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Climbing the “real” Charlies Bunion March 19, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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This is where it starts to get interesting

This is where it starts to get interesting

This post describes a hike done by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club up Charlies Bunion on April 10, 1988.  First, I have to explain what I mean by the “real” Bunion and the “tourist” Bunion.  The real Bunion is the large knife-edge ridge labelled as “Charlies Bunion” on the USGS Mt. Guyot quad.  The tourist Bunion is the popular destination just off the A.T. that has the little circular trail around the top.  It is just off the Guyot quad, on the extreme righthand edge of the LeConte quad.

I have also been up the tourist Bunion from the Greenbrier.  (You can read about those adventures here and here.) To get to the tourist Bunion from this approach, you take the second tributary of Lester Prong and climb up the ridge to your right.  To get to the real Bunion, you take the first tributary of Lester Prong and climb up the ridge to your left.

Partway up the tourist Bunion--I'll be writing about this in another post

Partway up the tourist Bunion–I’ve written about this in other posts (see links above)

Lester Prong might be the most interesting stream in the Smokies.  You start in the emerald depths of the Greenbrier, and you end on perpendicular crags of rotten Anakeesta shale.  I wrote in a recent post about how insight comes from connecting ideas that no one had previously thought of together.  That is mental adventure, and physical adventure is a kind of physical insight: starting here, you make a connection with there, a place you could hardly imagine when you started.  That is what makes it so wonderful.  By definition, these sorts of journeys are impossible to explain to people who haven’t been there.

I’m fortunate to have a set of pictures taken by Al Watson on the SMHC hike.  Al managed to document most of the outing except for the part where he was hanging onto the rocks with both hands.  Here are some of the group on the Dry Sluice manway after the first few stream crossings.

(From left) A visiting hiker, Jenny, Steve Higdon, Charlie Klabunde

(From left) A visiting hiker, Jenny, Steve Higdon, Charlie Klabunde

At the junction of Lester Prong with Porters Creek, we left the Dry Sluice manway and bore to the right.  We took the first tributary on the left.

This is the lower part of the tributary

This is the lower part of the tributary

We started to encounter steep cascades that glided over the layers of Anakeesta.

The hiker in the foreground has jeans, tennis shoes, and is carrying a shoulder bag instead of a pack.  He did just fine!

The hiker in the foreground has jeans, tennis shoes, and is carrying a shoulder bag instead of a pack. He did just fine!

We scrambled up beside more cascades as shown at the top of the post (the hikers in the top picture are Matt Kelleher and Dicky Simpson).  Then it was time to start the serious climb—out of the draw and up to the ridge.  Looking up from the bottom of the V-shaped valley, we faced a wide expanse of corrugated grayish-brown rock rising steeply above our heads.  Each person started maneuvering up along whichever route looked most appealing, or least horrible, depending on how you looked at it.  Soon all 15 of us were scuttling up toward the ridgecrest.

Al took this picture looking across the valley to terrain similar to what we climbed, but where we went up was more bare.

This is typical of the terrain in the upper valleys

This is typical of the terrain in the upper valleys

Once we reached the top of our climb, which was pretty much a fingers-and-toes deal, we arrived at the spine of the Bunion, which had a fair amount of vegetation along it.

Looking over to the tourist Bunion

Looking over to the tourist Bunion

We followed the ridgecrest up to the Appalachian Trail.

The spine of the Bunion

The spine of the Bunion

After relaxing for a while at an open spot near the A.T., we walked east on the trail about three-quarters of a mile to Porters Gap and descended by the east fork of Porters Creek.  Although four years had passed since a major washout in this valley, it still looked quite bare.  Since that time it has filled in quite a bit with blackberry and other vegetation.

You can make out a hiker descending the washout

You can make out a hiker descending the washout (there’s a zoom magnifier for all of these pictures)

We finally returned to the Porters Creek trail and enjoyed the beautiful April wildflowers.  Another more sensible group in the club had made its annual pilgrimage to Porters Flats to see the flowers.  Our hike was the “alternate” hike!

Triillium grandiflorum, one of the ten trilliums of the Smokies

Triillium grandiflorum, one of the ten trilliums of the Smokies

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Comments»

1. LEO PROFFITT - August 26, 2009

I WORK DOING TRAIL MAINTANCE IN THE GREAT SMOKEY MOUNTAINS NPS THIS I THINK IS PIX OF THE OLD MANWAY AT PORTERS CREEK

Jenny - August 26, 2009

Hi Leo,

Our route started with the old manway but then went a different direction where Lester Prong comes in to Porters Creek. At that point we left the old manway and went up Lester Prong to a side stream that led up to the Bunion. The manway comes up east of the “real Bunion” instead of up the draw west of it described here.

I used to do trail maintenance in the GSMNP, too. I had a section of the A.T. between Sasafrass Gap and Doe Knob.

Take care,

–Jenny

2. Al - April 14, 2014

On one of my Trailways Bus trips in the 40s I went out to the bunion. On that trail that avoids the most exposed area that leads to the right I found a path that took me up to the top most place you can reach. There was some kind of wind experiment located there. It looked like a bird house and had a shaft and propeller. There was a small note book there too. I still have a B and W picture of this object.

Jenny - April 15, 2014

Al, was this the bus that went from Asheville to Gatlinburg? The wartime SMHC handbooks talked about that, because of gas rationing. But you would’ve come from Bryson, I’d guess.

Al - April 15, 2014

I am not sure where the bus trip originated. I caught it in Bryson City and went to Cherokee where we had a layover and then on to the Gap. I guess it went on down to Gatlinburg from there. These trips were all in the late forties after the war was over. I remember gas rationing from living in Tampa during the war. The family had an “A” sticker on our 1931 Buick.


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