Middle Crag doings August 20, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, Life experience, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Charlies Bunion, Lester Prong, Middle Crag
In late May, I went down one of the Middle Crag gullies (there is one on each side of the ridge) with a couple of friends. Toward the bottom, I had a recurrence of a knee problem (it pops out of joint) and ended up descending to the Greenbrier and hitchhiking around to Newfound Gap, where we had started. My two friends climbed up the crag and returned via the A.T. to Newfound.
You can see some wonderful pictures from that trip that my friend Chris took here.
Ever since then, it bugged me that I didn’t climb the crag. A week ago I returned by myself with the goal of repeating the route my friends had taken. I was not successful. But I did have an interesting experience.
It was a beautiful day as I hiked out from Newfound Gap. I stopped and took the picture you see above. Continuing around a crescent-shaped side path, I returned to the A.T. and went east a bit further to hit the top of the gully we’d gone down the other time. But I went too far east. I should have dropped into the gully immediately after hitting the A.T. past the side path.
On my way out the A.T., I saw some nice pink turtleheads.
And Joe Pye weed.
Leaving the A.T. to enter what I thought was the same gully we’d been down before, I passed through familiar-looking forest.
But things didn’t look quite right. The rock was a grayer color than the pink that had predominated in the other gully. I thought perhaps I simply wasn’t remembering things correctly. I worked my way down carefully from the starting point of around 5500′ to 4700′. And there I could see I’d gone distinctly wrong. The drop was much steeper than anything in the other gully—which had been steep enough that I’d slid down much of it on the seat of my pants.
Here, on the map, you can see the situation. The red line represents the route I took. The blue line represents the way we’d gone before. My ruler against the scale on the USGS quad shows me that the distance between the two at the top is 1/10 of a mile.
You see what happens in the red gully between 4800′ and 4600′. Obviously, I had to go down the left side of the draw rather than the right. It was steep sidehilling, but I worked my way along, making use of the rhodo and laurel for handholds. It was difficult for me. I looked up to my left to see if I could simply head up to the ridge, but it looked steeper than I wanted to attempt.
I wish I could think of some dramatic reason why I decided to turn around, climb back up, and call it a day—but I can’t. I simply lost heart. From the comfort of my living room, I can see that if I’d just been able to get down a couple of hundred feet lower, I could have gone up to the ridge—or I could have gone down to Lester Prong and around the base of the ridge to the second tributary (the bottom of the correct draw). I am sure this would not have been a problem for many other people.
It is very hard for me to be honest about this, but I must be. One of the things I’ve realized as a result of this experience is that I can do some kinds of bushwhacking solo, but some things I can’t. Oddly enough, I have climbed the adjacent ridge to the east by myself, which some would call harder than Middle Crag, but in that case I wasn’t dealing with going down a gully, I was climbing upward, which for some reason felt more comfortable to me.
Another thing I realize is that I can do things with other people that I can’t do by myself. This is hard for me to admit, because I’m an independent sort of individual. I have done the climb below with another person, but I don’t think I could do it by myself.