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.
The crag in fog March 26, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Charlies Bunion, Lester Prong, Newfound Gap, Porters Creek
My good hiking buddy Chris and I decided to visit what is called by some the “Real Bunion” and by others “Rocky Crag.” The Real Bunion designation comes from looking at the USGS Mt. Guyot quad, which puts the “Charlies Bunion” label squarely on a ridge that practically no one ever goes to, in contrast to the destination of that name that is visited by many people.
We picked a date. The forecast called for 30% chance of rain showers. In one sense we lucked out—it was raining hard on the drive over, but the rain stopped before we met at Newfound Gap. In another sense, we didn’t luck out at all—we were shrouded in dense fog throughout most of our hike except where we dipped down below about 4500′.
Our original plan was to go out on the A.T. to Porters Gap and drop down the East Fork of Porters. But the unfavorable conditions and the likelihood of slow going in streams running high led us to opt for a shorter route via the Dry Sluice manway. The steep upper slopes were decorated with white foaming rivulets everywhere.
The footing on the upper manway is never easy, and the wetness made it extra slippery. But we descended without incident, as the expression goes. (“Incident” always means something negative, for some reason.)
Once we reached Porters Creek, we walked through carpets of wildflowers: up at this elevation just getting going, so down at Porters Flats the blooms must be going crazy.
I didn’t succeed in keeping my feet dry doing the rockhop up Lester Prong.
We turned up our tributary and reached the beautiful cascade not far above the junction.
The rock beside the cascade makes a lovely staircase for climbing. I apologize for the blurry photos—my fingers were frozen and I had a hard time holding the camera steady.
Just above the cascade, we followed a nifty corridor of open woods between big communities of rhodo. We reached the ridgetop and followed it over its lumps and bumps.
What’s great about the ridge is that despite the steepness and the exposure, you always have friendly Anakeesta handholds or convenient vegetation to hold onto.
We worked our way steadily toward the prominent crag.
We will come back on a sunny day when the myrtle is blooming.
Chris has some great photos of the outing here.
No more bushwhacking for a bit November 5, 2011Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: knee problem, Lester Prong, Porters Creek
My knee problem of the past few months has reached the point where I’ll have to consult a specialist. The brace I’ve been wearing hasn’t prevented it from popping out of joint, and today, on a hike up Lester Prong to the Jumpoff, it popped out severely enough that I had to turn around a short distance up the Dry Sluice manway. I’m glad my four hiking companions were able to continue without me, and I look forward to hearing how it went. I’ve been there twice before, and none of them have—I wanted to share it with them.
I’m determined to get this problem solved, one way or another. If it by chance means surgery, I’ll do that, because I will not let this part of my life stop. I believe I’ll be able to continue with trail hiking in the meantime. It’s bending the knee at the strange angles required by off-trail that causes the problem. But then, a lot of strange things are required in that kind of hiking—that’s why I love it so much.
I’ve had some fabulous bushwhacking experiences this year, as much as anyone could ask for. Today, on my way out, I stopped beside Porters Creek and meditated a short while. I’ll be back.