Right fork of Trout Branch December 2, 2013Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains, winter hiking.
Tags: Alum Cave Trail, Mt. LeConte, Trout Branch
I’ve been up Trout Branch maybe four or five times over the years, but I’ve always gone to the left at the major junction just below 4400′. Most times I’ve gone up what you might call the right fork of the left fork, the one that leads up to the Alum Cave trail directly below Cliff Top. Once I took the left of the left, which goes to the West Point ridge. The right fork was the only one I hadn’t explored.
I was accompanied by Cindy McJunkin and Chris Sass on this fine outing. They are great hiking companions. Chris and I have done a lot of hiking trips together, but this fall he’s been swamped with work at his teaching position at Young Harris College in north Georgia (he teaches math). He hadn’t been able to get out for a good bushwhack adventure since August… way too long. Cindy has been bitten by the off-trail bug in the past couple of years—she’s an experienced backpacker who’s put in a lot of mileage on the A.T.—so I was glad she was able to join this outing. Fellow female bushwhackers don’t come along all that often.
We started a little after 9:00 and proceeded up the lower stream. Even in this photo you can see a hint of red discoloration on the rocks caused by landslide activity that exposed sulfuric Anakeesta bedrock.
As we got closer to the base of the big landslide, we could see patches of the “tomato soup” water that you encounter after these cataclysmic events. For photos of a trip up the slide, go here. Recent heavy rains have diluted the water.
The logjam at the base of the slide is just amazing.
The slide is fun to climb in dry conditions. In the ice and snow we encountered this day, it would’ve been pretty challenging.
All along the stream I enjoyed the ice formations.
There is a particularly beautiful pool a little above the landslide junction.
We had a treat a little further along: paw prints in the snow.
We saw a large waterfall ahead. In this photo you see the sunlight hitting the treetops above. We were in and out of sunlight in this stream valley.
We did some serious rhodo thrashing to get around the waterfall and finally got to the top, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. We got into pitches of steep terrain.
At around 5100′, several small valleys converge, some too small to show up on the map. At first we stayed with the largest, easternmost valley, but when we reached a point where it was clogged with blowdowns, we opted to follow a draw that angled to the left, going close to due north.
We got into a fun bit of steep rock scrambling. When we reached smooth icy ledge we headed off to the right and got into steep spruce forest. From there it was a strenuous but straightforward climb up to the trail.
We’d thought we might cross the trail and continue upward along a valley that in days past was used as a descent route by LeConte Lodge workers. However, sunset comes so early these days that we opted to head down, and it was a good thing we did, for it was getting dark by the time we reached the lower sections of the Alum Cave trail. Can you believe it took us from around 9:15 to 2:30 to go something like two miles on the off-trail portion? If you figure we’re especially slow or inept, I invite you to try it for yourself, in similar conditions of snow and ice.
As we descended the trail, we met J.P. Krol, the winter caretaker of LeConte Lodge. Most likely he was entertaining himself with a trip down to Alum Cave Bluff.
A great hike with two fine bushwhacking companions.