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Mt. LeConte via Styx Branch July 26, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Chris Sass and Ed Fleming above right fork of Styx Branch

Seven people went on this outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Our goal was to climb the left fork of Styx Branch to Myrtle Point. But in fact we climbed the right fork of Styx Branch to a side ridge east of Myrtle Point—even better!

"Crossing the Styx" by Gustave Dore

Styx Branch is not only a nice little stream, it may also be the only stream in the Smokies that bears a name from Greek mythology. The area through which it flows is known as Huggins Hell, and its name is very appropriately borrowed from the River Styx, by which sinners and evildoers of all stripes enter their new residence for eternity. It joins Alum Cave Creek below Arch Rock.

We left the trail for the creek at the bridged crossing just above Arch Rock. The rockhopping was so easy due to the low water levels that it almost felt like cheating.

Low water level in Styx Branch

The only real navigational challenge of this outing was to follow the correct fork at the split around 4800 feet. Our leaders, Ed Fleming and Mark Shipley, had scouted the hike in April and found the left fork without any problem. We stopped at the approximate elevation and turned to the left where another small flow of water came in on the right. It must have been a minor side branch. I’ve made that kind of mistake myself. As we continued along, Ed and Mark commented that the way looked unfamiliar—a sandstone cliff ran along the right side, and they didn’t recall having seen that before. Then, when the stream made a distinct turn to the east, we had the proof that we were in the righthand fork.

No problem. After a while we got up on a ridge to the right that looked like good going, and on the other side of that we could see an open slide area. We climbed up the slide for a bit.

Slide on slope southeast of Myrtle Point

We reached a grassy area above the slide.

The grass made for a short stretch of easy going

Eventually we topped out on a ridge that runs parallel to and just south of the Boulevard trail. We could see how far we would need to travel along the ridge to get to Myrtle Point.

Looking along ridge to Myrtle Point

Eventually we decided to drop down to the trail, which runs very close to the ridge. The way down was steep and rough. Just as we came out on the path, Jim Quick came along. He was the rear leader of another bunch of SMHC hikers who were going up LeConte via the trail.

Soon we arrived at Myrtle Point and met the rest of the trail hikers. We relaxed and had lunch.

View from Myrtle Point

From there we descended by the Alum Cave trail. But my day was not over. I headed over to the Chimneys trail and climbed up to the top to meet some friends who were coming up off-trail from the Chimneys picnic area.

Not long after I got to the top of the first chimney, I heard some animated voices coming through the underbrush and caught the sound of a strangely familiar, slightly maniacal laugh. Soon I saw Greg Harrell, Keith Oakes, and Greg Hoover striding purposefully over the rocks to the outer chimney, and then they made their way up to the first chimney. They wolfed down some large meaty sandwiches (I had no appetite whatsoever myself) and got into a discussion about whether there is any point in putting healthy items such as raisin bran into a trail mix. It appeared that there was in fact no point, since Hoover was tossing flakes of raisin bran into the underbrush and gulping down the M&Ms.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, all soft and hazy in the warm humid air, and the full moon popped over the top of Mt. Mingus and beamed at us radiantly. Mt. LeConte had a cap of cloud draped just over the very top (just large enough to cause irritation to sunset viewers at the Lodge). Tufts of fleecy cloud floated close to the moon. We explored the “window” below the chimney, and some students of Hoover’s joined us up there for a little while. We stayed until about 9:30 and descended with headlamps.

Sunset from Chimney Tops. Photo by Greg Harrell.


1. Thomas Stazyk - July 26, 2010

Great pictures as usual–and you make it sound so much fun and effortless even thought it probably involves a share of slips and slides.

BTW there is a River Styx in Ohio and also an Alum Creek–neither with as interesting topography, though.

2. Jenny - July 26, 2010

Fun yes, effortless no! That is interesting about the River Styx in Ohio. Do you know why it got that name? Obviously, the major candidate for the Styx name in Ohio would be the Cuyahoga, when it caught on fire!

Thomas Stazyk - July 28, 2010

Actually it’s a town named River Styx. I have no idea how it got it’s name. There is a cemetary there that is supposedly haunted but the name probably predates the cemetary.

Jenny - July 29, 2010

I googled the town of River Styx. Quite a place! Some say it got its name when early settlers burned a large tract of forest in an attempt to eradicate a rattlesnake den. In 1899, a train plunged over the bridge, and all escaped death except the engineer, who rather than jumping clear to safety, brought the train to a stop but was crushed by the locomotive when it fell. He was found “with his hand still gripping the throttle.” His ghost is said to haunt the bridge. I also found photographs of ghosts in the town cemetery. Well, they look like shapeless patches of fog to me, but who knows???

Thomas Stazyk - July 29, 2010

Thanks Jenny! My cousin lives fairly near there so I will see if he knows anything more next time I talk to him. As far as the “real” River Styx, I think that in Greek mythology, Achilles mother dipped him in the river when he was a baby and that’s how he became invulnerable. But she held him by the heel and that part didn’t get dipped–which gave him the Achilles heel.

3. Greg Hoover - July 28, 2010

There’s a Styx branch in hell, too. (I’m assuming that’s not the one in Ohio.) I don’t intend to visit it, but I know a few folks who probably will… eventually.

Jenny - July 28, 2010

Yeah, I knew it was located in Hell—that’s what I was getting at with my reference to “Huggins Hell.” What I don’t remember exactly is, do you cross it to enter Hell, or do you float down it? I vaguely recall a ferry service that new entrants to Hell have to take across the river. I saw a cartoon once that I loved—it showed a hopeful-looking sinner leading a group of fellow wrongdoers to the gates of Hell, saying cheerfully to the others, “Now remember—stay hydrated!”

Jenny - July 29, 2010

I’ve added one artist’s interpretation of the River Styx to the post. It seems the Greeks pictured it as one of several rivers flowing through the underworld, while in Christian times, it was seen more as a boundary that had to be crossed.

4. kaslkaos - July 30, 2010

I love your top photograph, the backlight & low angle captures the spirit of adventure.
I love the thought of an actual river named Styx, way cool.

5. Ron - July 30, 2010

Looks like Greg Harrell has finally started taking my photo-tips serously!

Jenny - July 30, 2010

He seemed to think the photo was nothing special, but I like the large area of black and the way it contrasts with the gold color of the sunset.

6. Matt - August 19, 2010

Nice day! Think that a friend and I will be heading up that way on friday

Jenny - August 19, 2010

Great! Whichever fork you take of Styx Branch, it’ll be good.

7. Mike Landers - March 27, 2015

Thank you for sharing your hiking experiences! I think back country hikers are so cool. I’d love to learn those skills.

Have a great day!

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