Ep. 50 – An AT Book Review, News, and the Goldmine Loop Hike

SHOW #50  January 11, 2015


This week on Episode 50 Smoky Mountains Radio, The missing Jack, a little bit of the news, a Review of the Book Walkin’ With the Ghost Whisperers, Lore and Legends of the Appalachian Trail , and our Spotlight Hike of the Week (Goldmine Loop).   Let’s Go!


It is Sunday, January 11, 2015 and this is episode 50 of SMR.  We hit the big 5-0 today with this episode.  That’s right, there’s at least a few of you that have managed to put up with listening to me ramble on 50 separate occasions.  God bless you poor, poor people. Honestly though, thank you so much for coming back each and every week.  If you are new to the show, welcome aboard.  I am your host Mike, and My goal for the show is to give you the insight and information that you need to have a great trip to the Smoky Mountains.  Even if you’ve already been there a hundred times or you’ve lived around the mountains your entire life, I hope to have something for you in the show that you will enjoy.  Thanks to Sara, George, Kimberly, and Shirley for joining us and liking us on the Facebook page.  To go along with that, I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com.  There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails.  If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well.  You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on SMR.com.  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SMR.com

Let’s get on with the show.


A Quick Update on Jack

Well, I wanted to start each week with updates from listener Jack and his journey along the Appalachian Trail, but I have not yet heard from him this week and he hasn’t updated his trail journal.  He is about on track to be just beyond Neel’s Gap, which is about the only civilization in area except for a couple of towns he could hitch into if he got off trail, so he probably just hasn’t had the time to send us the updates.  Regardless, it is ridiculously cold out there right now, so I hope he has brought his winter gear with him.  I saw temps just yesterday at elevation of about -5 and wind chill of -15 to -20.  Stay warm Jack, and write in when you get a chance.



  1. I found a misleading news story last week that I thought was really cool until it turned out to be a little deceptive.  Supposedly, President Obama was going to be making a trip to the Smokies this week.  Cool!  I think that any country leader taking a trip to the mountains is a good thing.  If they get out there, theres a better chance they will take an interest in it and make sure the funding happens.  Let’s face it, not many of our country’s leaders have come out here since FDR did it more than sixty years ago.  Unfortunately, since there’s not really much in the way of swing voters around the Smokies, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.  But…the news story seemed to suggest he was coming.  In reality, he was only stopping to the Knoxville area where he could “see” the Smokies.  It reminds me a little of the Sarah Palin bit on SNL where she said she could see Russia from her house.  Close, but not quite that close.  Anyway, the last political leader who took an interest in the mountains out this way.  Unfortunately, that was Mark Sanford, who was using an excuse of hiking the appalachian trail to cover for an affair with a mistress in Argentina.  Hmm…  Maybe we will get one out here on of these day.  So anyway, the story was picked up by several others and got some traction, so that’s why I included it here.
  2. Moving on to more real and concrete news, 2014 was a banner year for the Smokies.  According to WVLT in Knoxville, 10.1 million people visited the Smoky Mountains in 2014.  Those are huge numbers.  After the shutdown and all that nonsense last year, I knew the numbers would be up, but they were up alot.  It’s the first time in over a decade that has been the case.  I was really surprised by two numbers that were given.  Backcountry overnight camping and front country camping at the official campsites, like cades cove and elkmont, were both up by more than 10 percent this year.  With those two put together, more than 350,000 people stayed overnight IN the Smoky Mountains.  I’m a little surprised by that because I thought the online system and fees to stay overnight would keep some away.  Looks like I was wrong about that!  That reinforces the practice of reserving your campsite as soon as you know your dates!  But that is great.  I hate crowds, but i’m glad so many people got to experience the mountains this year.
  3. It is official.  Starting in March, the new firewood rule will go into affect after plenty of back and forth.  Starting then, you will have to buy specially stamped firewood if you want to bring it into the national park.  The firewood will be heat treated and ensures that more pests and foreign organisms don’t make their way into the park.  Some people made a big deal about this being an encroachment on their freedoms.  You can still have firewood, you just have to buy the right kind.  If you have ever looked at the views from Clingmans Dome, i’m sure you agree that this is the right move.  The insect that killed all the trees around that terrific mountain top came in from out of state.  Stopping it from firewood is an easy step and a no brainer.
  4. If you came to Cades Cove this week, you may have noticed you could not take the loop.  It was closed two days this week to clear trees and branches that have been plaguing areas all around the national park.  They expect to be done this upcoming week and the road will be closed January 13-15 so make note of it if you are planning on coming down soon.
  5. It has been crazy cold this week, with temperatures diving well below zero.  Wind chill at upper elevations got to levels of nearly 20 below.  Yikes!  Luckily, there has not been much in the way of snow and ice to go with it, so roads and trails have remained opened.   For Jack’s sake, I hope it warms up really soon.

That will do it for your news from around the mountains this week.

Walkin’ With the Ghost Whisperers, Lore and Legends of the Appalachian Trail

I have just read through another hiking book that focuses primarily on the Appalachian Trail.  This one comes to us from former thru-hiker Model T who also wrote his trail memoir, “Walkin’ on the Happy Side of Misery.”  I found his first book pretty good.  It was part trail journal and part odd split personality with the author’s alter ego.  It was interesting look at the trail life as well as schizophrenia for that matter.  But generally I found the book entertaining and not written from a guy that takes himself too seriously, which I always like.  Sometimes you will read these hiking or mountaineering memoirs and they sound like they were the only people that could have possibly pulled off the feat.  So this one was better.  But getting back to the current book.  I was disappointed, honestly.  If you are looking for a hiking or AT book that is less like a trail journal and more sporadic, and tells about places, then this will likely be right up your alley.  There is, as the title suggests, lots of things about legends on the trail, and a ton of history.  Lots of stuff that you would walk by and perhaps not give a second thought are described in lots and lots of detail.  I like the details of the little things, but there is so much of it that I think it slows the read down.  It’s not that the book is bad, it’s just that the detail doesn’t hold your attention as some books, and even his last book do.  And for me, he just tries to do too much.  It’s a jump between history, trail journal, and conversation between himself and his alter ego.  And I said it before, but that is just a little weird….even for a hiker.  A major pet peeve of mine is people that refer to themselves in the third person.  Athletes do it all the time, and people like Rickey Henderson, Kobie Bryant, Lebron James come to mind.  It drives me nuts.  It just feels so egotistical.  Well, he refers to himself in the third person through another personality.  It may not be an ego thing, but it just rubs my wrong in the same way.

So now that i’ve kinda dumped on the guy, let me tell you what is cool.  This guy is a true thru hiker.  He has been up and down the entire trail several times, so he knows his stuff.  And he is familiar enough with it to see all the details.  The history and stories are good.  I don’t like the layout personally, but there is some great info and a a few good trail stories as well.  If you finally get to the point where you skim over the parts that bog down, I think you will enjoy the book.  And since it isn’t really laid out like a start to finish thru hike, you can jump around to the chapters of the book that might interest you like the ones that deal with the rocks of Pennsylvania, or the White Mountains.  So despite that the fact that this is not among my favorite books on hiking, it gets some great reviews online, so it might be up your alley.  If you have an e reader, just get yourself a sample chapter first to see if it is your thing.

I’ll put more info about this in this week’s show notes and on SMR.com

Spotlight Hike of the Week (Goldmine Loop)

Last week we discussed the creation of Fontana Lake and the glorious Road to Nowhere.  This week I thought, why not take a hike on the road and perhaps one of the more famous features of the road, a 1,200 foot tunnel.  Sounds great, right?  This week, we will travel down the way from Fontana Lake to the Bryson City area and take a hike around Goldmine Loop. Goldmine Loop is an easy, 3.1 mile loop hike combines some great scenery with history and some unique things you just tend not to see anywhere else.

So to get there, from Bryson City, NC, you will take Lakeview Drive roughly 8 miles until it ends.  Easy enough right?  this take you close to the end of the road to nowhere.  But it is where the road itself ends and the trail begins.  You will begin on the Benton McKaye Trail that we have mentioned before when we were around Fontana Lake.  The trail is also known as Lakeshore Trail and if you wanted to, it would take you nearly 40 scenic miles to Fontana.  But we don’t want to today.

So this is a loop hike, and you can do a loop either clockwise or counterclockwise.  I want to get right to the good stuff, so we are going counterclockwise.  Basically, you just go straight when the road ends and the trail begins.  Your journey starts very cool, with the 1200 foot long tunnel that was supposed to be a part of the finished road that never happened.  It is a neat feeling walking through this structure out here in the middle of nowhere.  You get all these Robert Frost and Thoreau poetic thoughts as you get to the tunnel.  Unfortunately, part of that is taken away by the large amount of graffiti that has been put here over the years.  In some places in the tunnel the graffiti looks like a bridge or overpass in a major city.  I truly hate people that do that.  I hope they are all caught and end up with a cell mate that really, really, likes them if you know what i’m saying.  Anyway, getting back to the tunnel.  It is long.  1200 feet sounds like a lot, but you don’t really appreciate how big it is until you get there.  In fact, if you are there early in the morning, late in the evening, or during storms when the sky is very gray, the middle of that tunnel can be pretty dark.  If you are easily creeped out or claustrophobic, it might be a good idea to bring a headlamp or flashlight.  I will say though, if the weather turns poor, it is a great place to ride it out.  Me and about 8 others sat in there through a lightning storm a few years back, eating and playing cards until it passed and dry as a bone.  Several people have tried to camp overnight here in the past.  Don’t do it.  First, the rangers will check there.  Big fine…thrown out….no good.  Secondly, remember the rule.  Don’t camp within a mile of a road.  The tunnel is literally steps away from the road.  The bad people are not in the mountains.  The bad people are the ones outside, and that is way to close for me.   Just my two cents.

Now, if you are really claustrophobic or just can’t do tunnels….we all have our ticks and phobias, there is a way to do this loop without it.  There is an aptly named Tunnel Bypass Trail that starts on the left just before the Lakeview Drive ends.  It will last 1.2 miles and rejoin the loop, so that is an option if you don’t want to do the tunnel.  But assuming you do, once you get through the loop, you are finished with all parts of the trail to nowhere and begin hiking an easy and well graded trail.  After you finish the half-mile mark, you will see a trail junction to the left taking the Tunnel bypass Trail.  Keep going straight.  Only another three tenths of a mile takes you to your first turn on the loop when you come to the junction with Goldmine Loop Trail.  As you go, you will likely see flattened pieces of land and remnants of old home sites that were here before the government bought the land for the lake.  Over the years there has been less and less to see here of remaining structures, but you can still see the occasional chimney, fence, window, and porch structure if you slow down to look around.

Since you are so close to Fontana Lake, you can often hear water water around you as you are so close.  If you do want to overnight on this hike, campsite 67 is right on your way about a mile and a half in.  It is just far enough from the road to make it an okay place to camp and it is on the opposite side of the road, so you don’t have to worry about any road noise, so that can be a good place to stay the evening.  From the campsite, the trail is a little steep in places, but it will only last for about the next mile.  You will continue on until the trail literally dead ends right into the Tunnel Bypass Trail with just .4 mile to go.  It is easy going the rest of the way until it spits you back on to Lakeview Drive just a few hundred feet from your car.

So this is a fun and easy hike with some pretty cool history thrown in.  Being around Bryson City, it tends not to be overcrowded as some other areas are in peak times.  But people do like the tunnel and controversy on this hike so it gets more use than similar out of the way hikes.  Give this one a look on your next trip to the Smokies.

I’ll put more info about this hike in our show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com


Unless you are living in Miami or San Diego, you have likely been as cold as we have here lately.  And it’s likely to be that way for the foreseeable future.  It’s that time of year where you will want to start checking the roads and forecast before you head into the mountains.  I know weather forecasts are typically terrible, but at least within 48 hours the temperatures usually end up at least fairly close.

Thanks to everyone for checking out this episode of Smoky Mountains Radio. Contact me on SMR.com to leave me a question or comment about the show or if there is just something you would like for me to cover during the show in the future.   So until next time, join one of the 10 million plus that came here in 2014, and……go take a hike!


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