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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!


1. Al - May 28, 2013

4000 vertical feet, almost like climbing out of Grand Canyon from the Colorado River. I would wish for the stamina again to see this remote area of the Big Creek drainage.

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