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West Prong in fog and rain October 8, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Our scouted routes on West Prong. Click for zoom. (Map courtesy of Clyde Austin)

This hike on the West Prong of the Little River is a good one for people who enjoy following old manways and logging grades. When we scouted it in May, we took the Bote Mountain and West Prong trails down to backcountry campsite 18, then followed a combination of logging grades and fishermen’s trails south along the stream. We looked for the old unmaintained cross-trail that fords the stream on its way over to Defeat Ridge, but we way overshot our goal and ended up doing a marathon rhodo-crawl up to the Bote Mountain ridge.

The scouted  route shows up on the map as a pinkish red GPS track. The rhodo crawl portion is the segment going west near the southern end of our trip. (The far northern portion of the route is not shown on this map.)

My front leader, Clyde Austin, went back with a couple of other people, doing the top part of the route in the opposite direction. They were easily able to find the point where the cross-trail hits Bote Mountain, exactly opposite where the Anthony Creek trail comes in. That route is shown in yellow. You see that it contours along and hits the stream to the south. It is somewhat difficult to see from the stream.

Clyde and I met at Schoolhouse Gap for the official Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing amidst dense fog and drizzle, uncertain whether we would have any takers for the trip on this bad weather day. But out of the gloom emerged Hiram Rogers, Mike Harrington, and Andy Zimmerman, unfazed by the conditions. We reached the Anthony – Bote junction at 10:00 and proceeded down the cross-trail, making good progress along the clearly discernible dug-out trail with just a few awkward side-hilling spots.

The going got much tougher once we reached the stream. It seemed more difficult than I’d remembered from the May scouting trip. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the wet conditions with visibility so poor that it was hard to read the vegetation in the surrounding terrain: was the small opening that we detected a passageway to open, easy going, or was it merely a brief interruption that would dump us immediately back into the arms of Rhodo Beast? Also, I recall that in May we were able to travel up the stream itself some of the way in the southern part of the route, but this time the water was too high for that. So we proceeded from one rhodo thicket to another, each of us groping for a good passage and calling out to the others.

We moved very slowly. As I recall, it took us about three and a half hours to go two miles. We stopped for a sodden lunch, then pushed on, finding somewhat better conditions in the vicinity of Long Cove Creek.

It was at that point that I suggested bailing out of the stream valley and heading up to the Bote Mountain ridge. I was feeling uncomfortably chilly, and the slow pace did not allow me to warm up. The others generously accepted my plan even though I think some would have preferred to continue along the stream. I would have been willing to go out by myself, but they did not accept that idea.

They did, however, put me at the front of the group as we sought a reasonable route out of the valley. I joked that they only did that so that they could have me to blame if we ended up in another marathon rhodo-crawl. I must say that things did not look very promising as I picked out a slight gap in the vegetation and started climbing through a stand of spindly laurel.

Clyde had been saying that he hates laurel even more than rhodo, but I think laurel varies quite a bit in its difficulty. True, dense scrub laurel on exposed ridgecrests is just about impossible. But this was relatively wimpy laurel, easy to push through.

Along the way we passed some stands of solid blueberry shrubs with brilliant fall foliage, and in another, rather unusual discovery, we encountered a piece of siding that had apparently been flung into the mountains either by the spring 2011 tornadoes or this summer’s intense July 5 storm. Following a narrow ridge that led to Hickory Tree Gap, we climbed over a series of small knobs and—just at the point where we were starting to wonder—we dumped out onto the trail. From there it was an uneventful trip back to the cars, with some very pretty views across to splotches of color along the West Prong valley.

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Comments»

1. BrianR - October 8, 2012

Hmm. Zooming in on the GPS track I can discern the true reason the going was tougher than expected. You obviously all got drunk and stumbled around all over the place.

Jenny - October 8, 2012

🙂 No, no, no! Actually, I’ll tell you the real reason. It was a science experiment involving people traveling the way dogs do on the trail…you know, backwards, forwards, around in circles, going three miles to every human one.

2. Clyde Austin - October 9, 2012

Hmm, I guess the track would make us look suspicious, but I don’t think we had any good beverages available! I have to agree with Jenny, the fog and rain made it almost impossible to try to pick a good route. I too remember the scout as much easier, that said, the wet conditions by themselves are nasty enough. Jenny is exactly right we put her in front for the up portion so we could blame any nasty rhodo tangle on her! That wasn’t real laurel in there, that was wimpy little play laurel. Real laurel is on Brushy Mountain and other assorted nasty places I seem to have a penchant for finding (laughing). My ability to find laurel and rhodo is legendary.
Clyde

Jenny - October 9, 2012

The laurel between Long Branch Gap and Brushy would eat the Hickory Tree Gap laurel for breakfast.


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