a rather good day fishing and brought home trout for
lunch. A bear showed up while he was cleaning the trout but it scurried
away. That afternoon Johnny laid around relaxing and reading. Later, he
headed to the upper, smaller stretches of Hazel Creek and fished more.
When he returned his friend Bryan Delay had arrived at the campsite
after paddling across Fontana Lake, then hiking 8 miles of the Hazel
Creek Trail. Bryan had brought his new fly rod and put on a little
fishing clinic himself, catching a trout at a pool near the campsite.
Hazel Creek Trail
Rhododendron petals on the trail
Under darkening skies, Johnny and Bryan
backtracked down the Hazel Creek Trail. The rain soon began and they
ended up hiking nearly the whole way back in the rain, arriving at
Fontana Lake, then switching from backpacking mode to canoeing mode in a
downpour. They then paddled in the rain back to Cable Cove, ending their
trip on a wet note.
More Hazel Creek
Beam of Light
Johnny fishes for
trout at Calhoun, Campsite #82
Sun dapples Hazel
End AT thru hike in the Smokies
Snowy spruce trees on the Appalachian Trail in the
Johnny and his friend Scott Davis set out in late April
at Davenport Gap, on the east end of the Smokies, aiming to cross the
Smokies at their widest point, on the Appalachian Trail. They climbed into
a cool and sunny day, finally reaching a snow line and elevations high
enough to where the trees were covered in rime ice. The 16 mile hike led
them to Tricorner Knob Shelter, where they ran into the first of many
Appalachian Trail thru hikers, who were headed north. The night chilled
down to 26°, but a fireplace in the shelter helped pass the evening.
Near Lower Mount Cammerer Trail Rime ice
coats the trees along the Appalachian Trail
The next day, the pair continued southbound on the
Appalachian Trail, in the high country spruce-fir forest. The views were far reaching, especially at Charlies
Bunion, a rock outcrop with vistas extending into Tennessee as far as
the eye can see. Another long day lead them in into Icewater Springs
shelter, where they bumped with more Appalachian Trail thru hikers.
Johnny and Scott at the Icewater Springs shelter
Scott rests in front of Icewater
At the Narrows in the Smokies
Late on the second night the winds started blowing and
they continued for the remainder of the trip. After crossing Newfound
Gap, the pair met Scott's mom at Indian Gap, where she graciously
provided us with restocking and supplies, as well as some fresh
barbecue. We were very thankful for her help. She also shared food with
Appalachian Trail thu hikers who were passing by and were surprised
to get doughnuts, bananas, apples, barbecue and more.
Scott's mom, Ruth, brought us a resupply
Johnny and Scott continued on the Appalachian Trail
through the Smokies, making the ascent over Clingmans Dome. Stupendous
views lay ahead beyond the dome, but the winds were wailing at upwards
of 40 miles an hour. In late afternoon, the two of them made Siler's
Bald Shelter, a ridgetop camp where the winds were ripping so strongly
Johnny made only the smallest of cooking fires.
Beyond Siler's Bald, the crest of the Smokies leaves
the spruce-fir forest, entering hardwoods. The trees had not begun to
leaf out and beneath them grew thousands upon thousands upon thousands of
wildflowers, especially spring beauties and trout lilies.
Bluets beside the Appalachian Trail
They spent their final night at Mollies Ridge
shelter, where an incessant wind made camping conditions challenging. An
early night to bed had them well rested for the final push to Fontana
Dam, where they completed their 72 mile trip across the Smokies in 96
hours. Scott's mom Ruth was there waiting and we were glad, as a rain
Appalachian Trail near Fontana Dam
Tennessee Fan Back on Rocky Top
Near Mount Guyot
Deer on Appalachian Trail
Deep Creek Backpack
Midsummer is a great time to escape
into the depths of the Smoky Mountains beneath that deep canopy of green
along a crystal-clear creek, where the temperatures stay cool even on
the hottest days. To that end Johnny and friend Bryan Delay left
the busy Deep Creek campground after a thunderstorm, then traveled
through a misty dripping forest 3 miles to Bumgardner Branch, campsite #
60. Despite the rain, the pair got a fire going and enjoyed the
evening, which stay dry after the thunderstorm.
Johnny editing the
Backcountry Fishing manuscript while at Baumgardner Branch campsite
Next morning, Bryan had to head back
home while Johnny stayed at Bumgardner Branch. He brought a
working copy of his forthcoming book entitled Backcountry Fishing.
Not only did he work on the edit of the book, he actually went fishing
with the book in mind, taking notes. His office really is in the
wilderness, as his business card states. Deep Creek did not
disappoint as he enjoyed two fishing sessions that day. Though it
thundered in the area, rain never fell on Bumgardner Branch. The second
night at this campsite wasn't as cool as the first, however the weather
was great for sleeping.
Mushroom emerges after
Deep Creek reflects morning sunlight
An early start and a fast 3 miles
brought Johnny to McCracken Branch, campsite #59. Heavy storms were
predicted for that day, therefore Johnny set up the tarp and gathered
plenty of wood to put under it before embarking on a fishing venture. He
spent most of the day in the water, casting for brown and rainbow trout
in Deep Creek. The beauty of this Smoky Mountain stream must be seen to
be believed and can even overshadow the fishing. That afternoon, friend
John Cox showed up and they appreciated the dry evening, cooking out
fresh trout as an appetizer, then smoked sausages over the fire for
dinner, along with some succotash. The rains never came.
At Nick's Nest
Under the tarp waiting out the rain
It was but a half mile to the next
campsite upstream, Nick's Nest Branch, #58. Good thing they got
there early, because after setting up their shelters, gathering wood and
starting a fire a serious rainstorm ensued. Somehow they kept the
fire going, but as soon as the rain let up the two of them struck out
for Deep Creek, knowing that the trout sometimes turn on after a storm.
And turn on they did -- Johnny enjoyed a stellar afternoon, catching
many aggressive fish. They limited out, and that evening had fresh
trout rolled in corn batter, along with mashed potatoes for dinner.
Rekindling fire after fishing
Cooking fresh trout over hot coals
After four nights in the woods, the
pair backtracked down Deep Creek back to civilization, another Smoky
Mountain adventure under their belts.
Trial by Trail
Backpacking in the Smoky Mountains
more adventures with this book by Johnny
Forney Ridge Forney Creek Loop
Long time backpacking buddy John Cox joined Johnny on this trip that started 6,400 feet high on the
shoulder of Clingman's Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
Forney Ridge as seen from Andrews
The pair left the dome on a gorgeous clear day and
headed down Forney Ridge, stopping at Andrews Bald, a scenic meadow
5,800 feet high, where views opened to Fontana Lake and the mountains
by massive trailside oak
At Jonas Creek Campsite
From here, the two continued down Forney Ridge to the
Springhouse Branch Trail at Board Camp Gap. They wound downward a
total of nearly 10 miles before arriving at CCC backcountry campsite,
elevation 2,160, making for a drop of over 4,000 feet. Johnny was
using his new Lafuma backpack, which fit like a glove and its gel
padded shoulder straps really helped on the descent.
They enjoyed solitude at CCC, after swimming in
the stream. A big moon rose but they slept great.
Next morning, the pair loaded up and made the short
trek to Jonas Creek campsite. Though a mere mile distant, they
changed sites since John Cox is trying to stay at all the backcountry
sites in the park. Johnny has already stayed at all the sites in
the park. This day was devoted to trout fishing. Both caught
many trout, all rainbow.
Forney Creek is a great trout
After another evening of solitude, they headed
up Forney Creek, following an old railroad grade to Steeltrap
backcountry campsite, 4000 feet high. Even at this elevation,
streams provided more great fishing opportunities. There, in the
shadow of Clingmans Dome, the pair fished for brook trout, catching many
small ones, and releasing them, before an afternoon storm set in.
John and Johnny drying off at Steeltrap Campsite after
The campsite felt more
"Smokies-like" after the rain, but they got a fire going and cooked out
brats for dinner, recounting their trip, then hit the hay under their
tarps, readying for the final climb back to Clingmans Dome under the
dense canopy of green that is the Smoky Mountains in summertime.
Day and Overnight Hikes
Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, 4th edition
is Johnny's hiking guidebook for the Smoky Mountains, where he has spent
over 600 nights backpacking
Clingmans Dome/Little River Trip
Country, Trout Fishing and a Little Bear Action
Johnny with Kevin
and Scott Davis near Clingmans Dome
It was early May when Johnny accompanied brothers Scott and Kevin
Davis on a trip high in the Smokies. The threesome left Clingmans Dome on a
crystal clear day, when it seemed you could see forever. They followed the
Appalachian Trail southbound to the Goshen Prong Trail, taking in the many views
along the way.
Scott and Kevin descend from Clingmans Dome
Kevin near Clingmans Dome
The air warmed a bit as they aimed for the lowland of the Little
River. It was a long, pounding way down to the Little River and Camp Rock
campsite, #23. The air was cool down here under the budding yellow birch trees
that form a canopy over the campsite. It wasn't long before they went fishing.
Johnny went up Fish Camp Prong, which is one of the Smokies most beautiful
streams. A few native brook trout and the non native rainbow trout were the
catches of the day.
Next day, they headed down Goshen Prong Trail to Little River Trail,
then turned upstream to Rough Creek campsite, #24. The sun shone through the
trees on this gorgeous spring day. As they made lunch they had a visitor -- a
black bear! Johnny jumped up and ran in the opposite direction of the bear to
get a pot to bang, and the bear sensed retreat then followed, but Johnny stopped
then the bear stopped. He then retrieved the pot to bang while yelling and
hollering at the bear, who merely circled the perimeter of the campsite.
At the bear campsite, Rough
The men hurriedly wolfed down their sandwiches and made a fire to burn the
food packages. Finally Johnny kept running after the bear making a racket and
he finally retreated into the laurel. They celebrated the bear's departure with
cheap cigars. The campers were wary of the bear all day, posting at least one
man at the campsite while the others fished and explored.
Scott Hangs the
Packs No Bear Can Reach These Packs
That night we expected a bear raid and cooked our kielbasa with
trepidation, but alas, no bear. The evening passed uneventfully and we slept
under the stars, which were covered by clouds that brought a dawn rain. The
precipitation hurried our departure and we were soon at my Jeep at Elkmont. I
then took the brothers up to Clingmans Dome, ending our adventure.
Kayaking Fontana Lake
Johnny and Mark Carroll team up for Sea Kayaker magazine article
Cable Cove boat launch was starting
point for this water-based exploration of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The 60-mile loop, spread over 6 days, would allow us plenty of time to enjoy the
Smokies, not only from the water, but also along the hiking trails that course
from the water’s edge into the heart of the park.
Cable Cove boat
Johnny was joined by real photographer Mark Carroll,
his brother, Frank, Jeff and Bryan. We left Cable Cove under dark skies.
Fontana Lake is broken by narrow bays that lead to quiet mountain coves, each
with a clear creek spilling forth from the dark forested ridges. The coves,
locally known as “hollows,” are where you are likely to find remnants of cabins,
where homesteaders carved out a life in this “back of beyond” long before Great
Smoky Mountains National Park was a reality and Fontana Lake was an idea in some
engineer’s mind. We aimed for Double Island and backcountry campsite #78 (all
Smokies campsites have a name and corresponding number), paddling over the
glassy lake, creasing the still reflections of mountains all around us. The
tallest ridges poked into the cloudy sky, their heights cloaked in the darkness.
Fog drifted across the lake, alternately revealing and obscuring what lay before
us. Low-lying, gauzy mist crawled up the hillsides, changing shape and form,
before melding with clouds above. The name Smoky Mountains never seemed more
Paddling in the fog Reflection in compass
mirror Paddling in the rain
Our loop took us east to Double Island, then on to
Forney Creek. Double Island is one of 12 boat-accessible Smokies backcountry
campsites on Fontana Lake. This campsite is only a few steps from the water.
Other boat-accessible campsites necessitate a walk of up to a half-mile. The
rain remained as we swung back west, stopping at North Shore Campsite, then made
headed up Hazel Creek to Proctor Campsite, where we explored a lot.
Bryan on the
water Frank by the fire Jeff rustles up some grub
Hard-working timber cutters and mill workers cut
loose on nearby Struttin’ Street, now part of the Lakeshore Trail. The old
Calhoun House, across the creek from the backcountry campsite, now serves as a
part-time ranger station. The town quieted after Ritter Lumber Company left, but
it wasn’t long before the park and lake were established and everyone had to
leave. Old chimneys, stone walls, rusting metal tubs and china shards litter the
abandoned homesites. Now, it is hard to visualize Proctor in its heyday, as the
forest has recovered magnificently. Mark and I walked to see the other large
remaining structure, an old brick mill where much of the timber was processed.
Here, too, the brick walls were succumbing to the relentless growing green. I
turned to Mark and commented, “Here in the Smokies, if it ain’t moving,
something’s growin’ on it.”
We fished the lake on the way to Eagle Creek. The clear
mountain water of the Eagle Creek embayment gave way to intense green mountains.
In the depths of green, I could make out the Shuckstack Mountain fire tower high
on a ridge to my left. I hung close to the shore checking out the floral
display. Petals dropped from the rhododendrons and floated on the lake’s
surface. Rounding a corner at the end of the embayment we surprised a black bear
on the shoreline. It its haste to turn tail toward the deep forest, the bear
slipped on the clay shoreline into the water, its legs spinning madly, before
gaining purchase and dripping its way out of sight.
After making camp, I headed up Eagle Creek, with its
weathered lichen covered bluffs and small islands threaded by translucent trout
laden water. This stream one of the most beautiful and remote watersheds in the
Smokies. The 17 fords on the upper Eagle Creek Trail keep the crowds away. This
was the land of old-time miners and moonshiners. The park’s only serious mining
effort took place here. Copper was the primary metal mined, along with some gold
and silver. The ore was simply not worth the expense, considering the primitive
means of extraction and difficult distances to market. However, remote hollows
and side creeks throughout the area made moonshining much more lucrative. In his
day, Quill Rose was Eagle Creek’s most renowned of maker of “corn squeezings.”
Once hauled before court in Bryson City for moonshining, the judge asked Rose if
he ever aged his whiskey before selling it. Quill replied, “I once aged it for a
week, and I’ll be darned if it made a lick of difference.”
Kayak Eye View of the Smokies
Nowadays, Eagle Creek is left to the plants, animals and
hikers. My favorite lake-accessible hike in the Smokies, offering varied
ecosystems and ending with a great visual reward, starts here. Jeff took the
trek up the Lost Cove Trail along Lost Cove Creek to connect with the
Appalachian Trail. Here, he headed south a short distance to Shuckstack
Mountain, where one of two remaining fire towers in the Smokies offers clear
views of the lake and of the spine of the Smokies rising to an apex at Clingmans
Rain was no longer a threat, but the potential enemy was cold. A front had
pushed through and the lows were projected to dip into the 40s. We commiserated
with some campers who had arrived by foot, as we all had flimsy summer-weight
bags. The night was long. I was glad for morning so I could get moving but sad
our trip was ending. All too soon we were paddling back the final 7 miles toward
our put in. The sun rose over the Smokies and its light scattered across the
water. The high and dark mountains provided a backdrop to the reflecting rays,
and we enjoyed one last view from our Smokies Grandstand
Johnny has been systematically re-hiking
many of the trails in the Smokies. He started in the park's east end.
The latest adventure was a 3 night trip, starting at Mount Sterling Gap.
Johnny traversed the high country before dropping to Big Creek and Walnut
Bottoms, where he stayed two nights. The second day he walked the Camel
Gap Trail, after returning friend Bryan Delay joined him for the last two nights
of the trip. The spring weather was favorable. They then headed up
the national park deserving Gunter Fork Trail to enjoy its many water features,
after fording Big Creek.
Johnny Molloy Crossing Big Creek
Gunter Fork Falls
Gunter Fork Cascades
After leaving Gunter Fork, eventually joined Mount Sterling
Ridge Trail and rambled through the high country to Pretty Hollow Gap, then
joined the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail and dropped to Pretty Hollow campsite, #39.
The day had clouded over but was warm. A minor rain fell that night.
Next day they took the historic Little Cataloochee Trail and saw several
homesites, including the intact Cook Cabin. They completed the loop on the
Long Bunk Trail and reach Mount Sterling Gap.
Bryan crosses Pretty Hollow Creek
Mount Sterling Ridge Trail
Johnny and his friends Bryan Delay and Steve "Devo"
Grayson hit the Old Settlers Trail on a sunny March day to see the sights along
this the most historic of all hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park.
The trail generally stays in the lowlands but has significant ups and downs as
it traverses terrain between Greenbrier and Cosby. So many homesites are
seen that Johnny nicknamed it the "Smoky Mountain Chimney Tour."
Old Settlers Trail
Chimney near Timothy Creek
The day warmed to above average temperatures,
especially since their were no leaves on the trees. Anytime from late fall
to early spring is the best time to walk the Old Settlers Trail, as the leafless
conditions allow for better viewing of the Tennessee pioneer homesteads.
At camp, the sky stayed clear but surprisingly the temperatures warmed during
the night, but no rain came.
Bryan and Johnny sit by the fire at campsite #33
Next day, the three of them tackled the last 9 miles of the Old
Settler Trail, seeing more homesteads, rock walls and, of course, chimneys.
Devo climbs ridgeline
east of Campsite #33
Bryan hops over Noisy Creek
Old rock wall on trail
Jonquils planted long ago still bloom
They made the Maddron Bald Trail late in the
afternoon, which they took back down to Johnny's car, and completed this one way
hike that Johnny and Bryan agreed is one of the Smokies ten best trails.
The one and only Great Smoky Mountains National
Park was the setting for this adventure. Florida artist Aaron Marabel came
along with Johnny for this 4 night adventure. They decided to tackle the
Lakeshore Trail, starting at Fontana Dam and hiking east to Bryson City.
Aaron gets scared when he sees a sign warning of bear activity!
The trip started dry as they wound up and down the ridges of the
Lakeshore Trail. The 6 miles to Lost Cove campsite, in the Eagle Creek
embayment, went quickly. A swim in Fontana Lake shed the sweat, though the
temperatures were mild. And soon, Johnny was tossing a line in Lost Cove Creek
for trout – the rainy summer left the creeks high and the fishing was difficult.
Next day, Johnny and Aaron took the new section
of the Lakeshore Trail connecting Eagle and Hazel creeks, the day was dark as
they climbed to the divide between the creeks – the Hazel Creek side of the
trail used old roads and passed many neat homesites, especially near the former
town of Proctor. The two of them pushed on, climbing Welch Ridge. The rains
really came just after arriving at campsite #77. They hastily set up the tarp
and relaxed. Later, the rain let up enough to cook dinner and take a rough trek
down to the lake on an old wagon road.
Light rain fell as they broke camp and walked a
wet path – 8 miles later they arrived at Chambers Creek campsite – Johnny
tackled the creek but the trout were few and far between, though he did check
out some old homesites upstream. Aaron brought his sketch pad and worked on a
nature landscape painting.
The night was dry and after a pancake
breakfast, the two pushed east to Lower Forney, campsite #74. The sun actually
shone a while before an afternoon storm hit. The air temperature didn’t break
72 degrees. Aaron just couldn’t believe summer could be so pleasant!!!!
All too soon we were at the Road to Nowhere
near Bryson City. We shuttled back to Aarons truck at Fontana Dam,
finishing another adventure!
Mount Sterling Loop
Delay Finishes Hiking All the Trails in the Smokies
View from Mount
There was no snow on the ground as we left Big Creek Ranger Station.
We headed up one of the Smokies steepest trails Baxter Creek, with its net gain
of 3,500 feet. There was 6 inches of the white stuff by the time we arrived at
Mount Sterling. It was near dark, so we just set up a tent and hunkered down.
There was too much stuff and not enough room in the tent, and we kept losing
stuff. We even smoked cigars in the tent, which was a questionable decision.
It went down to 14 degrees that night.
Bryan and Johnny at Big Creek Trailhead Kevin and Johnny on Balsam
Morning finally came and we left Mount Sterling, then down the Mount Sterling
Trail and past the many homesites on the Long Bunk Trail to reach Little
Cataloochee Trail. This is also an historic path, which we took to reach Pretty
Hollow Trail and Pretty Hollow campsite. Kevin Thomas met us at the snowless
camp at 9 p.m. A closed park gate had made his hike much longer than he
Next morning, as we sat around the fire, the snow resumed, the three of us
headed up the Palmer Creek Trail. The snow kept getting deeper as we headed to
Laurel Gap shelter. There was 8 inches on top and still fallin'. We got a fire
going. The temperature went down to 14 degrees again.
Bryan and Johnny at Bryan's Last
Johnny crosses Gunter Fork
The snow was deep the next morning as we left Laurel Gap and headed to Gunter
Fork Trail, where Bryan hiked his last miles in the Smokies. We took a few
pictures, then headed down Gunter Fork Trail through thigh high drifts. We
leveled off at Walnut Bottoms then took it the rest of the way back to the car
for an 11 mile snowy adventure.