Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Case of Wild Boar Attack...

The southwestern section of the Smoky Mountains can be a bit hard to get to – but well worth the effort. The drive from our area is about 2 to 3 hours, depending on exactly where you begin and end. There are some fine trails in the Bryson City area. Or, you can begin at Clingmans Dome and hike down toward Fontana Lake. Of course, when you are finished you’ll have to hike back UP to your car at Clingmans Dome. Yes, the word “up” should be capitalized, Clingmans Dome being only 42 feet shy of being the highest point in the eastern US. One really unique way to explore this section of the park is to paddle across Fontana Lake in a canoe or kayak, which is exactly what I did with my daughter and son-in-law not long ago.

We paddled to Forney Creek, so we put in at a dirt and gravel boat ramp near Bryson City. I can’t exactly explain where this boat ramp is because you can’t get there from here. In fact, I don’t even know the name of the boat ramp, but I suspect that most people who use this put-in don’t know the actual name of it either.

To get there you take State Road 1313 until it ends at the boat ramp. Simple enough, if you can find SR 1313. To find it, just take SR 1312 until 1313 splits off of it. To get to 1312, just take 1311 until 1312 splits off of it. All these have green street signs with the SR number on them. All of them except, for some unknown reason, SR 1311. You can get to 1311 by taking Old US 19, which splits off of US 19 outside of Bryson City. Of course, there are a couple of places to get on Old US 19, and you have to choose the right one to find 1311 easily. Like I said, you can’t get there from here. So, good luck with that.

Paddling using improper technique

Melissa, John, and I spent two nights at the backcountry campsite near the mouth of Forney Creek. On our full day there, I decided to make the seven mile hike to High Rocks on Welch Ridge. John and Melissa decided to stay at the campsite and attend to some essential camping duties: napping, eating, and reading. I was gone for about seven hours, and when I returned I was pleased to discover that through hard work and sheer determination they had managed to accomplish all three, several times each.

John and Melissa in the backcountry

That evening as we were eating supper, Melissa spotted a dark object moving around at the other end of the campsite. At first we thought it was a bear, but its shape was backwards. The front end was larger than the back end. It didn’t take us long to realize that it was a wild boar. You know, sharp tusks, rippling muscles, fierce demeanor. As far as I know, they eat mainly roots and grubs, not human flesh. However, they look like they’d enjoy killing a human every now and then, just to stay in practice.

Wild boar give me the heebie jeebies, so I looked for a tree with low branches to climb in case of emergency, then we grabbed our cameras and moved closer to get some pictures. We each snapped a picture, but the flashes scared him away. I filed that bit of information in the “what to do in case of wild boar attack” section of my brain. In grizzly country people carry guns and pepper spray. In wild boar country, carry a camera with a flash. I took my camera to bed with me that night for protection – sort of a cross between a night light and pepper spray. If attacked I’d simply take the boar’s picture.

A few days later, as I told my wife about our boar encounter, it occurred to me that there’s another advantage of this camera defense – if the flash didn’t scare the boar, at least she’d end up with a great picture of my killer, evidence that I died a noble death in the wilderness... assuming, of course, that being killed and eaten by a pig is a noble death.

Extra Information:
Camping in the backcountry in the Smokies requires filling out some paperwork when you arrive. Some sites require advance reservations but most spots, including Lower Forney Creek, do not. Just fill out a backcountry permit at any developed campground (e.g., Deep Creek near Bryson City) or ranger station in the park when you arrive. Then go.

You can get to Forney Creek on foot by parking at the end of Lakeview Drive – also known as the Road to Nowhere – which starts near Bryson City and heads west several miles into the park. From the end of the road it’s only a three mile walk to Forney Creek.

To paddle to Forney Creek, you’ll need to find the boat ramp. It takes about 30 minutes to drive the winding roads from Bryson City to the boat ramp. There may be several ways to get there, but here’s the easiest…

If you go to Bryson City via US 74, take exit 64, then US 19 North for 1.7 miles at which point you will bear left onto Old US 19. You will soon see Buckner Branch Road on your left. Buckner is actually SR 1311, so turn left onto Buckner and check your odometer. Go 3.1 miles on 1311 (Buckner) at which point 1312 (Round Hill Rd.) bears off to the right. Take 1312 to the right and check your odometer again. Travel 2.8 miles on 1312 to a fork in the road where 1312 bears left and 1313 bears right. Take 1313 (right) until it ends at the boat ramp.

An alternative if you are already in Bryson City: Take US 19 South through town. At Kerr Drug Store check your odometer. Travel 1.1 miles from Kerr Drugs on US 19 South at which point Old US 19 bears off to the right. Take Old US 19 and you will very quickly see Buckner Branch Rd. (SR 1311) on your right. Check your odometer and turn right onto Buckner. Go 3.1 miles on 1311 (Buckner) at which point 1312 (Round Hill Rd.) bears off to the right. Take 1312 to the right and check your odometer again. Travel 2.8 miles on 1312 to a fork in the road where 1312 bears left and 1313 bears right. Take 1313 (right) until it ends at the boat ramp.

Paddling to Forney will take about an hour from the boat ramp. During summer weekends the lake will be busy – like a typical TVA lake. During the off-season, especially on a weekday, the lake will be wonderfully quiet. The further up Forney’s channel you go, the quieter it will get – a genuine, mountain wilderness experience.

Once you arrive at the mouth of Forney Creek, just beach your canoe or kayak and walk the 10 minutes to the campsite. Some paddlers will bring a chain and a lock to secure their craft to a tree. If you decide to take a chain, give some thought on exactly how you will attach the chain to your craft. You can’t just wrap it around the hull, and most canoes and kayaks don’t have many secure beams to run your chain through. (I actually drilled a one inch hole in the top of my kayak to run the chain through.) Or, just pull your craft well into the woods and hide your paddle really well.

This Forney trip can also make a good day trip, the worst part being the long drive to and from it.

To see a map of the park which includes the trails and campsites go to Choose the Trail Map.