Various ailments in Bearpen Hollow June 20, 2010Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Bearpen Hollow, Mt. LeConte, West Point
On a warm summer day, I and off-trail enthusiast Chris Sass set forth to climb Bearpen Hollow to LeConte. He had never been up this route before, and I had last been up it in, I think, 1983—a very long time ago! But this massive combined ignorance did not deter us from our objective of conquering this stream.
The stream is not a very large one, having a relatively small area of drainage, and we worked our way up over the mossy rocks fairly easily until things started closing in and there were blowdowns and rhodo hanging over the stream. I thought the left bank looked better. In hindsight, I feel that might have been a nearly fatal error. I think I must have gone up the right bank on that hike 27 years ago—at least, I don’t remember it being nearly as hard.
We passed a massive tulip poplar with a trunk that flared out at the bottom.
After a while of making what seemed like progress, we ran into a situation that seemed to continue for a long time. We had climbed high enough that we were above the elevation of waterflow in the streambed, but now we found ourselves in a deep, narrow trough full of nettles and blackberry. When we tried to go up on the bank, we found it inhabited by dense colonies of rhodo. But, not easily deterred, we persisted. Around the 5300 foot level, it abruptly became very steep, and we added slimy layers of Anakeesta to the mix of vegetation. We heaved ourselves up over the rock, holding onto handy rhodo branches here and there.
After a while the grade relented and we found ourselves in a nearly level glade of ferns that looked almost silver in the sun.
And here for the first time we followed a clearly defined ridge that led north to West Point. We saw some beautiful blossoms. I believe this is Rhododendron minus.
It was somewhere around here that our various physical ailments caught up to us. I was suffering from the aftereffects of a severe bout of insomnia the night before (this happens to me from time to time), and was experiencing a lethargy that was compounded by foot and leg cramps. I knew I had to drink more water on this warm summer day, so Chris and I both stopped and pounded down some water. It was about ten minutes afterward that Chris said he thought he might have drunk his water too fast. He looked very uncomfortable. A severe queasiness had set in.
But we persisted. I think Chris was putting a pretty brave face on the situation of a rebellious stomach. I went ahead for a bit to give him and his stomach some privacy, and we met up again on the top of West Point.
Then it was just a matter of pushing our way east from West Point to the upper Alum Cave trail. We definitely saw lots of signs that people had been along that ridge before. There were pruned branches, bits of faded flagging, and the signs on the ground of trampling by hiking boots. I would be interested if anyone can fill me in on this. West Point is not a “legitimate” 6000 footer, is it, even though it measures 6344? Doesn’t it have an “inadequate col”? Why are people going out this ridge?
After a few struggles to stay on the ridgecrest in spots where blocks of Anakeesta loomed up before us, we finally arrived on the Alum Cave trail and saw many hikers pass by. We rested there quite a while in the effort to recover from our ailments. Then we wended our way down the trail. I amused myself by locating the top of the manways to Big Duck Hawk and Little Duck Hawk even though those ridges are now “off-limits.”
We saw a beautiful laurel near Inspiration Point, completely dense with blossoms. The laurel seems to operate in increments of five: the blossom forms a pentagon, there are indentations in between that form ten points altogether, it’s all about the number five and its multiples.
From there it was a quick walk down to the trailhead.