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Mouse Creek revisited May 28, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Mouse Creek falls

Upper Mouse Creek falls

Last fall I scouted this hike with Mark Shipley and Ed Fleming. It was to be an outing for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club.  It is a strenuous hike, going off-trail from the lower waterfall that can be seen from the Big Creek trail and rockhopping up Mouse Creek, a climb of 4000′ vertical feet to get to the Mt. Sterling fire tower. Think of the Baxter Creek trail and then consider how much harder it is to do the same climb without benefit of a trail.

Mark and Ed decided to limit the number of people who could go. It is part of an SMHC initiative to avoid the environmental impact of a large number of people trampling through the forest. I will say, however, that I believe trail hikers have a much greater impact on the forest than the small numbers of scattered off-trail hikers venturing into places few people go. The way I think about it, the forest is so robust that the hikers are the ones on the defensive, not the woods! If you have ever waded through waist-deep doghobble or wormed your way through a rhododendron thicket, you might understand what I mean.

However, I respect the decision of the leaders and value the intention behind it.

At any rate, I decided not to join the club hike because I’d been there on the scouting trip and didn’t want to deprive anyone who hadn’t been there before from taking one of the six slots available.

Of course, after I made that decision I had pangs of disappointment. I realized that I truly didn’t want to miss out on the experience. So I came up with a plan. I would go ahead of the group and meet them at the upper Mouse Creek falls. I kept my plan secret.

I arrived an hour and a quarter before the group meeting time and parked at the ranger station a mile away because I knew people would recognize my car. I was so determined to stay ahead of the group that by the time I reached the falls I had expanded my lead time to an hour and a half. As it turned out, that was a mistake, because I burned myself out and ran out of steam on the upper section.

I meet with the group at the falls (I am in the purple jacket).

I meet with the group at the falls (I am in the purple jacket). Photo by Mike Harrington.

The falls is at 3560′, or only halfway to the top. We continued along an old logging grade for a while, but where the vegetation got thick, we returned to the stream itself. I dragged more and more behind the group, embarrassed to make such a poor showing for myself.

We reached the tower and experienced beautiful views from the top on this crystal-clear day.  We all had different schedules so split up into different groups for the return down the Baxter Creek trail. I walked down with Cindy McJunkin, enjoying our conversation about the plants we encountered and many other subjects. Despite the odd difficulties I experienced, I’m glad I decided to join the group.

Daredevil Greg Harrell climbed through a hole in the roof of the tower and stood on top!

Daredevil Greg Harrell climbed through a hole in the roof of the tower and stood on top!

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Yellow lady slippers and other yellow things May 20, 2013

Posted by Jenny in nature, photography, plants, Southern Appalachians.
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The closer you look, the more mysterious.

The closer you look, the more mysterious.

Click twice for full zoom on any photo.

Lady slippers—lovely, bizarre, delicate, bold, faintly tropical, somehow sexual. A plant of contradictions.

I’ve seen pink lady slippers every spring, whether up in New England or in the southern Appalachians. I hadn’t seen the yellow ones for years. I never made a special pilgrimage to find them in places they’re known to live, like White Oak Sinks. I just kept taking my walks in the spring, knowing I’d see them sooner or later. I found two clumps of them today in the Plott Balsams.

“The conspicuous slipperlike pouch formed by the lower petal is a trap for capturing bees, which are released only after being coated with pollen. American Indians used the roots of these plants, as did 19th century physicians, for many types of nervous ailments such as hysteria, insomnia, and premenstrual syndrome.” —Appalachian Wildflowers, Thomas E. Hemmerly.

A pair of slippers.

A pair of slippers.

Both of the clumps I saw had three blossoms.

Both of the clumps I saw had three blossoms.

I enjoyed the color yellow in other things I saw today.

Blue and yellow (bluets and cinquefoil).

Blue and yellow (bluets and cinquefoil).

Yellow with orange centers (roundleaf ragwort).

Yellow with orange centers (roundleaf ragwort).

Pale purple with yellow centers (fleabane).

Pale purple with yellow centers (fleabane).

Yellow and brown (lousewort).

Yellow and brown (lousewort).

Yellow surrounded by green (golden alexander).

Yellow surrounded by green (golden alexander).

Purple and yellow (golden alexander and geraniums).

Purple and yellow (golden alexander and geraniums).

Blue and yellow, signifying purple and gold (we are in Western Carolina University territory).

Blue and yellow trail blaze, signifying purple and gold (we are in Western Carolina University territory).

Pink (wild azalea).

Pink (wild azalea).

Transparent (Fisher Creek).

Transparent (Fisher Creek).

Shapes of spring May 11, 2013

Posted by Jenny in nature, photography, plants, Smoky Mountains.
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Beech leaves

Beech leaves.

Photos taken yesterday near Will Branch, Smith Branch, and Kanati Fork trail.

Leaf shapes.

Leaf shapes.

Foamflower growing from tree trunk.

Foamflower growing from tree trunk.

Foamflower and phlox.

Foamflower and phlox.

Showy orchis.

Showy orchis.

False solomon's seal.

False solomon’s seal.

Squaw root emerging through leaves.

Squaw root emerging through leaves.

White violet.

White violet.

Purple violets.

Purple violets.

Saxifrage.

Saxifrage.

Painted trillium.

Painted trillium.

Variegated violets.

Variegated violets.

Serviceberry.

Serviceberry.

Trillium erectum (white wake-robin).

Trillium erectum (white wake-robin).

Bee balm leaves, chickweed, violets.

Bee balm leaves, chickweed, violets.

Oak leaves.

Oak leaves.

Squaw root, acorn, violets.

Squaw root, acorn, violets.

Blossoms of meadow rue.

Blossoms of meadow rue.

Pinwheels of lousewort.

Pinwheels of lousewort.

Tree with odd shape.

Tree with big butt (!).

Umbrella leaf.

Umbrella leaf.

Color creeps up the mountain slopes.

Color creeps up the mountain slopes.