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A wild world of vegetation July 6, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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A nice patch of bee balm

It was time to return to my adopted trail, the Enloe Creek trail, to attack the soft vegetation with a swingblade. On my last trip, I did my best to deal with encroaching woody shrubs with a pair of loppers. This time, nettles were the main enemy.

I spotted the patch of bee balm at the trailhead. You will notice not only the pretty red flowers but the crazily luxuriant vegetation in general. We are getting into the season when leafy plants try to take over the world. Behind the bee balm I noticed an especially beautiful rosebay rhododendron. It was so tall, so dominant, the king of the shrub world.

Rosebay rhodo towers over everything else

I walked up to the start of my trail at Hyatt Gap and immediately discovered a very large and complicated blowdown. The falling tree had actually managed to lever a large waterbar out of its embedded position and stand it on end. I clambered over the mess and started my work with the swingblade. After my experience straining my wrist with the loppers on the last work trip, I tried to focus on the mechanics of the swing, letting gravity and momentum do the work instead of muscling the tool up and down. I must have been successful, because I didn’t strain anything this time.

I hate to cut down ferns, but they were growing right in the middle of the trail mixed in with the nettles, so down they went. I cut down blackberries, black cohosh, meadow rue, and anything that encroached on the trail. I would feel bad about the destruction of plant life except that this trail is nearly engulfed by a true wilderness, all kinds of plants embroidered together in an infinite tangle.

As I approached Raven Fork, a slight opening in this wilderness allowed me to gaze at Katalska Ridge, an area I plan to explore off-trail in September. There are said to be record-size red spruce lurking high up in the valleys of Simmons Branch and Hideaway Brook, places practically no one ever goes. In the photo below, you can see Katalska in the distance, an absolute wall of vegetation.

An incredibly wild place

I noticed a giant fungus perched at the bottom of a dead hemlock.

Interesting fungus, about 18" across

At last, swinging and whacking my way along, I reached Raven Fork. I never cease to be amazed by its beauty. Each time, I gaze at it from a different perch.

Raven Fork

At that point, I decided to turn around, for two reasons: (a) a thunderstorm was approaching with ominous rumbles; and (b) the blade part of my tool had loosened and was in danger of flying off, despite my attempt to use a car key as a screwdriver to tighten it. Next time I will bring a screwdriver. So, nettles west of Raven Fork, I’ll be back!

Spiderwort (Tradescantia)



1. Seth - July 9, 2011

I think Tom and I saw some of the rarest of the rare up in the Craggies: Spreading Avens. I’d never seen them in person before.

Jenny - July 10, 2011

Neat! I’ve seen their cousin, Mountain Avens, up in the Presies in the Whites.

2. AdamB - July 11, 2011

I was over there on Saturday Jenny fishing straight fork and ledge creek near round bottom. I really wanted to go over there and check out raven fork. How long does it take you to get to cs 47 from straight fork road?

Jenny - July 11, 2011

Adam, it’s 1.9 miles and 1400 vertical feet on the Hyatt Ridge trail to where the Enloe Creek trail starts, and then another mile and a descent of 800 vertical to Raven Fork. So it will probably take you an hour and a half or less, or maybe more if you’re carrying a full pack.

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