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Middle Crag doings August 20, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, Life experience, Smoky Mountains.
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Middle Crag is the ridge seen here in profile

In late May, I went down one of the Middle Crag gullies (there is one on each side of the ridge) with a couple of friends. Toward the bottom, I had a recurrence of a knee problem (it pops out of joint) and ended up descending to the Greenbrier and hitchhiking around to Newfound Gap, where we had started. My two friends climbed up the crag and returned via the A.T. to Newfound.

You can see some wonderful pictures from that trip that my friend Chris took here.

Ever since then, it bugged me that I didn’t climb the crag. A week ago I returned by myself with the goal of repeating the route my friends had taken. I was not successful. But I did have an interesting experience.

It was a beautiful day as I hiked out from Newfound Gap. I stopped and took the picture you see above. Continuing around a crescent-shaped side path, I returned to the A.T. and went east a bit further to hit the top of the gully we’d gone down the other time. But I went too far east. I should have dropped into the gully immediately after hitting the A.T. past the side path.

On my way out the A.T., I saw some nice pink turtleheads.


And Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye has been here

Leaving the A.T. to enter what I thought was the same gully we’d been down before, I passed through familiar-looking forest.

It dropped off steeply, as I expected.

Mossy cascade just above the precipitous section.

But things didn’t look quite right. The rock was a grayer color than the pink that had predominated in the other gully. I thought perhaps I simply wasn’t remembering things correctly. I worked my way down carefully from the starting point of around 5500′ to 4700′. And there I could see I’d gone distinctly wrong. The drop was much steeper than anything in the other gully—which had been steep enough that I’d slid down much of it on the seat of my pants.

Here, on the map, you can see the situation. The red line represents the route I took. The blue line represents the way we’d gone before. My ruler against the scale on the USGS quad shows me that the distance between the two at the top is 1/10 of a mile.

You see what happens in the red gully between 4800′ and 4600′. Obviously, I had to go down the left side of the draw rather than the right. It was steep sidehilling, but I worked my way along, making use of the rhodo and laurel for handholds. It was difficult for me. I looked up to my left to see if I could simply head up to the ridge, but it looked steeper than I wanted to attempt.

I wish I could think of some dramatic reason why I decided to turn around, climb back up, and call it a day—but I can’t. I simply lost heart. From the comfort of my living room, I can see that if I’d just been able to get down a couple of hundred feet lower, I could have gone up to the ridge—or I could have gone down to Lester Prong and around the base of the ridge to the second tributary (the bottom of the correct draw). I am sure this would not have been a problem for many other people.

It is very hard for me to be honest about this, but I must be. One of the things I’ve realized as a result of this experience is that I can do some kinds of bushwhacking solo, but some things I can’t. Oddly enough, I have climbed the adjacent ridge to the east by myself, which some would call harder than Middle Crag, but in that case I wasn’t dealing with going down a gully, I was climbing upward, which for some reason felt more comfortable to me.

Another thing I realize is that I can do things with other people that I can’t do by myself. This is hard for me to admit, because I’m an independent sort of individual. I have done the climb below with another person, but I don’t think I could do it by myself.

With the moral support of another person, I could do this.


1. Brian - August 20, 2012

Thanks for sharing your adventure and thoughts. Going solo on this type of trip is impressive on many levels.

Jenny - August 21, 2012

Thank you, Brian.

2. Seth - August 21, 2012

Tommy, Ronnie, and I went down PC from the stateline Saturday. We are gonna try to get down in Lester in the coming weeks. Probably start down low rather than at the gap.

Jenny - August 21, 2012

Down the East Fork, I’m guessing? That used to be a superhighway after it was gouged out by a flash flood, but now it’s clogged with blowdowns and blackberries.

3. Ronnie - August 21, 2012

Agree 110 percent with Brian,That area is rugged and If you go offtrail there and make it or not you are accomplishing something.I can’t wait to explore that area more!It seems that those ridges have a calling(or you have a love for them)Keep at it!

Jenny - August 21, 2012

Thanks, Ronnie! I hope you have a great time exploring that area!

4. BrianR - August 22, 2012

Bah, not making it is the whole point I say! Most of my more memorable experiences come the one’s I don’t finish as planned. That time we tried wading down Shirttail Branch in a deluge falls into that category.

You ever see this powerpoint presentation? You must have gone right through “southernmost paper heart leaved birch” population they GPSed. I’m guessing they never did their planned descent to Lester based on what you encountered.


Jenny - August 22, 2012

Very interesting! I would love to see a followup about their next expedition! It doesn’t surprise me that these gullies contain unusual plant populations. They have so many odd features.

BrianR - August 23, 2012

Yeah, the coldest place in the park may be somewhere on those slopes or at Eagle Rocks which is higher. They get so little direct sun. Anybody who’s climbed the manway on a frosty winter day and emerged into sunny springtime at the state line knows how much colder it is.

5. Tom - August 22, 2012


Remind me again: are you a hiker who is a poet or a poet who likes to hike?

Which is to say: nice essay. It lifted me up.


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