I’m new to backpacking and my 3 day trip is calling for thunderstorms on the first day. I’m hiking up to Shuckstack near Lake Fontana,NC. The first day is 2000 feet elevation up along a ridge. Any advice is welcome. My thoughts are to hike up early and hike back out rather than camp overnight. Thoughts?
Interesting question. While yes, you certainly want to get up, and then off, of any pass or ridge sooner rather than later, it all depends on the weather. Under normal circumstances, you want to get up and over any elevation before mid-day. The reason for this is as the day heats up, the temperature change can lead to storms at elevation, or even, during clear skies, dry lightening. As a rule of thumb, it is best to get off the pass/ridge/ before the change in temp.
However, this is just a general rule. If you start a day in a storm, or if you can clearly see the storm coming, regardless of the time of day, it is better to stay off the mountain than get caught out in the open.
I have only hiked a small section of the Smokies, but I have hiked many hundreds of miles in a number of mountain ranges (worldwide), and it is a non-negotiable for me that unless there is an extreme emergency, we never hike up into severe weather.
But I have another question for you. Since you are new to backpacking, why are you pushing up to Shuckstack Tower (are you coming from the south or the north?), some 2000 ft gain, in one day? That is quite a trip for being new to the sport. Again, as a rule of thumb, use a "difficulty calculator" (see here - http://www.nwhiker.com/HikeEval.html) to get a sense of just how hard an elevation gain over a given number of miles might be. 2000 ft. again in 3 miles is a difficult climb, and add bad weather into the mix, hmmm, might be time to consider another route. That area of the Smokies (Tennesse Rive/Fontana Lake), which I have hiked, has so many great trails, why not stay off the ridges and away from the lightning?
Be flexible. Thunderstorms are nothing to mess with. And they can strike in many places other than ridge crests. Associated ground currents can cause problems as well.
Frankly, I would advise making alternative plans.
Thank you for the information. In our research, originally, we read many people who said it was a moderate hike. As I kept digging into other hikers comments (before I found rei) I found mixed comments from moderate to difficult. Bought a map and saw the elevation gains and knew we would be slow. Anyway—this week saw the weather forecast 😳. I think our plan will be to hike as far as we can and hike back down. I’ll bring up your suggestion of hiking less strenuous trails to my hiking buddies. Thank you for the help!