West Prong in fog and rain October 8, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Anthony Creek trail, Bote Mountain trail, Defeat Ridge cross-trail, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, West Prong
This hike on the West Prong of the Little River is a good one for people who enjoy following old manways and logging grades. When we scouted it in May, we took the Bote Mountain and West Prong trails down to backcountry campsite 18, then followed a combination of logging grades and fishermen’s trails south along the stream. We looked for the old unmaintained cross-trail that fords the stream on its way over to Defeat Ridge, but we way overshot our goal and ended up doing a marathon rhodo-crawl up to the Bote Mountain ridge.
The scouted route shows up on the map as a pinkish red GPS track. The rhodo crawl portion is the segment going west near the southern end of our trip. (The far northern portion of the route is not shown on this map.)
My front leader, Clyde Austin, went back with a couple of other people, doing the top part of the route in the opposite direction. They were easily able to find the point where the cross-trail hits Bote Mountain, exactly opposite where the Anthony Creek trail comes in. That route is shown in yellow. You see that it contours along and hits the stream to the south. It is somewhat difficult to see from the stream.
Clyde and I met at Schoolhouse Gap for the official Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing amidst dense fog and drizzle, uncertain whether we would have any takers for the trip on this bad weather day. But out of the gloom emerged Hiram Rogers, Mike Harrington, and Andy Zimmerman, unfazed by the conditions. We reached the Anthony – Bote junction at 10:00 and proceeded down the cross-trail, making good progress along the clearly discernible dug-out trail with just a few awkward side-hilling spots.
The going got much tougher once we reached the stream. It seemed more difficult than I’d remembered from the May scouting trip. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the wet conditions with visibility so poor that it was hard to read the vegetation in the surrounding terrain: was the small opening that we detected a passageway to open, easy going, or was it merely a brief interruption that would dump us immediately back into the arms of Rhodo Beast? Also, I recall that in May we were able to travel up the stream itself some of the way in the southern part of the route, but this time the water was too high for that. So we proceeded from one rhodo thicket to another, each of us groping for a good passage and calling out to the others.
We moved very slowly. As I recall, it took us about three and a half hours to go two miles. We stopped for a sodden lunch, then pushed on, finding somewhat better conditions in the vicinity of Long Cove Creek.
It was at that point that I suggested bailing out of the stream valley and heading up to the Bote Mountain ridge. I was feeling uncomfortably chilly, and the slow pace did not allow me to warm up. The others generously accepted my plan even though I think some would have preferred to continue along the stream. I would have been willing to go out by myself, but they did not accept that idea.
They did, however, put me at the front of the group as we sought a reasonable route out of the valley. I joked that they only did that so that they could have me to blame if we ended up in another marathon rhodo-crawl. I must say that things did not look very promising as I picked out a slight gap in the vegetation and started climbing through a stand of spindly laurel.
Clyde had been saying that he hates laurel even more than rhodo, but I think laurel varies quite a bit in its difficulty. True, dense scrub laurel on exposed ridgecrests is just about impossible. But this was relatively wimpy laurel, easy to push through.
Along the way we passed some stands of solid blueberry shrubs with brilliant fall foliage, and in another, rather unusual discovery, we encountered a piece of siding that had apparently been flung into the mountains either by the spring 2011 tornadoes or this summer’s intense July 5 storm. Following a narrow ridge that led to Hickory Tree Gap, we climbed over a series of small knobs and—just at the point where we were starting to wonder—we dumped out onto the trail. From there it was an uneventful trip back to the cars, with some very pretty views across to splotches of color along the West Prong valley.
Styx Branch and Spruce Flats Branch back-to-back February 26, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: High Top slide, Lynn Camp Prong, Meigs Mountain road, Mt. LeConte, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, Spruce Flats Branch, Styx Branch, Tremont
This was a study in contrasts. Up Styx Branch on LeConte in fog and sleet one day, up Spruce Flats Branch at Tremont in blustery sunshine the next.
Styx was an aborted mission for me. Yes, it happened again, for the first time since early November—my knee popped out of joint. I was wearing the brace, but I’d gotten lazy about it and hadn’t tightened it as much as it should have been, not liking the constricted feeling it can give me.
Therefore I’m not as discouraged about it as I might be, because I believe that if I use the brace properly, this will not keep happening.
Dave and Seth and I were following a small tributary of Styx that hits the Alum Cave trail at about 5600′, just below where the trail makes a sharp switchback and heads over to the drainage of Trout Branch. Dave has developed a route that goes to the switchback (which he calls the Devil’s Elbow) and then, after a very short stretch on the trail, departs to climb a slide up to High Top. The tributary might be given the unfortunate name of “Toilet Roll Creek,” because the helicopter that supplies the Lodge miscalculated the drop point and managed to drop two large cases of toilet rolls into the streambed. Other than that minor detail, it is a nice, exhilarating example of high creek climbs in the Huggins Hell area.
After my knee popped out, we decided the smartest thing was to angle to the left to hit the trail at the closest point. We climbed up a steep rubbly slope covered with moss, blackberries, and witch hobble.
I’ve found that I can actually use blackberry canes to pull myself up in places like this. As long as I don’t give them an abrupt tug, they don’t come out by the roots.
These photos may give the impression of ugly conditions, but as I watched streamers of mist flowing up the valleys, I felt it was actually beautiful. Streams and mist, fog and water in all its forms, are the essence of the Smokies.
At the trail I turned to descend, while Dave and Seth continued on to the High Top slide. I walked down slowly, feeling my knee starting to stiffen. At Inspiration Point the mist briefly turned over to sleet. A family of Floridians was there, marvelling at the “hail.” Three teenage boys in the group wore only t-shirts and weren’t carrying any extra layers.
The next day I was scheduled to co-lead a hike for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club with Michael Vaughn over in the Tremont area. That part of the Smokies is such a haul from Asheville that I’d figured I’d spend the night at a motel in Townsend. However, since I got down from the Styx hike by mid-afternoon, I decided I might as well go back home.
I felt that, as far as my knee was concerned, one way or another I would meet my commitment with the group. Went home, got to bed early, set the alarm for 4:30, and headed over through the dark, empty Pigeon River Gorge.
It worked out fine. My knee was stiff and I moved awkwardly, but I wasn’t in pain at all. We had 20 people turn out for the outing on this chilly but mostly sunny day. The route was from the Tremont Institute to Spruce Flats Falls, up the well-defined manway along Spruce Flats Branch to Buckhorn Gap, over to Upper Buckhorn Gap, and down the old overgrown Meigs Mountain road.
We opted not to ford Lynn Camp Prong at the end—water levels were somewhat high, and it would have been a foot-numbing experience. So instead we dropped steeply off Wilkinson Ridge along a route kindly marked for us with a cairn by Gretchen, a.k.a. Slowalk, who’d just been there with the “Thursday hikers.” This took us to a point just downstream of the bridge, in other words, to a place where the road was on the “right” side of the stream instead of the “wrong” side.
After reaching the falls, we went up the manway and saw many artifacts from logging operations of the Little River Company.
We crossed the stream many times.
A large grate called forth inconclusive speculation about its purpose.
Our group photographed and contemplated the grate.
We made the final steep ascent to Buckhorn Gap amidst slippery oak leaves and opted to have lunch in a more sheltered spot, as the wind was gusting through. We found a good patch of sunshine out of the wind and stopped there before moving on a short distance to Upper Buckhorn. The slightly confusing thing about the old Meigs Mountain road is that it does not descend down an obvious draw very close to the start point but actually climbs a short slope before making a long sidehilling descent. This had bamboozled me and Michael when we scouted it, but this day we found it with no problem—Michael had gone back to investigate.
I will say that when doing one of these unmaintained routes that sidehills a long time, either your left foot or your right foot takes a continuous beating because of the way the trail or road has started to slide off the mountain! But we were rewarded with some lovely views of scuttling clouds and shifting light and shadow.
I got to know some great people on this outing, and I declare that the day was a success.
The lure of Eagle Rocks November 18, 2010Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Black Cliff, Dutch Roth, Eagle Rocks, Eagle Rocks Prong, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, Woolly Tops
For years I have been intrigued by the idea of following Eagle Rocks Prong all the way up to the A.T.—up the Eagle Rocks cliffs themselves. A year ago, a group of five attempted to go over the top of Woolly Tops, down into a tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong, and then up to the cliffs. After spending a night on Woolly Tops, we had to abort our plans because of high water conditions. The rhodo was too thick on the streambanks, the water on our minor side stream too fast and too high to wade.
Now there are rumblings of another attempt to be made next spring. It remains to be seen whether we will actually be able to coordinate schedules for what now looks like could be a three-day trip, going up the Prong, camping at the base of the cliffs, going up the cliffs and back down for a second night, then going back out the Prong with a possible side trip to Rock Den on Chapman Prong.
The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club did this trip back in the 30s and 40s, following an old footpath along the stream that was already hard to find back then. We’ll assume that above Buck Fork or so, there is no trace at all of any path. Here is a description of a 1942 trip from Harvey Broome in Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies:
The next day we walked up Eagle Rocks Prong along the old trail which is so far gone that we were off it as often as we were on it… At the Laurel Top fork we took to the creek, and skirted great pools as we moved readily along the dry rocks at the edges. We climbed gradually through comparative flats and open woods until the Stateline loomed ahead of us, appallingly steep. At the first great cliff, lying close to its base, we found snow—a drift 40 feet long and two feet thick. There was momentarily a wintry sting to the air. We climbed the spikes of a leaning spruce and surmounted the first falls. Once we pushed over a loose rock which dropped with sickening momentum, hit with a splintering crunch and bounded on, gaining speed as it fell. It was frightening even to think of falling in such places. Then we saw the Black Cliff—a dry, warm, gnarled, lichen-covered surface with the water trickling in a fissure at the side. The cliff opened out over a gulf so steep we could look into the tops of trees, and on across a wide-flung blue world of mountains.
You can see Dutch Roth’s photo of hikers, probably SMHC members, climbing a cliff in the area here. It’s fun to read about these trips from the middle decades of the last century. One of the people who plans to do the trip next spring stumbled across an article about a trip done up the Prong in 1956 using equipment that sounds outlandish to us now, such as a “Trapper Nelson packboard.” Reading that whets the appetite to explore what could be considered the wildest, most rugged area of the park. And so, as I go through the winter months ahead, I will have this wonderful place to think about.