Eagle Creek and the Ekaneetlee Manway Epic

Nov.26-28, 2010


President Dumplin contemplates the beauty and peacefulness of one of our favorite spots, Good ole campsite 90 on Eagle Creek.  Larry reclines and enjoys a dose of coffee to bring the morning to a complete head.  Although the weather was ominous friday morning, it cleared in time to allow the Highlander invasion.

Pres. Dumplin secured a shuttle for some of the group out of Fontana Marina.

Some of us paddled across, like Grady and yours truly.  Whilst unloading the canoe that Dave Kaz so graciously loaned us again this year, we spied a fellow who was embarking for the trail to meet us.  The Lakeshore Trail from Fontana Dam is a great walk but we thought three paddles are better than one, so this guy below agreed to occupy the middle seat for a three hour tour.

That's right, it's Rakestraw.  He was so glad to be back on dry ground he wanted to kiss Jerky Mike, who happened to be holding some steak Dave had prepared for us.  I reckon we had 720 pounds of people and gear on that canoe.  It took us about one hour and 23 minutes to get to the shore and offload gear.  We had very little wind on the ride over but quite a bit on the return trip which was, for some reason, devoid of Steve Rakestraw.  He surmised that after a harrowing canoe trip and epic offtrail bushwhacking experience with me, he would hike it back to the car.  Can't say that I blame him.


While Steve and I were hiking, some latecomers added to the party.

Will Howe and his wife Jenny.  You see, it wasn't an all boy event.  High Speed Alexander also joined the group as he was picked up by none other than.....

The infamous GreeneBean.  GreeneBean brought his jet boat and made the crossing in less than ten minutes, I am told.  It was good to see the Jeffster since none of the other Dumplin Valley landers could attend.

Lots of meat was cooked on the point.


Gotta bean up before the big adventure.

Larry sends us off with the blessing of Horace on a string.

And so began our trek.


(manway in black, complete route in red)

 The Ekaneetlee Trace manway has long held fascination for me.  It's history is rich in Native American lore.  Tales of Indians crossing the lower gap now known on the Appalachian Trail as Ekaneetlee Gap abound in Smokies literature.  Some say at one time it was a maintained trail.  We saw little trace of that.  I daresay it is every bit of six and maybe as much as eight miles of pure Smokies Rhodo surfing.  It was the toughest offtrail route I have ever done.  Fortunately I had a great partner in Steve Rakestraw.  We were on the Creek from one side to the other from a little before noon to sunset on saturday.  We were losing daylight fast and topped out in time for a glorious light show with Maryville in the background.  Now it was just 8 miles back to camp.  Wow.  When we departed from 90, I had forgotten about the three serious creek crossings before campsite 89 where Ekaneetlee creek begins.  There are no secrets and we had no map.  We did have a gps which proved useless until the top near the AT.  It was a highly rated gps, a garmin map 60.  Just goes to show that this area is forsaken even by the most modern of technology.  Ethel let me borrow the unit and there may be some useable data to post at a later time.  We found traces of someone's attempt to mark this thing.

What would happen though, is you would rejoice at finding some sort of footpath only to be disappointed when it petered out entirely within 20 yards.  That is when we knew to cross the creek again and look on the other side.  You were on your hands and knees for a good amount of this journey.  It is a make your way deal.  At times there are traces of a path but it is so covered by rhododendron that you would have to find a path of lesser resistance.  Ekaneetlee creek splits several times too.  We made a false climb to a summit only to find no trace of anything at the top.  Guess that's why they call it Ekaneetlee trace.  

I made a mistake right off the bat, though.  After crossing number two, I went all in with my boots, eschewing the prudent logic to keep my feet dry.  The new boots, which are gore tex, reminded me of the error of my mistake.  I would contend with wet boots for fourteen more miles that day.  Gore tex is great for breathing but they won't walk dry like a good old cambrelle lining.  I miss the old boots.  Squish, squish, squish for nine hours.  Hiking 101 John.

I'm sure that Steve was a bit concerned.  We were losing daylight.  When we traced Ekaneetlee to its source we expected to find the A.T.  No such luck.  Instead we continued up the gap until it began to drop somewhat then hit the trail and kissed it.  It looked like the ventura freeway.  There were times on this bushwhack that we would fan out and holler to whomever hit a game trail.  That's what we followed mostly anyway.  It was essentially a matter of putting together pieces of paths of lesser resistance until we muscled our way to the top.  How many episodes did I find myself entangled hopelessly in a rhoho prison, only to retreat and crawl to another spot.  We walked in the creek at times until the rhodo smacked and whacked us to death.  A couple of times we backtracked to the last point of origin.  But we kept moving.  Without a single break, we climbed over two thousand feet.  No signs of habitation, other walkers or settlements.  Just a lot of bear scat and hog wallows. I thought of Porter's Creek and Groundhog Ridge and Sugarland Mountain and Bearpen Gap and Spruce Flats.  None of them compared to this behemoth.  It really was tough going.  The weather was perfect, though.  Until dark, I was quite comfortable in the squishy boots but come nighfall on the AT and that soon changed.

(one of very few markers)

We topped out with the daunting prospect of eight miles back to camp.  I was chilling down and donned the jacked and ate some food.  Still, we didn't stop.  I would chill down rapidly.  Gregory Ridge trail passed us by, then Birch Spring Gap.  Steve hallucinated a campfire.  I hallucinated a gigantic lizard on a log.  We were strung out in the Smokies again.  It was in the twenties up top.  Squish, squish, squish.  Onward towards Lost Cove.  Ever done Lost Cove?  You would remember it.  How about downhill in the dark?  Yeah, you get the idea.  Squish, squish.  Are we at campsite 91 yet?

I bumped into the bear cables at 91, one mile from our camp.  It was time to sit, I asked Steve and he obliged.  On that log for twenty seconds I rose because that place has and does give me the creeps.  As I discussed it with the others upon our return, several nodded in agreement.  It is a spooky place and I have always felt uncomfortable there.  Must have some weird karma.  I didn't need to stiffen up, we had more creek crossings.

10 PM:  The light is real this time.  It is the SouthernHighlander Contingency encircling Sithenge.  They yell for us after seeing our lights.  Hoorah!  We were home, but I was too tired to yell.  I had to get naked and into my bag.  Those feet needed some dry time.  Twenty minutes later, we hobbled to the lakeside for a celebration and Jerky Mike took care of our dinner for the night.  We were done and glad to be home.  I am satisfied and appreciative of this experience and a great cohort in Steve to make things even safer.   There were thoughts of bivouacing but we pressed on.  He never complained.  I uttered a few discouraging words. My advice on doing this part of Ekaneetlee?  Reconsider.  It is brutal, confusing, unmarked, wet, briar filled and beautiful.  You will go insanse crossing and recrossing the creek, swimming in dog hobble and battling rhodo.  Once on, there is no recourse.  You must top out as I can't imagine returning down that route.  (and remember, I have dropped down Dry Sluice Manway in the dark)

I am working on a video of the event.  Stay tuned!

It's good to be back in camp with great company.