Our Three Day Hiking, Camping, and Rafting Trip in Western North Carolina

Last month, we camped two nights at the Tsali Campground on Fontana Lake west of Cherokee, North Carolina. Our group met in Travelers Rest and drove up to North Carolina.  It took us about two hours to reach the campground where we drove around and chose our site.  Fortunately the five of us could fit on one site so we set up our camp.  DSC02132Camping in the national forest there typically costs $15 a night but we had someone with an Eagle pass so we got it half price! I guess there are some benefits to getting older. Some.

After eating a quick lunch, we headed out on foot from the campground and took the Mouse Branch Loop trail making a loop, one side of which skirted Fontana Lake.  The hike we did was an easy 7 plus miles.  August is really a green month and while there were some wildflowers they were not nearly as numerous as they might be in the spring. DSC02111 These trails are typically used by mountain bikers. Tsali is very popular among the biking crowd.DSC02124

Having finished the loop we returned to the campground to enjoy some happy hour.  The national forest allows alcohol which can be a blessing and a curse as we were to find out later that weekend.  It wouldn’t be camping without a nice fire which we sat around and enjoyed.  About 9 o’clock, a few more campers started to pull in, one group next to us and the other across from them.  The second crowd I dubbed the Kum Ba Yah crowd as they started singing about an hour after quiet time which was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the police had to be called to get them to quiet down. The neighbors next door had settled in and we watched them in amazement as the father figure started a fire and then squirted a whole bottle of lighter fluid on the burning flames! Dangerous. We had a family member die from doing this so not a good thing to do.  Even the camp host could see his fire from her site a little way down the road. I forgot to add that our neighbor apparently brought his leaf blower from home to blow liberally on the fire to get it to burn. Okay.

We decided to hit the tents because we were planning to hike the Appalachian Trail in the morning but we no sooner lay down to sleep than our fire starting neighbor started screaming so the whole campground could hear that someone needed to come and get their black lab and that it was hurt.  He did this two times.  Apparently he had broken his crutch over the dog, claiming that it was attacking his dog. We got out of the tents and Mr. D made a risky but brave move and  went over to try and intervene on the dog’s behalf.  He managed to get the dog back to our site without getting into an altercation. In the meantime, the campground host came over and called the number on the dog’s collar.  It turned out she was a hunting dog who was allowed to run loose. I later learned the owner said she was very gentle and would never attack another dog unless it attacked her first.  She was very gentle and we petted her while we waited for the dog’s owner to be contacted.  Finally all the fun for Friday night was over so we all went back to bed.

Saturday morning we all got up, had breakfast, and got ready for our hike.  The fisherman, who had come into the camp the night before, very kindly offered us some eggs they were not going to use.  So we did have some good and kind neighbors.  They were very quiet and well behaved the whole weekend.   I had run up to take a hot shower, which is a luxury while camped, and wandered by the camp host’s site and she came down to talk. DSCN0506 She said this was only the second time the police had been called while she had been there.  She also indicated she had had more excitement that morning (which we did not hear) as one of the campers, who had been drinking the night before, decided to wake the camp up with a very loud “cockle doodle doo” first thing in the  morning!  The Kum Ba Yah crowd packed up and left Saturday morning and I am assuming the police officer who showed up that morning had something to do with it.

The group got in Mr. W’s very nice Kia with 2 sunroofs (we were impressed) and drove across Fontana Dam to the AT trailhead to begin our hike to Shuckstack Tower.  The hike to the tower was a continuous up with some flat spaces in between. DSCN0524 At one point, we stopped for a short rest on a log.  When I got up, I realized I had a yellow jacket in my boot under the flap and it stung me several times before I sat down and released it!  Mr. T was calling me to run but it is hard to run from something in your shoe.  Good advice on most other occasions when you can potentially outrun them. I had just been thinking that I had gone all summer without a bite so I think I jinxed myself!! I was glad I had followed my own advice and updated my first aid kit with the proper items to treat a sting.  (I just heard a story about a local hike on the Foothills Trail where several people got stung by yellow jackets, one fellow apparently looking like he had twenty stings. So I have nothing to complain about).  The rest of the hike was uneventful. We reached the tower after a couple hours and stopped to have a little lunch. DSCN0519I waited until lunch was over to climb the tower but some of the group went up immediately which worked out.  The tower has a 360 degree view which is very nice although it was somewhat hazy on Saturday.  We returned the same way we came pretty much all downhill.

After a brief look at the Fontana Dam, which has hot showers for the AT hikers (I’m obviously hot water obsessed), we got back to the campground. It was happy hour time once again and we sat down and enjoyed the peace and quiet, a nice fire and smores, which lasted until about the time we decided to go to bed.  That’s when some other campers close by started swearing and calling out the names of people.  I’d really be interested to know who Alan and Ray are. Apparently at least one of them had been drinking all day and was pretty inebriated by that time. DSCN0535 This went on for some time.  Ms. J was so disgusted she got out of her tent and went over to talk to the camp host who told her the police were already on their way as someone else complained. Ms. J then went over and asked the rowdies to quiet down.  One group settled down immediately but the sole holdout continue to scream, yell, and swear.  Once the police arrived, it appears they were able to settle him down for the night.  He left in the morning and I assume this is because he was asked to.  Mr. Fire Starter and his group were very quiet Saturday so that was a relief.  The only other nuisance noise was the barking of numerous dogs in the campground!

Sunday morning we got ready to leave as we were planning to raft the Nantahala River.  Once camp was taken down, we took a brief 3 mile hike on the Right Loop Trail.DSC02116 It was pretty much a flat trail used mostly by bike riders and we met several on this particular hike.  This hike also follows the edge of the Fontana Lake.

The group left in two stages, one group heading directly to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to see about purchasing a few items. The second car consisting of me and Mr. T left a little behind and stopped at several campgrounds as Mr. T wanted to check out the sites and the cost.  We reached the NOC and met up with the other group, had a little lunch, before the scheduled rafting time. DSCN0564

Three other friends drove up together from SC to raft with us on the Nantahala. We drove to the rafting vendor and got our instructions and our gear.  We took 4 per raft and Mr. T was in charge of our raft.  The river had enough water in it to give us a pretty good ride. We got stuck on a  couple of rocks and several nice individuals came over to give us some instructions on how to get off the rocks.  Fortunately, we managed to stay in our raft the whole time although the front passengers did get soaked several times.  The weekend ended with supper in Asheville at the Asiana Buffet.  The food is good and they have nice seafood.

So thinking about about a moral to this story. It is nice to be able to have an alcoholic beverage while camping but the downside is that other campers abuse it.  We weren’t overly thrilled with all the barking dogs but we had more trouble with the people than the dogs. I wish I did not get stung by a yellow jacket but it could have been much worse so I’m good with it. Would I go back to Tsali Campground? I’m on the fence about that.  It was well kept up and clean. Most of the people were nice and respectful.  It only takes a few people at such a small campground to make everybody else miserable.  We need to make sure we aren’t one of them.

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