Above LeConte February 5, 2013Posted by Jenny in nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Cannon Creek, Little Duck Hawk, Mt. LeConte, Myrtle Point, peregrine falcon
In dim swirls of sleep I dreamed I saw the top of Mt. LeConte from high above. In the way that dreams unfold without a pause or question, I knew I was a peregrine. I could hear the air flow evenly beneath my wings as I dipped to circle toward the mountain.
Sharp early-morning sunlight cast sheet-metal shadows. Every tree-furred valley folded neatly into place. Now I saw the streams that glimmered in the pouring light, the pools and waterfalls. I could see the water glide beneath the branching architecture of the trees.
As I banked and turned at Myrtle Point, I passed the glint of Cannon Creek. I saw its source quite clearly: tiny droplets percolating one by one from damp moss cushions in a balsam’s dark-blue shadow. I counted off LeConte’s twelve streams, turned sharp, and rode the air that flowed across the backs of mountains.
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Roaring Fork June 18, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Grotto Falls, Ken Wise, Mt. LeConte, Roaring Fork, Trillium Gap trail
This was a trip up LeConte that left the Trillium Gap trail at Grotto Falls and followed Roaring Fork to its headwaters. Brian Worley and I were scouting the route for an outing with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club that we will lead July 8. The SMHC does this hike every five or six years—it’s a classic. Roaring Fork tumbles over an endless series of cascades from its very steep heights. If you look at a contour map, you’ll see that the section in the mid 5000′ range is especially vertical.
I have only a handful of photos, and most of them are fogged. Well, that’ll give you a better idea of the damp, mysterious nature of these hidden realms! By the time we reached the top of LeConte, we were soaking wet, though it hadn’t rained—a combination of moving through dense and damp vegetation, climbing up wet rocks, and plain old sweat! Some of the people we saw up by the lodge looked concerned and asked us, “What happened to you? Are you okay?”
Not far above Grotto Falls is a cascade that flows into a deep pool.
At 4600′ we looked for a major split in the stream. The left fork goes up a valley that intersects a switchback on the Trillium Gap trail, climbing less steeply and hitting the upper T.G. trail northeast of the lodge. The right fork has the big waterfalls on it. This is where we had what I will call the Ken Wise Distraction. Wise’s elegantly written book about Smokies trails includes a description of what he calls the Roaring Fork trail—although it is not a trail. He talks about Twin Falls and Dome Falls, which sources agree are on the right fork. But his directions call for going to the left and eventually hitting the Trillium Gap trail 0.6 miles below Roaring Fork’s source at Basin Springs. He doesn’t mention the lower meeting of the left fork with the trail’s switchback at 5200′. I am still puzzled about all this.
We took the right fork and came to a waterfall well over 100′ high. This might have been Twin Falls—but I’m not sure. I arrive at that conclusion simply because of its height, not because it fits the description in other respects. But maybe there’s no need to obsess about the “correct name” for a waterfall rather than simply enjoying it.
Eventually we reached the top, encountering a bit of vegetation along the way.
As we sat on a bench having something to eat, a familiar-looking person came by. It was Alan Householder, who ran the llama trains up to the lodge before a hiking accident in New Zealand did in an already troublesome knee. He has many hiking achievements to his credit and has explored off-trail all over the Park. He recognized me and said he had my book, “Murder at the Jumpoff,” with him up there—would I sign it? Of course, I was delighted to do so!
Playing the Styx Branch game May 11, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Huggins Hell, Mt. LeConte, Myrtle Point, Styx Branch
Warning: Tedious navigational details ahead.
We didn’t quite achieve our objective of coming out right at Myrtle Point, but we came close. We hit the spur trail to the Point maybe 20 feet away. This has become sort of a game.
For those who haven’t followed descriptions of earlier expeditions, I’m talking about following Styx Branch through the area called Huggins Hell to get to the top of LeConte.
The first time, I went with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club on a trip that was supposed to go up the left fork but accidentally went up the right fork. We landed way to the east of Myrtle Point on the Boulevard ridge. The second time, I went with Seth O’ Shields and Dave Landreth up what I thought was the left fork but now believe was a variation of the right fork, staying on a course of about 17 degrees and following a small split in the stream instead of bending east with the right fork. We hit the Boulevard ridge much closer to Myrtle Point, but still to the east of it. The third time, I went with Chris Sass, Seth, and a friend of Seth’s. We started up the same route as the previous time but landed further away from Myrtle Point. This last time, we finally went up the left fork…
The forks split, and split, and split again. What looks at first glance on the map to be a simple stream valley proves to have small indentations that diverge from it—side valleys that don’t carry enough water to rate blue lines on the map. But one of the odd things about Styx is that often those upper valleys have more water flowing through them than the main stem, where the water flows invisibly deep underneath stacks of geological rubble that have been carried down over the years in mighty floods.
The other thing that makes Styx a challenge is that the critical junction, the one at 4700′ between the left and right forks, lies close to several other draws that come in nearby. In fact, the junction is fairly obvious, but I’d been outsmarting myself by deciding that was not the correct one. It was partly because the left fork takes a course of 350 degrees up to above 5000′, but right at the very start it’s more like 320 degrees, and the right fork seems at first to run closer to the correct course.
I know, all you GPS users are laughing!
On our recent outing, we walked up and down around the junction, checked out different possibilities, and once we angled over to the left fork from one of the little draws, we actually walked back down it to confirm its appearance at the main stream.
The left fork is worth the trouble to follow. Above 5000′, it tumbles down over a series of lovely cascades. There is a great split at 5700′. We went to the right, working around the steep base of a giant unclimbable bulge, slithering on shards of loose Anakeesta. We then climbed steeply through different bands of vegetation offered up like flavors on a menu: grass mixed with blackberries that you could use to pull yourself up, groves of spindly spruce, great spongy swathes of moss, carpets of perennial wildflowers not yet in bloom, and finally—what told us we were zeroing in on Myrtle Point—aromatic Rhodendron minus that grew in a dense interlocking barrier. At one point close to the top, I watched Chris working through it on his back, his legs pushing against the tangled branches to propel himself forward.
Our goodnatured companion Jim uttered a few curses as he fought through the barrier, but he emerged victorious and seemed satisfied to have conquered Myrtle Point. It was his first climb of LeConte.
We climbed in drizzle and fog the whole way up, and none of us took pictures along the way. It was chilly on Myrtle Point. After stopping for something to eat, we headed over to the lodge for some hot chocolate. As we sat in front of the heater in the lodge, Chris and Jim shared hilarious stories about some of their associates on the faculty of Young Harris College.
This is the second hike in recent months where I’ve had serious problems with my fingers. My gloves get saturated, the activated charcoal handwarmers I carry don’t work when they’re wet, and my problem with Reynaud’s Syndrome becomes apparent. I’ve finally learned the lesson that even in temperatures above 50 degrees I need to have waterproof gloves available. My fingers stayed so stiff even all the way down that I could unlock my car only by pressing the key between my palms and turning it with my whole hands.
But as we descended the Alum Cave trail, the clouds thinned and all of the intricate, green, furry ridges emerged from the gloom, those distinctive places like Big Duck Hawk and Anakeesta Ridge. There’s no other place like this.