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Roaring Fork June 18, 2012

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

This is where the hike begins

This was a trip up LeConte that left the Trillium Gap trail at Grotto Falls and followed Roaring Fork to its headwaters. Brian Worley and I were scouting the route for an outing with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club that we will lead July 8. The SMHC does this hike every five or six years—it’s a classic. Roaring Fork tumbles over an endless series of cascades from its very steep heights. If you look at a contour map, you’ll see that the section in the mid 5000′ range is especially vertical.

I have only a handful of photos, and most of them are fogged. Well, that’ll give you a better idea of the damp, mysterious nature of these hidden realms! By the time we reached the top of LeConte, we were soaking wet, though it hadn’t rained—a combination of moving through dense and damp vegetation, climbing up wet rocks, and plain old sweat! Some of the people we saw up by the lodge looked concerned and asked us, “What happened to you? Are you okay?”

Not far above Grotto Falls is a cascade that flows into a deep pool.

Doesn’t everything look lush and green?

Small cascades in foreground and background

At 4600′ we looked for a major split in the stream. The left fork goes up a valley that intersects a switchback on the Trillium Gap trail, climbing less steeply and hitting the upper T.G. trail northeast of the lodge. The right fork has the big waterfalls on it. This is where we had what I will call the Ken Wise Distraction. Wise’s elegantly written book about Smokies trails includes a description of what he calls the Roaring Fork trail—although it is not a trail. He talks about Twin Falls and Dome Falls, which sources agree are on the right fork. But his directions call for going to the left and eventually hitting the Trillium Gap trail 0.6 miles below Roaring Fork’s source at Basin Springs. He doesn’t mention the lower meeting of the left fork with the trail’s switchback at 5200′.  I am still puzzled about all this.

We took the right fork and came to a waterfall well over 100′ high. This might have been Twin Falls—but I’m not sure. I arrive at that conclusion simply because of its height, not because it fits the description in other respects. But maybe there’s no need to obsess about the “correct name” for a waterfall rather than simply enjoying it.

I’ll just say it’s a nice waterfall

Eventually we reached the top, encountering a bit of vegetation along the way.

Brian is swallowed up by the vegetation—but isn’t the rhodo pretty?

As we sat on a bench having something to eat, a familiar-looking person came by. It was Alan Householder, who ran the llama trains up to the lodge before a hiking accident in New Zealand did in an already troublesome knee. He has many hiking achievements to his credit and has explored off-trail all over the Park. He recognized me and said he had my book, “Murder at the Jumpoff,” with him up there—would I sign it? Of course, I was delighted to do so!

Trailhead scene on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Road


1. AdamB - June 18, 2012

Interesting Jenny I bet that was twin falls. Here is some pics of Dome falls I found for reference:
Interesting looking large rock in the old and new photos perched on the top of the falls.

Jenny - June 18, 2012

I’m still not sure about Twin Falls. The two strands shown in my picture may not be separated as widely as in the descriptions. But the important thing is enjoying the stream. And thanks for adding the link to Dome Falls photos. Yes, I saw that 1929 one—their clothes all look so clean!

2. Clyde Austin - June 18, 2012

Jenny, I did Roaring Fork a couple of years ago with Terri and Iron Mike. It is really interesting and pretty tough. Seems straight up in spots. The by passes around the falls are tough. We went right around everything and actually came out around the septic tank. We hit it in somewhat damp conditions (I suspect it may always be that way!) and had to do a major detour in one spot, we couldn’t climb a small area because we couldn’t get purchase with our feet. The falls make it all worthwhile.
We were filthy when we got to the top.

Jenny - June 18, 2012

When I was in Girl Scouts, our troop leader gave out awards for “Good Grooming” on camping and hiking trips (the camping wasn’t exactly roughing it—we slept in platform tents). Alas, I haven’t been able to keep up my scout leader’s standards of grooming.

3. Tom - June 19, 2012

I have hiked those trails many times, but I am astounded that someone could climb those ravines off trail. Great adventure, great story, great photographs. Jenny, thanks for another great story.


4. Brian - June 23, 2012

The pictures are a welcome reminder of the beauty of this trip. So calm and inviting in retrospective; so easy to miss while trying to find handholds and good footing. I agree, Jenny, the falls do not look like the Twin Falls I have seen in pictures. However, there were no other large falls. Perhaps water flow and the viewing angle changes the impression. We shall get another chance!

Jenny - June 23, 2012

I’m looking forward to it!

5. Clyde Austin - June 23, 2012

Jenny let me look and see what I have for photos. When I did it with Terri and Iron Mike, we thought we passed two major falls and one small one toward the top. Our pictures aren’t too good, but they might help. Seems to me we called on a two-tiered fall, that must be Twin Falls and the other one we didn’t give a name. Maybe it was Dome.

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