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The lure of Eagle Rocks November 18, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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A tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong

For years I have been intrigued by the idea of following Eagle Rocks Prong all the way up to the A.T.—up the Eagle Rocks cliffs themselves. A year ago, a group of five attempted to go over the top of Woolly Tops, down into a tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong, and then up to the cliffs. After spending a night on Woolly Tops, we had to abort our plans because of high water conditions. The rhodo was too thick on the streambanks, the water on our minor side stream too fast and too high to wade.

This was taken on last year's trip

Now there are rumblings of another attempt to be made next spring. It remains to be seen whether we will actually be able to coordinate schedules for what now looks like could be a three-day trip, going up the Prong, camping at the base of the cliffs, going up the cliffs and back down for a second night, then going back out the Prong with a possible side trip to Rock Den on Chapman Prong.

The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club did this trip back in the 30s and 40s, following an old footpath along the stream that was already hard to find back then. We’ll assume that above Buck Fork or so, there is no trace at all of any path. Here is a description of a 1942 trip from Harvey Broome in Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies:

The next day we walked up Eagle Rocks Prong along the old trail which is so far gone that we were off it as often as we were on it… At the Laurel Top fork we took to the creek, and skirted great pools as we moved readily along the dry rocks at the edges. We climbed gradually through comparative flats and open woods until the Stateline loomed ahead of us, appallingly steep. At the first great cliff, lying close to its base, we found snow—a drift 40 feet long and two feet thick. There was momentarily a wintry sting to the air. We climbed the spikes of a leaning spruce and surmounted the first falls. Once we pushed over a loose rock which dropped with sickening momentum, hit with a splintering crunch and bounded on, gaining speed as it fell. It was frightening even to think of falling in such places. Then we saw the Black Cliff—a dry, warm, gnarled, lichen-covered surface with the water trickling in a fissure at the side. The cliff opened out over a gulf so steep we could look into the tops of trees, and on across a wide-flung blue world of mountains.

You can see Dutch Roth’s photo of hikers, probably SMHC members, climbing a cliff in the area here. It’s fun to read about these trips from the middle decades of the last century. One of the people who plans to do the trip next spring stumbled across an article about a trip done up the Prong in 1956 using equipment that sounds outlandish to us now, such as a “Trapper Nelson packboard.” Reading that whets the appetite to explore what could be considered the wildest, most rugged area of the park. And so, as I go through the winter months ahead, I will have this wonderful place to think about.

Resting on a log on lower Eagle Rocks Prong, SMHC trip 1986


1. Thomas Stazyk - November 18, 2010

How soon after that first picture was taken did you decide to turn back? I would have been ready way before then! Good luck for next time.

Jenny - November 18, 2010

I would say between a half hour and an hour—and well under a mile in terms of distancee traveled—but it’s hard to gauge the time. I was utterly absorbed in the task of maneuvering down the stream.

2. brian - November 18, 2010

That’s a great Dutch Roth photo. I’ve wondered if the subjects are Anne and Harvey Broome. It’s his build. Perhaps if you looked at other photos you could spot somebody wearing the same clothes or boots. I suspect they climbed out there for a heroic shot and had no intention of continuing up that slope. The man has taken his pack off and the “give me a foothold” technique doesn’t seem like it would you get you too far.

Jenny - November 18, 2010

Hard to tell if that’s the Broomes. Their hair seems too curly—for both of them—but perhaps high humidity levels that day caused the well-known (to me) phenomenon of “Smokies hair frizz.” I kinda like the way she has the pack rather than him and the way she is giving him the leg up, both a reversal of the usual male-female roles.

3. Jim - November 18, 2010

good stuff, does anybody fish these creeks?

Jenny - November 19, 2010

Well, a few diehards might do that, but not too many, because it’s too much work to get into these places and the fish are too small.Any sensible person would say the payoff isn’t good enough. 🙂 Here is an excerpt from that 1956 description (the hike was in October): “One of my real thrills came in watching the native brook trout building nests. A pair were busily cleaning out with their tails a riffle at the margin of a deep pool. Accumulated sand and organic debris were being swept out, leaving gravel in which the female would soon deposit her eggs. The male, readily distinguished by his brilliant scarlet fins, kept sweeping away as Randolph and I stood motionless only six or seven feet off. As Randolph stepped closer the female disappeared into the pool, while the male scurried under an overhanging rock along the riffle for temporary shelter. His only escape was to enter the pool, whose entrance Randolph was straddling, or else to swim downstream where he would risk being stranded in shallow water. Suddenly he darted between Randolph’s legs and into the pool for safety. Randolph explained that the native trout spawn late in autumn in these cold mountain waters, the eggs hatching in spring. Low water temperatures tend to inhibit growth.”

Brian Reed - November 19, 2010

I read an article in the Knoxville paper in the late 90s about concern over the effect of acid rain on trout. The researchers interviewed noted that trout had disappeared from Eagle Rocks Prong sometime in the past few years. I went up a few months after Hurricane Opal in 1996 and the source of the creek was tinted orange and flowing out from under a pile of fresh Anakeesta rubble. It looked like mine tailings. There’s a masters thesis online where a UT student attempted to show that the source of acidity in Middle Prong was to acid rain. He set up a guages including one at the mouth of Eagle Rocks, probably near where your photo was taken. He did conclude it was acid rain, but the data for Eagle Rocks gave him some problems:

“The presence of Anakeesta geology in 11% of the watershed may explain the dominance of sulfate during episodic events [of high acidity]. However, it is believed that undisturbed Anakeesta does not significantly contribute to stream acidification. Anakeesta exposures in the MPLP would be difficult to locate as they would likely be landslides in the inaccessible, higher elevations of the watershed”

Maybe it was the effects of landlside that killed them. But trout also disappeared from Ramsay Prong at some point as well which doesn’t have that type of rock.


4. Kirk Eddlemon - December 5, 2010

The true wilderness epicenter of the SE’ern US: the north to south trending column of the park that is the Upper Middle Prong and Raven Fork watersheds.

Both of them are unique in their own way, due to the diversity in geology and microclimate. I’ve been in the upper reaches of each, and there is no better place around to experience some resemblance of the truth.

Let me know when you plan on the trip in the Spring. I would love to go there with some real ramblers.


Jenny - December 6, 2010

You’ve got some intriguing photos on your blog!

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