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In the land of crags and gullies April 3, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , ,

This gully was our route to the ridgecrest

This was an expedition to the “real Bunion.” No, wait a minute, it was an expedition to the “USGS Bunion.” No! It was an expedition to Rocky Crag! Never mind. If you follow these kinds of things, you’ll know what I am talking about. I am going to be a little bit obscure about this, but if you take a close look at the USGS quads, you’ll figure it out—I’m just not going to hand over the details. You’ll see where we went pretty easily if you want to.

Our group of eight started at the parking lot for a trail well-known for spring wildflowers. I will say, first of all, that I was quite surprised that seven other people actually wanted to join me for this outing. We had Jenny, Chris, Seth, Bill, Ben, Dan, and the two infamous Gregs (Hoover and Harrell). After we crossed the log bridge over a major stream, we got into the area where spring flowers erupt everywhere out of the forest floor. We saw fringed phacelia,with some anemones thrown in for a little embellishment…

A carpet of fringed phacelia

… and even more phacelia.

Carpets of flowers as far as the eye could see

It was an explosion of wildflowers—though that sounds too violent, no doubt due to my writings about the Boer War—let us use a more gentle word. It was a profusion of wildflowers. (I still like “explosion” better.)

We passed a pretty cascade on the left. Nice waterfall. Here I will be mean and say that countless much more impressive cascades exist on the headwaters of streams that no one ever goes to. (Mean? Violent? What has gotten into me this morning?)

To the left off the trail

Now we left the maintained trail and followed a manway that crosses the stream many times.

Stream crossing on manway

Then we turned onto a stream and started rockhopping. After a short distance, the stream starts flowing over the flat ledges that are one of its defining characteristics. Notice the new-fallen snow on some of the rocks.

This stream is a gateway to adventure

The higher we climbed, the more wintry it looked.

Wintry birches

Somewhere along here, Hoover and Harrell split off to ascend to the angry-looking ridge to our left. They’ve explored just about every crevice in this area. The rest of us continued up a little higher to search out a route I’d done with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club in the 80s. I had come down off the ridge somewhere in this area last summer, but nevertheless I was surprised at how heavily vegetated the whole area seemed since that time with the SMHC. We picked up a route that would take us up near the Crag. It wouldn’t have been horribly difficult except that patches of snow and running water from snowmelt made the rock slippery. It was a matter of finding the right rock with the right texture to step up onto, and maybe grabbing onto some handy myrtle for security.

Looking down gully

Eventually we made it up to the ridgecrest, which has some beautiful big red spruces growing along it. I had that wonderful sense of topping out as I neared it, that greater proportion of sky and openness that signals the climb is nearly over. We came out right at an outcropping of Anakeesta, and since we could hear the maniacal voices of Hoover and Harrell already sitting on the Crag, we clambered up to join them. I don’t know if their route was easier or they were just faster—or both.

We gazed into the vast bowls of space around us, bounded by vertical ridges, some of them snow-covered.

View from crag

I was happy to be there. I will say happy! happy! happy! just to be silly.

Jenny on crag

We all still had a long ways to go to get back to our starting point—first of all, we had to climb the ridge that you see behind me in the above photo. About half of the group opted to walk out to a gap where a friend could pick them up and shuttle them back to the trailhead, and the rest of us descended back into the stream drainage where we’d started.The two groups arrived at the trailhead at exactly the same time.


1. tom lundberg - April 3, 2011

cool…you should check out the 2 year old rock slide on one of our loftiest tennessee heights while it is still mostly barren. it is also reached by continuing beyond the end of the maintained trail up the drainage toward the state line crest, though about 10 miles to the south from this expedition. we believe that the slide affords about 800-900 feet of open rock scramble, some being four pointed like what you undoubtedly encountered yesterday. what a gusty and fabulously clear afternoon in the mountains it was!

2. Seth - April 3, 2011

I’m diggin that pic of me lookin down the gully. I’d like to put it up as my profile pic on facebook if you don’t mind. With photo credit listed of course.

Jenny - April 3, 2011

Sure, no problem! Photo shows how vertical it was…

3. david longley - April 4, 2011

Seth, thanks for turning me onto this. Had I not enjoyed such an amazing weekend myself, I’d have wished to have been with you. Brings to life what I’ve been reading recently in Trial by Trail by John Molloy. I see I’m going to need to spend some time in the Smokies. Thanks Jenny. I’ll be back!

4. Greg Hoover - April 4, 2011

Woo-hoo!!! The gully looks fun. (It might be a good “short cut” for coming down — go up the way Harrell and I (and Daniel) went and come down the gully.

5. Ben Bacot - April 4, 2011

A big woo-hoo from me too. That was fantastic Jenny! Greg, I almost went down the gully a few times. Had a bunch of friends over last night and they were all asking me why I was walking stiff and could barely get out of my chair. Haha. Told them I had to pay some dues!

6. brian - April 4, 2011

Wow, I don’t remember what I took along when I went that way but it never occured to me to bring seven other people! I’m sure it was an incredible experience for those new to the Bunion. If any of you all go that way again try to find the location of these striking Dutch Roth photos. We came straight up to the little bump just down the ridge from the peak you all climbed to. On the way we determined we were climbing from a point about a hundred yds farther up the valley from Roth.


Jenny - April 4, 2011

It’s getting harder and harder to figure out where those old photos were taken. I realized on our outing that even the differences between the late 80s and the present day were significant, let alone the differences between the 30s or 40s and the present day.

brian - April 5, 2011

Seneca and I got to the exact spot where the first photo was taken (shows the crag you are standing on). We figured out where third photo was taken by looking at the ridges in the foreground. Didn’t have time to get to that spot though and the film got ruined. Been eating at me ever since!

7. Doug McFalls - April 4, 2011

Hooray for people that are hiking off trail and know what they are doing!!!!! I’m glad it was a great experience for you. Life is fun.

Jenny - April 4, 2011

So glad you are looking at this and enjoying it! I have enjoyed many of your blog posts.

8. TWL - April 4, 2011

Awesome account. Awesome hike. I know you are obsessed with this climb. And you looked beautiful.

9. Jenny - April 4, 2011

Thank you—I am really not such an impressive person, but your comments make me feel better. I appreciate it—again, I am grateful.

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