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Pyramid route to Rocky Crag October 26, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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16 comments
The most beautiful stream in the world. Do you notice that the water is gold?

The most beautiful stream in the world. Do you notice that the water is gold?

Yesterday Clayton and I set forth (I like that old-fashioned expression of “set forth”)  to climb the ridge of Rocky Crag (also known as Real Bunion or USGS Bunion) via the Pyramid side ridge.

I had climbed up via that route two years ago, but I was careless, following a group and not paying much attention to the exact point where we had to leave that first tributary of Lester Prong to get up to that exact spot.

So now someone had studied the pictures and wanted to go up that route. I had to get it right!

Clayton and I started around 7:45 and made good progress up the 3.6 miles of trail, hitting the backcountry campsite on Porters in less than an hour and a half. Throughout the whole trip I kept insisting on stopping for water and snacks, partly just because I am getting to be a tired old soul—but not too old and tired to do this kind of adventure!

So we followed the lower Porters Creek manway. As I said to Clayton, I think it’ll be totally gone in five or so years. It used to be almost like a maintained trail. But the blowdowns and the growth of vegetation around have made it harder and harder to follow. Plus, we had to deal with autumn leaves that obscured the footway.

We got to the Lester Prong junction, and we rockhopped up the stream pretty easily to the first tributary. That’s where I took the photo above. I calibrated my altimeter carefully here because I knew we’d have to hit the side ridge to Pyramid Point pretty precisely.

We hit the first big cascade on the tributary pretty soon.

 

It's more vertical than it looks in this photo. You climb hand over foot.

It’s more vertical than it looks in this photo. You climb hand over foot.

The wonderful, enjoyable thing about this whole area is that you get into really steep stuff but there are always handholds and footholds.

We continued up the first tributary of Lester Prong until we reached a ridge that I thought was the correct side ridge. If you approach it from the left side there are cliffs. We went on a bit further up more of the wonderful mossy cascades of the tributary and finally picked a spot. I wasn’t actually 100% sure we were in the right spot but it turned out I was right. We climbed steeply through brush at the bottom but soon found ourselves on a footway that could have been made by bears or possibly certain eccentric humans that I know.

Clayton climbing up the side ridge.

Clayton climbing up the side ridge.

We topped out on the ridge and had wonderful views to all the steep ridges in the Lester Prong drainage. We could hear the idiotic voices of tourists on what most people call Charlies Bunion, but actually that didn’t bother me, it only reinforced the difference of our situation.

View to Middle Crag and Bunion Crag. Familiar places to me.

View to Middle Crag and Bunion Crag. Familiar places to me.

So from Pyramid you have to climb up the “Tooth,” as my Jefferson City friends call it. Clayton is a stronger hiker than me but he opted to have me lead the way up the Tooth. We got there and looked back down at the route we’d climbed.

We climbed the rocky bump you see up another rocky bump. Hard to describe.

We climbed the rocky bump you see and up another rocky bump. Hard to describe.

So we continued up the ridge, following the footway that I strongly suspect is mainly created by those terrible Jefferson City folks, and got up eventually to the top. Right about that time a nice innocent family arrived at the same spot, the father sure that this was an obscure spot no-one knew about. There we were, dirty and sweaty. He said, “I never see anyone else here!” We explained that we had come up from the bottom.

He didn’t understand—of course, no one understands.

A wonderful day.

Looking down Porters Creek valley.

Looking down Porters Creek valley.

Here, by popular request, is a map of the upper section of our climb.

OK, Al, here you go! Just shows the upper section, but if you ain't smart enough to get to the first tributary of Lester, you shouldn't be there.

OK, Al, here you go! Just shows the upper section, but if you ain’t smart enough to get to the first tributary of Lester, you shouldn’t be there anyway! And you know that area quite well.

 

Whiterock Ridge to Cammerer—SMHC hike October 19, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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7 comments
The first open view from the ridge.

The first open view from the ridge.

This was a wonderful hike. There were only four of us, but that was a nice size for a challenging off-trail adventure. I was the substitute leader on this Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing, as the designated leader had a conflict come up with his work schedule. I’d done this route before, so I was happy to fill in.

My companions were Steve, Ken, and Clayton.

We met at the Cosby hiker parking lot because it’s a little hard for folks to find where the actual starting point for the hike is, along the twists and turns of Hwy. 32. So I drove us over in my car to the start of the Groundhog Ridge manway. Our route was to take Groundhog Ridge to the Lower Cammerer Trail, do a short jog to the west, and then go up Whiterock Ridge nearly to the top. At about 4600′ (300′ short of the summit), you run into a big sandstone bluff. So that’s where we jogged a very short distance around the bluff and reconnected with Groundhog Ridge manway for the last stiff grunt to the top.

The weather forecast called for clear, sunny skies. Well, for most of the day we were in fog. There was so much moisture in the trees and brush that whenever a wind gust shook the leaves, it almost felt like it was raining.

Whiterock Ridge, which is sort of a half-ridge that doesn’t really start until above the Lower Cammerer Trail, isn’t too bad in terms of brush, when you compare it with its neighbor to the west, Rowdy Ridge. There are patches of rhodo but they don’t go on very long, and there’s some aggressive greenbrier that you have to just force your way through. It helps to have gloves and long sleeves.

As you continue up the ridge and it starts getting steeper and steeper, you start running into small rock bluffs. Anyone who’s spent time bushwhacking in the Smokies knows this pattern.  It’s one of those fun rock-scrambling challenges where you step onto rhodo or rock and pull yourself up.

I remembered from the time I did it before that there was a Tricky Spot. You go up into this narrow slot between vertical rock. I actually had problems with it on the last trip. Well, this time I had it “sandbagged,” as rock climbers call it. I knew that I had to put my right foot in a certain spot, put my left foot onto a really narrow piece of rock, and hold onto the one available rhodo branch for stability.

I’m going to pat myself on the back here, because that was the “elegant” solution to the climbing problem. Two of the three guys with me used a different approach using a longer reach (being taller than me) and more upper body strength. (Clayton did a variation of what I did.)  My solution to the puzzle did not involve strength, only intelligent placement of hands and feet. Sorry, guys!

This photo shows you what the upper ridge was like.

It's a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

It’s a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

We reached the big sandstone bluff. Having seen me get up the lower bluffs, the guys with me teased me about how we should just go up it. Well, I’m sure it’s possible to do that, but it ‘s much easier to go around to the left and hit the upper Groundhog Ridge manway. So that’s what we did.

Big sandstone bluff.

Big sandstone bluff.

Lots of polypody ferns grow there. I think they’re beautiful.

A garden of ferns.

A garden of ferns.

So we went up the manway and before long got onto the open rocks where you have a view of the tower.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

We had nice views into the valley of Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

When we reached the top of Cammerer, it was damp and windy. We retreated to the inside of the tower. Many other folks had the same idea. I have never seen so many people inside the tower!

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

I expected to see the other SMHC hikers, the ones who came up by trail, but we only met one person from that group, who was puzzled about what happened to the others. Funny that they would get lost instead of us folks who bushwhacked up to the top!

I was ambivalent about descending Groundhog Ridge manway and suggested a trail descent. There is a certain section in the middle of the manway that has become a slippery, slimy mudslide. I don’t like going down that kind of crap, and there’s also an environmental rationale to avoid making those places worse by further use. However, the rest of my group wanted to go down that way, so that’s the way we went.

There’s one open spot on the manway which has nice views.

Clayton at the open spot.

Clayton at the open spot.

It was a great day with a wonderful small group of people. This is the sort of outing I really love.

Looking back up to the summit.

Looking back up to the summit.

 

Sawyer Pond September 30, 2014

Posted by Jenny in grief, hiking, photography, White Mountains.
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16 comments
Looking across Sawyer Pond.

Looking across Sawyer Pond.

This past weekend I traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a memorial gathering in honor of my longtime companion Bob Parlee, who died of kidney cancer in March.  Seven of his close friends gathered near the summit of Mt. Washington, at the Great Gulf headwall, to remember Bob.

If you are interested in helping with a donation to the Kidney Cancer Association, please visit the  fundraising page for the Great Gulf Hike for Bob.

I will not post a blog about that experience, but I did want to share photos from a short hike I did the day before. I visited Sawyer Pond, a beautiful pond located in the Sawyer River valley near Mt. Carrigain.

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Worlds upon worlds.

Worlds upon worlds.

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