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The 1000-foot scar November 8, 2012

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

James gazes up the scar toward sandstone bluffs exposed by the landslide

James Locke and I had set Wednesday as the day for a hike, and Wednesday it would be, regardless of the weather. When we met up at the starting point, a mixed precipitation was drizzling down, just on the edge between rain and snow. Up at Newfound Gap it was all snow, and the crew at LeConte Lodge were getting yet more new accumulation to offset partial melting that had occurred since last week’s big dump.

I’d been wanting to check out a huge new landslide scar route off Trout Branch that was pioneered by Greg Harrell. He didn’t just happen to notice it, he went out deliberately looking for new scars soon after hearing that LeConte had received six inches of rain in a day, early in August. Looking across from the Chimneys, he saw a brand-new jagged opening that extends all the way down from the 5200′ point on Alum Cave trail where it slabs around Peregrine Peak, down past Big Duck Hawk ridge and on to Trout Branch. Since then, he’s been up a couple times with other people. He and Chris Sass did a trip in late September, and Chris got some really nice photos that you can see here.

I especially recommend Chris’s photos because I had an embarrassing mishap with my camera as James and I climbed up the slide. After switching to heavier gloves, I accidentally set the camera in video mode, and it stayed that way the whole way up the interesting section. Duh!!! I ended up with a set of short, wobbly, substandard videos from each time I turned the camera on. The frame capture shown at top is the best I can offer. My apologies!

When we started up Trout Branch, we found patchy snow conditions in the surrounding woods and moderately high water.

Lower Trout Branch

At 4000′, we reached a distinctive tabletop boulder that marks the spot a couple of small stream basins join the main stem of Trout Branch. This is the place where the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned to climb up to Big Duck Hawk in July 2011.

The tabletop boulder at 4000′.

But things have gotten rearranged since then. You don’t really need to watch for the tabletop boulder, because just to your right is a giant pile of debris left from the landslide, trees heaped on top of each other, the bark peeled right off many of them. The force evidenced by this is simpy astounding.

You can make out the debris pile past where James is standing.

Awe-inspiring force is represented by this debris.

We climbed up the scar, reaching the interesting band of sandstone shown at top. Everything was stripped down to bare rock as high as 25 or 30′ up on both sides. It must have been a cataclysm.

In a couple of places we took to the woods on either side and found the amount of slushy snow deepening as we climbed, but nowhere above about knee deep. In the scar itself, the snow had mostly been washed away or melted. We crossed the geological boundary line to Anakeesta and found it to be a certain variety with lots of spiky textures that helped gaining a foothold but no clear strata as you find sometimes with this type of rock.

The way grew steeper in that classic progression of Smokies slopes, and up at the very top we had some tough scrabbling to get up an unstable slope of gravelly soil and loose rock. We came out on the Alum Cave trail just as a hiker passed by. The steepness was such that I had my hands on the edge of the trail right next to his feet starting to pull myself up, and he politely asked if I wanted a hand!

In the chilly, snowy conditions, we opted to hike down the trail rather than descending via Big Duck Hawk or some variation off of it. The fog was so thick that you could hardly see Alum Cave even when right underneath it, and Inspiration Point featured whiteness of an inspiring intensity. And so a short but fascinating hike ended.


1. AdamB - November 8, 2012

Jenny one thing I find almost as interesting as these wild places are the people that go there. It is fascinating that there are so few who venture off trail that we end up crossing paths or doing trips like this with many of the same set of folks time and again. I myself have gone off trail a few times with James he is a good guy and he loves this stuff along with trout fishing. There is a tiny subset of trout fisherman who like to fish remote blue lines and I think much of that is because they share the same sense of exploration, adventure, and discovery.

Jenny - November 8, 2012

Yes, James was a great person to hike with, and he definitely has that sense of exploration! I can see the overlap between the more adventuresome trout fishermen and the off-trail hikers.

2. Al Watson - November 11, 2012

Jenny, what was your elevation when you hit the Alum Cave trail ?
de Al Watson

Jenny - November 11, 2012

About 5200′. Not far above Alum Cave and just above where Big Duck Hawk comes in.

3. BrianR - November 11, 2012

“Awe-inspiring” That shot of the debris pile is the type of thing that overused phrase should be reserved for. Harrell sounds like a one of a kind guy. I have to laugh thinking of him rushing up to the Chimneys hoping to see a big landslide. Who else but him would think to do that?

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