The 1000-foot scar November 8, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Alum Cave Trail, Big Duck Hawk, Peregrine Peak, Trout Branch
James Locke and I had set Wednesday as the day for a hike, and Wednesday it would be, regardless of the weather. When we met up at the starting point, a mixed precipitation was drizzling down, just on the edge between rain and snow. Up at Newfound Gap it was all snow, and the crew at LeConte Lodge were getting yet more new accumulation to offset partial melting that had occurred since last week’s big dump.
I’d been wanting to check out a huge new landslide scar route off Trout Branch that was pioneered by Greg Harrell. He didn’t just happen to notice it, he went out deliberately looking for new scars soon after hearing that LeConte had received six inches of rain in a day, early in August. Looking across from the Chimneys, he saw a brand-new jagged opening that extends all the way down from the 5200′ point on Alum Cave trail where it slabs around Peregrine Peak, down past Big Duck Hawk ridge and on to Trout Branch. Since then, he’s been up a couple times with other people. He and Chris Sass did a trip in late September, and Chris got some really nice photos that you can see here.
I especially recommend Chris’s photos because I had an embarrassing mishap with my camera as James and I climbed up the slide. After switching to heavier gloves, I accidentally set the camera in video mode, and it stayed that way the whole way up the interesting section. Duh!!! I ended up with a set of short, wobbly, substandard videos from each time I turned the camera on. The frame capture shown at top is the best I can offer. My apologies!
When we started up Trout Branch, we found patchy snow conditions in the surrounding woods and moderately high water.
At 4000′, we reached a distinctive tabletop boulder that marks the spot a couple of small stream basins join the main stem of Trout Branch. This is the place where the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned to climb up to Big Duck Hawk in July 2011.
But things have gotten rearranged since then. You don’t really need to watch for the tabletop boulder, because just to your right is a giant pile of debris left from the landslide, trees heaped on top of each other, the bark peeled right off many of them. The force evidenced by this is simpy astounding.
We climbed up the scar, reaching the interesting band of sandstone shown at top. Everything was stripped down to bare rock as high as 25 or 30′ up on both sides. It must have been a cataclysm.
In a couple of places we took to the woods on either side and found the amount of slushy snow deepening as we climbed, but nowhere above about knee deep. In the scar itself, the snow had mostly been washed away or melted. We crossed the geological boundary line to Anakeesta and found it to be a certain variety with lots of spiky textures that helped gaining a foothold but no clear strata as you find sometimes with this type of rock.
The way grew steeper in that classic progression of Smokies slopes, and up at the very top we had some tough scrabbling to get up an unstable slope of gravelly soil and loose rock. We came out on the Alum Cave trail just as a hiker passed by. The steepness was such that I had my hands on the edge of the trail right next to his feet starting to pull myself up, and he politely asked if I wanted a hand!
In the chilly, snowy conditions, we opted to hike down the trail rather than descending via Big Duck Hawk or some variation off of it. The fog was so thick that you could hardly see Alum Cave even when right underneath it, and Inspiration Point featured whiteness of an inspiring intensity. And so a short but fascinating hike ended.
Big Duck Hawk Ridge July 24, 2011Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Anakeesta, Big Duck Hawk, Little Duck Hawk, Trout Branch
I’ve been on Big Duck Hawk before, but I had never approached it via the route that Greg Hoover and Craig Hutto led it yesterday for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. We rockhopped up Trout Branch about a half mile to a small tributary and followed it up to a goodsized landslide scar and scrambled up that to the top of the ridge, coming out on its most interesting section. Then we went back down the same way. Total mileage was not even quite two miles. It took us six hours.
The Park Service does not have a ban on BDH, but they do on Little Duck Hawk, its narrower ridge companion. LDH is also known as Hole-in-Rock Mountain, and it is easily viewed from Alum Cave Bluff. I have traveled on it in the days before the ban.
Trout Branch was flowing fast and high, which made wading necessary much of the time. None of my stream pictures came out very well. For some excellent shots, go to this page on Dave Landreth’s Griztrax site. He is a great photographer. But just to give you a feel, here are a few shots.
When we turned onto the tributary, we encountered a series of cascades. I think Greg Harrell was the only one who attempted to climb up them—an awful lot of water was flowing over them. I was too busy negotiating my way around the edges to take pictures on this stretch. Eventually we reached the slide, which featured the classic loose, brittle Anakeesta that you find in areas that haven’t had long enough exposure to weathering processes to turn them into the fine rock staircases you encounter on the Chimney Tops, Charlies Bunion, and the crests of the two Duck Hawk ridges.
It was steep, but it had enough footholds to make it climbable except at the very top, where we had to head over to some brush on the side in order to have something to hold onto.
We had lunch and explored up and down the ridge a little ways. Clouds hovered overhead—a welcome shelter from the sweltering sun we’ve all been suffering through the past week.
On the way down, the wetness of the slide made it harder to keep solid footing, which meant that the faster members of the group paid the price of having the others shower down loose rock upon them. Fortunately, no one was injured.
By the time we got back to Trout Branch, I was so wet and dirty that I welcomed its cool, refreshing waters. In fact, when we reached the bridge, I removed my pack and immersed myself in the water! Then I dripped my way back to the car, where I had a dry change of clothes. A fine outing of eleven adventurous souls.