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Sharing the fun of the Chimneys February 19, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Dusty crosses from the North Chimney to the Tourist Chimney

Friends had been saying they wanted to go up the Chimneys off-trail from the picnic ground. So Chris Sass and I gladly volunteered to take them up by the same route we led a Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing last June. Many variations exist, and we could have gone a different way, but this is the best way to go if you want to visit what I’ve come to think of as the Magic Cairn.

The friends joining us were Dave Landreth, Seth O’Shields, and Dusty Allison.

We’d thought of descending via the ridge that leads northwest from the North Chimney, but we decided, looking at the cliffs on it as we climbed up the other side of the valley, that it had best be done going up rather than down. Another possible descent route, down a ridge from Sugarland Mountain, was rejected as being too time-consuming by the time we reached the Sugarland-Chimney connector manway.

The first point of interest encountered on this trip is a manmade dam on the stream.

Dam on tributary of West Prong

Not far above the dam, where the route follows pleasant open woods beside a small stream, we saw our first spring wildflowers of 2012—on February 18!

Wood anemones

The way steepened steadily as we approached the ridgecrest.

Dave nears the ridgetop

Past a small curtain of briers, we crawled through a bearway, hearing the sounds of traffic on the Newfound Gap road nearly directly below us. A short descent through an opening, and voila! The Magic Cairn!

One of the great destinations of the Smokies

I like the way the road disappears into the tunnel immediately below.

View from the cairn

Everyone was taking pictures

Our destination

We climbed along the narrowing ridge, negotiating a few bluffs and traversing around a couple of them.

One of many small scrambles

Eventually we emerged onto the really fun part—the open Anakeesta scramble.

Looking down the ridge. You can see the loop-the-loop on the Newfound Gap road to the right.

We arrived at the top. As we chatted and ate our lunch, we saw a fellow in an orange shirt over on the Tourist Chimney who tried a couple times to go across to where we were, but he gave up the effort after a short distance and retreated.

View over to Tourist Chimney

We crossed and passed through the crowds without stopping, then descended the trail. We stopped at the bridge over the West Prong. (I guess technically it is still Walker Camp Prong at that point, just barely above the junction with Road Prong.)

Greenish pool below the bridge

I noticed a small waterfall emerging from right under the bridge. And so a very pleasant outing concluded.


1. Matt - February 19, 2012

My wife and I climbed the Chimneys on our honeymoon. Love the Smokies!

Jenny - February 19, 2012

What a great place for a honeymoon! Glad you visited here.

2. AdamB - February 20, 2012

Thanks for the post and a couple of questions for you Jenny. Why do you call it the Magic Cairn ha? Also I remember seeing a cairn I think on one of the myriad of little paths leading down the outer chimney is that cairn close to the outer chimney or is it further away. From the pics I am thinking it is a good distance away from the chimneys.

Jenny - February 20, 2012

That’s just a silly name I thought of—it’s just that the place is magical, and if you are coming out to the end of the ridge, you have to crawl a short distance and everything looks dense and closed in. Then suddenly you emerge onto a spectacular viewpoint with this giant cairn. You’re right, it’s not close to the Chimneys themselves. It’s at 4000′, at the end of a narrow ridge that leads north from the North Chimney.

3. Doug Borton - February 20, 2012

Wonderful post and pics, Jenny !
The area of exposed rock on the other side of NFG Road just above the cairn is Fort Harry Falls, isn’t it?

Jenny - February 20, 2012

That is, I’m sure, part of the same geological formation, but Fort Harry Falls is a bit further down the mountain. You can see it from the “Magic Cairn,” but it’s not visible in the photo here.

4. Roger Fancher - July 23, 2012

Jenny, exactly where is the Sugarland-Chimney connector manway?

Jenny - July 23, 2012

I never use that manway because I don’t use the Sugarland trail. But you can actually see that manway on the USGS Clingmans and LeConte quads. It leaves the Sugarland trail at about 5100′, so bring your altimeter—I just can’t tell you what landmarks to look for. At the lower end, you will see it if you look closely along the narrow, eroded ridgetop section as you approach the Chimneys. It hits the trail at 4720′. It’s steep and narrow coming down from Sugarland if memory serves me from doing it once years ago, but it’s nowhere near as steep and narrow as the route described in this post.

5. Roger Fancher - July 24, 2012

Jenny, I think I can tell from a trail map where this must be. There’s a place on Sugarlands trail roughly 3.5 miles down from the AT where the trail takes a sharp left turn. This is roughly 5100 ft. A description of the trail site states that at this point one can see Gatlinburg due North or at 12:00 (I would think that would be a landmark :)). The writer adds that if you look towards the 2:00 position, you can (in the winter anyway) see the Chimney Tops. I bet the manway is right in this little area. Did you have a web link showing the topo quad map with the trail and manway?

Jenny - July 24, 2012

There are a couple of websites like Google Earth or Acme Mapper that have the USGS topographic information. Within the Smokies, you can also look at Tom Dunigan’s website, which has links to old topo maps that show trails no longer maintained. No, I don’t have a web link that shows the trail and manway, and I don’t plan to either. My thing is true off-trail rather than manways, but that’s just me. I have friends who spend a lot of time following old unmaintained trails, logging grades, etc. I would much rather just follow a stream or a ridge.

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