Friday, August 7, 2015

2006 Kayaking Lake Fontana in the Smokies with Sierra Club

This Sierra Club Outing was on Fontana Lake which is the boundary between Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the north and Cherokee National Forest on the south. Together they control over 90% of the land around the lake. The lake, created in the early 1940's by the TVA's construction of Fontana Dam, is 29 miles in length with over 240 miles of shoreline. Only a few marinas dot the area and few residences can be seen from the water. Black bear, red wolf, bald eagles, wild boar, and beaver outnumber humans, and the many mountain creeks that feed the lake boast several species of trout. Mountain ranges soar in every direction, and despite the nearly constant smoky haze, ridge after ridge after ridge seem to stretch into infinity.

Don, Bill, and Pat paddle the pristine and inviting waters of Fontana Lake. A swinging rope and rock ledges for jumping into the lake beckoned Bill, Greg, and Quock to enter the water with a splash from high above the surface. One afternoon we practiced self-rescuing -- wet-exiting our kayaks, rolling them back upright, and then crawling up the back of the boat and into the cockpit -- and no one complained about spending time in the warm water!

Shoreline campsites are infrequent since all the land above water represents mountaintops not covered by the water. Hence flat land is at a premium. On the western (national park side) camp areas are numbered, somewhat developed with bear bag cables and firepits, and require a permit, but campsites on the eastern side (national forest side) are at-large and do not need a permit. Some sites are quite small and unsuitable for larger groups. On several of our five nights we were crowded on small sites, and one night we set up our tents on the Lakeside Trail because another group without a permit was already occupying our site. But look at this scenery we enjoyed!

Matt paddles the tranquil lake early one morning. We practically had the lake to ourselves during the week, quite different from the weekends when power boats ruled the waters. We never tired of the mountain vistas, the green shoreline, and the reflections off the water as seen below, and while on land, we rarely saw anyone else.

After this Sierra Club kayak trip, eight of us headed over the the Nantahala Outdoor Center and rafted eight miles of the magnificent Nantahala River. Here are the photos.

Our assistant guide, Quock brings Marika, Matt, and Laura through a rapid.

Greg brings us down Nantahala Falls rapids via the more exciting route and our raft appears to be under water as we paddle and try to stay in the boat. Though wet, we were all exhilarated and glad we had decided to spend the additional hours on the water after our six days of kayaking. Greg enjoyed it so much he intends to include the raft ride as part of next year's Sierra Club Fontana Lake outing.

Here's the hearty group of kayakers:

standing (l to r): Quock (co-leader), David, Don, and Pat 
seated: Matt, Marika, Greg (leader), Laura, and Bill  

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