Mt. LeConte via Surry Fork June 16, 2013Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Grotto Falls, Roaring Fork, Surry Fork, Trillium Gap trail
This was a solo bushwhack that I undertook for several reasons. One of them was that I wanted to find out why Surry Fork has been so neglected among the streams that tumble down the slopes of LeConte. Perhaps it is upstaged by its neighbor, Roaring Fork, which is a larger stream with bigger waterfalls—I suppose you could say Roaring Fork is more deluxe than Surry.
Another reason for its neglect is no doubt the unfortunate circumstance that Surry Fork is crossed by the Trillium Gap trail a total of four times. To be more exact, the upper valley loses its perennial stream water by the time you get to the third trail crossing, but you still go across the trail as you follow that basic route.
So perhaps that is the reason the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club never goes up it and you never hear talk of Surry Fork among the usual off-trail hard-cores.
The 1931 map shows an old trail that goes up Surry Fork to Trillium Gap. Surry joins Roaring Fork above what is now the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and that is where you would be most likely to pick up the old trail. It’s maybe even an old road in that section that led up to former homesites.
I thought about starting from the lowest point, but I rejected that in favor of going up Trillium Gap trail past Grotto Falls and hitting Surry at the lowest trail crossing, around 4400′. Why, that’s halfway up the mountain, and you might consider that cheating. But I did it anyway. I also cheated a tiny bit at the top, as I will explain.
So I set off along the trail to Grotto Falls. For some reason on this trip I really noticed the bizarre patterns of exposed roots on the trail.
I arrived at Grotto Falls. Here is my favorite perspective on the falls.
Then I trundled along to the first crossing of Surry Fork. It looked extraordinarily green. The photo below has no enhancement of color. In fact, I turned the brightness down a bit.
Before long I reached a junction of two branches of Surry Fork. Only the left is shown on the map as a perennial stream, but to me they looked about equal in volume of water flow. Both had cascades flowing down over a band of sandstone that extended pretty far in both directions at that elevation.
I noticed that the rock is pockmarked with holes. I have noticed this in a few other places, such as Kuwahi Branch up near Clingmans Dome summit. I don’t know what the geological explanation is.
I went over toward the left cascade, but the vegetation was incredibly dense and I needed to find a route up the cascade bluff. So this photo was taken from a distance. Sorry it is blurry.
I crawled through a lot of rhodo getting up past this general elevation. I saw one—just one—blossom here as if the plant was making a conciliatory gesture. (I saw a lot more rhodo in bloom along roads and other places where you aren’t wrestling with it. Funny thing about that.)
Unfortunately, I got into a zone of intensive balsam blowdown, from the trees that were killed from the balsam woolly adelgid in the late 80s and early 90s.
It was at this point that I cheated again. Thing was, I was ridiculously close to the trail—and this is really the problem with Surry Fork. As I clambered over one blowdown after another, I couldn’t forget the trail was literally only yards away from my route, located on the west side of the ridge that led up to the Lodge.
I threw in the towel and dropped down to the trail at about 6000′, climbed up to the Lodge, and then went on to Cliff Top because I wanted to see the myrtle in bloom.
I had hardly seen anyone all day (no big surprise there), but two young couples came up while I was sitting at Cliff Top. They asked me if I’d come up the Alum Cave trail. I was seized with a strange fit of awkwardness. I said I’d gone up past Grotto Falls and climbed up a stream, and I knew I couldn’t possibly explain it. They saw my dirty clothes, the fact that I was wearing long sleeves and long pants, dirty gaiters.
For some reason instead of seeing myself as a glorious explorer I could only see myself as kind of a weirdo, at least in their eyes. I had the same feeling when I got back down to Grotto Falls and ran into tons of tourists on the trail. It was uniformly family groups wearing t-shirts and shorts, and here I was, a solitary female who looked dirty and dressed differently than everyone else. I should have felt superior, I guess. Instead I only felt odd. Sorry for the deep psychological digression.
While I was up on Cliff Top, I saw a Rhodo minus in bud. It’s one of my favorite plants.
And then I had to face up to the long trip down Trillium Gap trail. One nice thing happened—I saw a very tame deer near the Lodge!