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Mouse Creek to Mt. Sterling September 23, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Notice how the cascade starts way up on a distinct upper level.

Today Mark Shipley, Ed Fleming, and I scouted a route that will be on the program of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club next May. It has so much to recommend it. More than anything else, the magical cascade on Mouse Creek at 3560′ elevation makes the trip worthwhile. But if that isn’t enough for you, consider also these factors: (1) It is a great hike for people who like the challenge of a significant climb—in this case 4,000 vertical feet; (2) The going was relatively easy, making use of old logging grades up to nearly 5000′ elevation; (3) You can see interesting old artifacts from the logging days; (4) Most of the time the vegetation was not bad, by Smokies off-trail standards, more dog hobble than rhodo; (5) You get the view from the fire tower!

We met up at 7:00 this morning at the Big Creek trailhead, right before dawn, because Mark (who will lead the hike) rightly considered that the journey along Mouse Creek could turn out to be incredibly time-consuming. As it turned out, we reached the fire tower by 1:15 and were back at our cars by 4:30. That is only because we were lucky with the vegetation.

Mark provided us the only writeup he could find of a hike along Mouse Creek, a backpack in 1968 led by Bruce Ketelle of the famous Ketelle hiking family in which they descended Mouse Creek through what was described as “open woods.” Well, things can grow up a little in 44 years.

We followed the Big Creek trail for 2.0 or 2.5 miles, depending on which information source you use, passing the notorious Midnight Hole on the stream and reaching the lower Mouse Creek falls where the smaller stream joins the bigger one. We’d already decided that we’d probably continue on the trail a bit further so that we could cross Big Creek on a bridge. The distance to the bridge was further than we expected (or, again, further than information sources indicated), but it did allow us to avoid a wet crossing. At this time of year with fairly low water levels, it would have been possible to wade in a couple of places. In May, with higher water levels, probably the safest thing will be to use the bridge. Big Creek is really more of a river than a stream.

Mouse Creek falls (the lower one) as seen from the trail.

We went over the bridge and took advantage of a logging grade to get us back to the falls.

Ed and Mark follow the grade.

Despite the relatively easy conditions, it still took us a while to work our way back to the falls on the other side of the stream. Mouse Creek just above the falls was a pretty little stream, full of moss-upholstered boulders.

Easy rockhopping along this lovely stream.

After a half hour or so of making our way up the stream, we had our only negative experience of the day. We discovered remains of camping equipment, plus trash and a digging tool that we decided must have been left by a ginseng poacher. There is no other reason anyone would camp in that spot.

Not much later, we found far more interesting artifacts, but we had trouble identifying their exact purpose. If anyone reading this blog can shed light on this, we would appreciate it. First of all, we found a rounded item of very thick cast iron, nearly an inch in thickness, that did not seem like a household item but rather part of a locomotive or other segment of a train.

Ed displays the item that we can’t identify. There were others we couldn’t identify, either.

We next found a very large, heavy bucket.

Still doesn’t seem like something for household use. Something used in connection with a locomotive boiler?

Finally, we found something that looked more like a kiln or something used for charcoaling operations than a regular stove.

Another mystery item.

We continued up the stream.

Not much water in the stream here—in this picture you identify it by the contrast between moss and dog hobble.

We were about to encounter the highlight of the day—the incredible cascade pictured at top.

Our first view of the cascade.

What I liked best was the way the top of the cascade seemed to flow out of the sunshine itself. The top glowed with light.

The water came straight out of sunlight.

Above this marvellous place where the water flows constantly with practically no one ever seeing it, we found continuing logging grades that aided our climb.

These vines were twined together in a tight spiral.

Eventually, on the upper slopes, we climbed through a region of beautiful dense moss.

The moss was an extra-luxurious variety.

We reached the summit and lunched before climbing the lookout tower, where we had crystalline views in all directions.

View to the northwest, as seen through one of the panes of the tower’s cab.

View to the southwest.

We then descended 6.2 miles on the Baxter Creek trail. Total mileage for the hike was around 12. A great day, and two great people to do it with.

Huge swath of jewelweed near the bottom of the Baxter Creek trail.
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Long ago: A small wedding, and 9 lbs. of butter September 22, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, Lifestyle, memoir.
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Wells Ira and Sybil Kennedy Bennett, my grandparents, soon after their wedding

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

[The last post described the courtship of my grandparents during their days as students at Syracuse University. They became engaged after they graduated.]

We weren’t formally engaged until September 1912, in Jamestown, New York, where I was a YWCA secretary. He was working in Greensburg, Pa., in the architect’s office of Paul Bartholemew. That same month he was offered an instructorship at the University of Michigan at $1100 per year. We decided to be married the next year at Christmas time.

I was quite ill for a long time [with a thyroid problem that required surgery] but we kept our plan for a Christmas wedding, December 20, 1913. It was small, only the families and a few friends, about twenty people. We were married in the parlor [at her family’s home]. A cousin from Connecticut sent a large box of mountain laurel sprays which we used to decorate with. It looked very pretty with the green laurel twined around long pier glass and the windows on each side.

Mr. George Nichols was  the minister. His wife sang a horrible solo. We had it to please her. My Uncle Jim’s legs shook visibly in the range of my vision and my sister looked lovely in a mahogany colored crepe with natural brown maribou trimming. I had an embroidered voile in white trimmed with a sash of white chiffon knotted and draped at the side. The voile was very fine and heavily embroidered with a border. Wells had a navy cheviot suit and looked very handsome as he always has.

The luncheon was served at home with help of neighbors—oyster bisque, fried chicken, potato croquettes, with salad, vegetables and home made ice cream and wedding cake. We scooted out the back door ostensibly to see the girl next door, Mildred, who was sick in bed, and didn’t come back. This was bad because they couldn’t decorate our car but we wanted to be off. Mr. Clarence Jones drove us to Fair Haven [where Wells’ family lived] in his car. It was a very pleasant day, sunny and no snow.  At Fair Haven, we took Wells’ father’s horse and buggy left there for us, for the final three miles to his home. They [his parents] stayed away from home several days.

We stayed up there over Christmas, having Christmas dinner at Wells’ sister May’s. For our first supper I made cream of tomato soup with real cream. It tasted delicious to us and we had much nice food Grandma Bennett had left us. They were worried about the butter churning, whether the cream would keep until they returned. We settled it for them by churning it ourselves and made nine lbs. of butter which we took with us when we left. We practiced thrift from the start, if not larceny or something. We came back to Cato, packed our things and reached Ann Arbor on the Wolverine train early in the morning of January 5, 1914, and have lived here ever since.

(To be continued)

Wells Ira Bennett

Anakeesta Canyon September 16, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Descending the scar on Anakeesta Ridge.

One of the many things that I like about Greg Harrell is the way he gives names to every significant feature he encounters in his off-trail explorations of the Smokies. These names are always capitalized, and they are always used as if they carry as much weight as the official names you see on the USGS maps. And because of the way he uses those names, they do carry as much weight, as far as I am concerned.

And so it was decided between Greg, Chris Sass, and myself that we would visit the Anakeesta Canyon, traversing its upper bowl and going to Anakeesta High-Pass before descending the Anakeesta Scar. You will not find any of these place names on the official maps, although Greg did email us a copy of the Park Service map of the Smokies with the phrase “Anakeesta Scar Parking” and an arrow pointing to its location mysteriously added, in exactly the same typeface that is used in the rest of the map.

We left a car at this officially designated parking area and started our hike at the Alum Cave trailhead, leaving it before long to rockhop up Alum Cave Creek.

God beams over Alum Cave Creek.

It’s the second time I’ve rockhopped up Alum Cave Creek, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for a normal human being to keep their feet dry on it, even in the current conditions of very low water levels. It is completely hemmed in by rhodo on both sides, and it features frequent pools that fill the whole stream basin in such a way that it would take laborious rhodo-thrashing to go around them. That’s just too time-consuming, and Chris and I soon decided to just wade. I don’t know what Greg did. He was way up ahead of us.

(I will add that most of the time on this hike, Chris and Greg were up front and I was behind. They are both fast bushwhackers. I am a medium bushwhacker.)

After a while we caught up to him, sitting on a giant hemlock blowdown.

It couldn’t have been easy to get up on this high blowdown, but he did it.

Soon afterward, at 4450′, we left the main stream to make our way southeast up a tributary. It featured small bluffs and enough vegetation to keep things challenging. We noticed in many places along this side stream that the water had a reddish tint, apparently from iron oxide present in the Anakeesta rock.

Chris approaches a bluff with a blowdown leaning across it.

Typical Smokies off-trail stuff. If you don’t think you would like dealing with this, then you’d best stay away!

You don’t go super-fast in places like this.

Eventually we emerged into a high bowl of solid Anakeesta that got steeper and steeper. Just below the point where it got distinctly “cliffy,” we climbed onto a small side ridge for a break and some views.

Greg on the scar of the upper bowl.

Chris climbs into the bowl.

View from the side ridge.

After our break, we contoured southwestward across an alternating series of scars and vegetation-clogged side ridges. The idea was to hit Anakeesta Ridge at the distinct col between the 5582′ point and the 5988′ Anakeesta Knob.

We crossed a number of scars like this as we made our way toward Anakeesta High-Pass.

We could tell that we were close to the pass when we saw a skyline not far above us, and there we went straight up.

Final push up to the pass.

We took another break at the pass and shared entertaining anecdotes about our other hiking companions—a time-honored tradition.

Taking a break at Anakeesta High-Pass.

View down to the Newfound Gap road.

From there we did more traversing, except in the opposite direction and this time angling downward. We crossed more scars and more side ridges and eventually got down into the basin of a small tributary of Walker Camp Prong. Toward the bottom I discovered that I had a big rip in the seat of my pants.  That must have been amusing for the people who drove by as we made the short walk alongside the highway up to the shuttled car. We also saw a couple of kids riding go-carts down the highway that were powered solely by gravity.

It was a great day.

View from the north side of Anakeesta Ridge.