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Cataclysm below Porters Gap February 10, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,

rain-cloudThis describes the second half of the hike up Lester Prong to the Jumpoff.

We all felt very pleased with ourselves at having made it to the Jumpoff by such a ingenious route.  But we could not bask in our glory very long—we could not bask in the sun, either, because we were enshrouded in fog—we had to get back off the mountain.  Charlie had scouted an alternative to the familiar Dry Sluice manway.  We would walk along the AT a mile past Dry Sluice Gap to Porters Gap, then drop down off the trail to get into the drainage of Porter Creek’s east fork, meeting up with the manway where the two forks converged.  The advantages over the upper manway: not as steep and eroded, and… it would be something new we hadn’t done before.

So we marched along until Charlie recognized the spot where he had dropped down before.  We made good progress through open woods down a slope that drops 1000 feet in a half mile, compared with 1000 feet in a third of a mile on the manway.  Then through the trees we noticed something strange downslope from us.   The normal color of the woods was suddenly broken by a big gash of brownish red, the color of raw dirt.  In a few minutes we stood at the upper limit of a stream valley that had been completely scoured out by a flash flood.  It had happened during the heavy rains of the night before.

Sometime during the dark hours, a massive raincloud had become a force of pure destruction focused on that particular valley.  While all of the Greenbrier had experienced a deluge, it was only in the east fork of Porters Creek that some sort of steep geometrical progression of intensity occurred, some piling of forces on top of forces to the point of a cataclysm.

This was a return visit to the washout, around 1993

This was a return visit to the washout, around 1993

We picked our way down into the reamed-out streambed.  Every tree up to about 15 or 20 feet up the streambanks had been completely removed.  Not broken off, not knocked over—removed.  Every stone had been scoured of its moss, every bit of vegetation erased.  We walked down this big, ugly, raw, muddy trench for about half a mile, and eventually we found where the trees had gone.  It was a massive logjam, piled up way over head-high, and the whole place smelled like a lumber yard.  The bark had been peeled off every single tree that I could see.  It took a while for us to get past this obstruction.

Below the logjam, things looked normal again, and we joined the manway.  From there we followed the cairns, made the fords (water still too high to rock-hop), and finally got back down the Porters Creek trail to our cars.  Quite a day!

I tried to imagine what that upper valley would have been like during that violent flash flood.  Certainly, no human being could have survived there.  At times the power of nature is beyond comprehension, and somehow, I believe, that is good.

Side valley on East Fork

Side valley on east fork. We went up this way on the return visit.


1. kaslkaos - February 13, 2009

Wow, that storm image is gorgeous. The worse they are, the better they look, somehow. And yes, I agree with your last statement. Somehow in a world that we humans seemingly dominate, I also find it reassuring to see that evidence that we are not (until I’m really on the receiving end, I guess).
You have exciting adventures.

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