Sharing the fun of the Chimneys February 19, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Chimney Tops, Newfound Gap road, West Prong
Friends had been saying they wanted to go up the Chimneys off-trail from the picnic ground. So Chris Sass and I gladly volunteered to take them up by the same route we led a Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing last June. Many variations exist, and we could have gone a different way, but this is the best way to go if you want to visit what I’ve come to think of as the Magic Cairn.
The friends joining us were Dave Landreth, Seth O’Shields, and Dusty Allison.
We’d thought of descending via the ridge that leads northwest from the North Chimney, but we decided, looking at the cliffs on it as we climbed up the other side of the valley, that it had best be done going up rather than down. Another possible descent route, down a ridge from Sugarland Mountain, was rejected as being too time-consuming by the time we reached the Sugarland-Chimney connector manway.
The first point of interest encountered on this trip is a manmade dam on the stream.
Not far above the dam, where the route follows pleasant open woods beside a small stream, we saw our first spring wildflowers of 2012—on February 18!
The way steepened steadily as we approached the ridgecrest.
Past a small curtain of briers, we crawled through a bearway, hearing the sounds of traffic on the Newfound Gap road nearly directly below us. A short descent through an opening, and voila! The Magic Cairn!
I like the way the road disappears into the tunnel immediately below.
We climbed along the narrowing ridge, negotiating a few bluffs and traversing around a couple of them.
Eventually we emerged onto the really fun part—the open Anakeesta scramble.
We arrived at the top. As we chatted and ate our lunch, we saw a fellow in an orange shirt over on the Tourist Chimney who tried a couple times to go across to where we were, but he gave up the effort after a short distance and retreated.
We crossed and passed through the crowds without stopping, then descended the trail. We stopped at the bridge over the West Prong. (I guess technically it is still Walker Camp Prong at that point, just barely above the junction with Road Prong.)
I noticed a small waterfall emerging from right under the bridge. And so a very pleasant outing concluded.
Official hike to Chimneys June 12, 2011Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Chimney Tops, Confederate bushwhackers, Thomas Legion
I was almost astonished that a handful of adventurous souls decided go on the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing to the Chimneys by way of the Chimneys picnic ground. Off trail hike. About 2000′ vertical in about a mile. But I think everyone involved was proud to have accomplished this.
One thing I noticed right away was that the vegetation was much thicker and higher than when my co-leader Chris Sass and I (and brave companion Ben Bacot) scouted it a month ago. The tall green growth does make it harder to see the basic contours. At least, that’s my excuse for hitting the ridge further north than I intended.
Once we got up to the ridge, I expected we would immediately traverse a short distance to an impressive overlook with a giant cairn. We did not find the giant cairn, though we’d found it easily on our two scouting trips! We believe we hit the ridge a bit too low and then wandered around crisscrossing animal tracks without finding it. Very disappointing. We searched around for a bit, but finally decided to cut our losses and continue up the ridge to the northern Chimney.
We got a beautiful view of that Chimney.
So much beautiful laurel. It really inspired us as we did the hand-over-foot section up the Anakeesta that now predominated over the lower sandstone.
Once we arrived on the northern Chimney, we had a great view of the exposed ridge over to the southern (tourist) Chimney. Darkening skies hung over us, and we heard thunder, but it seemed that the bad weather was drifting away from us, toward the east. I wasn’t totally convinced of that, but sitting up there was so wonderful that I felt I was willing to take the risk of thunder and lightning.
We made it over there, only to discover the usual conglomeration of frightened tourists who can’t seem to make it up past what I consider to be the “crux”—a polished handhold of Anakeesta that you grasp and step up a trivially frightening section of rock to get up to the top.
Our trip down the Chimneys trail was uneventful. At the bottom—the West Prong crossing—we noticed an absolutely beautiful laurel hanging over the stream. It was being visited by countless butterflies of different colors.
On our way back down to the Chimneys picnic area, we visited Fort Harry Falls.
And we did talk about the Civil War history, as I’d wanted to do, the vicious phase of the war when Colonel Kirk’s Union raiders attacked several places in western NC and were met in battle by the Thomas legion of Confederate Cherokees. But Confederate bushwhackers did similar damage in Cades Cove, and in the end, the important thing for me is, Confederate bushwhackers murdered my great-great grandfather in Flat Rock, NC, in 1864.
Scouting the Chimneys May 8, 2011Posted by Jenny in Civil War, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Chimney Tops, Colonel William Thomas, Confederate Cherokee Burial Ground, Fort Harry, Thomas Legion of Confederate Cherokees
It took two tries to come up with a route that Chris Sass and I felt would be fun for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing we are going to lead in June. Club members would have survived the first route, but it might have caused some folks to swear they’d never go hiking again…
The first route called for starting at the site of Fort Harry, the idea being to do something related to the Civil War in honor of the war’s 150th anniversary. Fort Harry was built in 1862 by Colonel William Thomas’ Legion of Confederate Cherokees. Nothing remains of it—and surprisingly, there is not even a historical marker, even though a parking lot now stands at the spot—but my plan was to tell the group about the history of the fort and walk the same ground where the wooden stockade had been located. The fort served to defend the Alum Cave mines against Union raiders and generally to prevent Union forces from crossing the Smokies along the newly built road to Indian Gap. Union raiders under Col. George Kirk did get across the Smokies by way of Mt. Sterling Gap and victimized the residents of Cataloochee, but the Thomas Legion was able to protect some western NC residents against Kirk’s bushwhackers in late stages of the war.
When Chris and I arrived at Fort Harry, we found that the West Prong was running so high that crossing it would not only be difficult, it would be dangerous. So we went back to the Chimneys trailhead, where we had left a car for a shuttle, and crossed the West Prong on the trail bridge, then walked along the bank of the Prong until we approached the ridge we’d been planning to take. We started climbing fairly steeply and ran into some thick rhodo. After we reached the ridgecrest, we started encountering bluffs. We were able to get up the bluffs by holding onto roots and branches and pulling ourselves up, but it was sketchy.
Two friends who’ve been up that way found a good way to get around the bluffs by traversing to the east. We made the mistake of getting to a point that couldn’t be downclimbed without having first explored around the bottom for a better approach. I consider myself, and not Chris, responsible for this mistake.
Now came a very rewarding moment: at the top of the highest bluff was a beautiful open ledge with a large cairn. All of the off-trail routes to the Chimneys, including the officially banned Essary Route, seem to converge at this spot.
Above the cairn, we crossed the geological divide between sandstone and Anakeesta. There were a few more bluffs, but each time it was possible to traverse to the left (east). We got into the really fun part, coming out onto open rock and scrambling up the wonderful Anakeesta formations that have such beautiful handholds and footholds.
We came out on the north Chimney and paused to enjoy it before heading over the rocky exposed ridge to the tourist Chimney. From there we descended via the trail, stopping along the way to look for the Confederate Cherokee Burial Ground I’d read about. I had heard it was a short distance up the Road Prong trail. We hunted around for it but didn’t find it.
We knew we’d have to scout our hike again. Should we make another try at the Fort Harry route, looking for a better way up the cliffs? We had only one particular weekend to work with for a second scouting trip—we were running up against the deadline for getting a writeup to Charlie Klabunde for the SMHC newsletter—and we decided to be conservative and scout another route we knew would be easier: starting at the Chimneys picnic area and following the left fork of the West Prong tributary that flows through there. This time, Ben Bacot joined us for the fun. I did not take any pictures on this hike.
I arrived to meet Chris and Ben suffering from a severe sleep deficit caused by staying out late the night before celebrating the acceptance of my book for publication. My brain was having a lot of trouble getting in gear, which was soon evident when I became confused about which car(s) needed to be taken down to the picnic area and which one(s) needed to be left at the Chimneys trailhead. Fortunately, the confusion didn’t lead to the ultimate car shuttle fiasco, in which the driver of the end-point car fails to carry the car key along on the hike. (It’s happened.) Further brain fuzz became evident when I was attempting to use my compass and had the needle lined up with South instead of North. I do actually (most of the time) know how to use a compass.
But the route was not complicated, and we walked through beautiful open woods filled with tall white violets. The only annoyance was the ample quantity of nettles. Although Ben was wearing shorts, he was very stoical about the constant stinging of his legs. We ran into a belt of thick rhodo right below the ridge, but worked through it and came out at the same cairn. The upper part of the ridge featured cushions of sand myrtle in bloom, arranged artfully against masses of reindeer moss.
We had a great time. A gallery of viewers was watching us from the tourist Chimney as we approached the north Chimney, but they were disappointed when we sat down to have lunch and they couldn’t pepper us with questions.
I had obtained new information that said the Confederate Cherokee Burial Ground was not up the Road Prong trail but to the right (west) of the Chimneys trail just below the Road Prong junction. We looked. We didn’t find it, although we did spot a very interesting rock with thin, straight white bands running across it. Maybe I’ll just tell the group that the banded rock is the grave marker.