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Various ailments in Bearpen Hollow June 20, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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View toward Cliff Top from near 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.

Impressive tulip poplar

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.

Ferns in the sunshine

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.

I loved the color of these blossoms

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.

The magnificent summit 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.

Laurel at Inspiration Point

From there it was a quick walk down to the trailhead.

View from near West Point

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Comments»

1. TWL - June 21, 2010

I pat myself on the back whenever I hike any of the trials to LeConte. I can’t imagine hiking LeConte off-trail.

Congratulations to you both!

And, intrepid writer, I have to believe you had a welcome deep sleep after an awesome hike like this!

Jenny - June 21, 2010

Well, LeConte is such an interesting mountain—it presents an incredible variety of approaches. For the off-trail hiker, there is the whole set of streams on the Greenbrier side (Cannon Creek, etc.), and all the streams on the Newfound Gap road side. Thanks for your comment, and I wish you a good time on any approaches to LeConte you might take.

2. Thomas Stazyk - June 23, 2010

Looks like a fantastic experience–great pictures.

3. Brian - June 28, 2010

I liked Bearpen Hollow itself, but yeah, the bit from the top of the hollow to West Point is too much a scratch fest to be any fun. I thought it was a surprisingly nice spot as well. Jenny DEMANDS to know who has been visiting this peak for no practical reason. Imagine that! Haha.

By the way the technical term for the flaring of the base of tree is “butt swell”. I think it’s kind of funny but it’s apparently a serious subject in the arcane world of big tree measurement. There’s quite a controversy about what state is home to the world record baldcypress tree. Florida promotes its venerable “Senator”, a redwood sized giant that has the biggest trunk east of the Sierras. However Louisiana has the official champion, a strange looking specimen with massive butt swell. The scoring system places great weight on the circumference at chest height so it wins on points. The Florida partisans have compared it to a big turnip.

Jenny - June 28, 2010

This is really funny! I’ve been doing some editing work for a journal of professional aesthetics (a subfield of philosophy). I think I should pose the question to them of which kind of tree is more worthy of admiration, the one with the massive but funny “butt swell” or the one that goes straight up but isn’t quite as wide at the bottom. I bet they would have some interesting ways of analyzing this!

4. Seth - July 14, 2010

I’ve been out west point twice from the trail. good view of cliff tops near the top. one trip out Doug convinced us to go down the north side drainage to the bull head trail. not recommended if you don’t like heights or seriously dangerous drop offs.

Jenny - July 14, 2010

Yeah, on the map it doesn’t look that bad (and it’s a very short distance), but though I haven’t made that exact connection, I know just from following the ridge that it is surprisingly steep around there. Doesn’t show up between the contour lines! The areas I’ve been the most are on the south side of West Point (Cole Creek, Bearpen Hollow, Trout Branch), and around Big Branch and Balsam Point (crossing the Bullhead trail).


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