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Old Black via Indian Camp Creek May 9, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Alan on the steep upper slope below the A.T.

This off-trail hike was an exploration up a beautiful stream that drains the northwest side of Old Black in the eastern Smokies, elev. 6370.  The valley of Indian Camp Creek leads through spacious open woods remarkably free of rhododendron or other obstructions.  On a day of changing weather in early May, we climbed through shades of green that grew steadily brighter.

Alan Householder and Dick Ketelle were the leaders of this outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club in which ten people participated.  The dimensions of the hike were substantial, 14 miles and 4530 feet of climbing, but I wouldn’t put it into the same category of difficulty as certain other off-trail hikes with similar vertical, such as following any of the long streams that drain the Greenbrier side of LeConte.  The lack of brush not only made for easier going, but it meant we didn’t need to rockhop up the stream.

A cold front was sweeping across the mountains as we started up the Maddron Bald trail under cloudy skies with spots of drizzle.  We climbed at a brisk pace until we reached the crossing of Indian Camp Creek at 3840 feet, where we left the trail to follow the creek.  At 4280 feet, we reached a junction where two forks of the stream glided down over dark jumbled angular boulders.  We took the right fork to aim directly for what Alan called “the meadow” below Old Black.

Looking up the right fork at 4280'

The masses of cloud were thinning as they swept in swirling, boiling patterns over the top of the mountain.  The  sunlight started breaking through, in fits and starts at first, like a balky, sputtering motor, then beaming down everywhere in radiant brightness.

Continuing along the stream

As we climbed, we time-travelled back into early spring.  Here are some umbrella-leaf plants we saw at about 4500 feet:

And here is an umbrella-leaf in its earliest stage of unfurling, above 5500 feet:

The slope followed the typical profile of the Smoky Mountains, getting steeper and steeper toward the top of the stateline ridge.  We emerged in Alan’s meadow, which was drenched in sunshine, and reached the A.T. at 6200 feet.

Climbing through the meadow to the A.T.

We lunched on the A.T. amidst the chilly winds of the newly minted weather, then followed a manway through blowdowns to reach the summit of Old Black, marked by a rockpile.

Summit rockpile of Old Black

Then we followed the A.T. northeast to Yellow Creek Gap, where we dropped down steeply into the valley of Otter Creek.  It shares the same kind of magical open woods with Indian Camp Creek and the stream in between the two, Copperhead Branch.

We stopped to bask in the sun at Otter Creek.

No otters, just basking humans

Not far below, we reached the Maddron Bald trail at Campsite 29 and followed it through giant tulip poplars and dead hemlocks, then the spindlier forest of the lower slopes, back down to the cars.

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Comments»

1. kaslkaos - May 11, 2010

Umbrella leafed plant looks like mayapple? As usual, astounding scenery. I live in flatland, obviously.

Jenny - May 11, 2010

Umbrella leaf and may apple are both in the barberry family, oddly enough. The umbrella leaf can get to be two feet tall.

2. tom lundberg - May 26, 2010

nice description and pix. i wish i could’ve made that hike. i did enjoy a brief late afternoon hike north from sam’s gap that day.

Jenny - May 27, 2010

Thanks, Tom! So you had the good weather for your late-day outing.


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