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Tomahawk Falls July 15, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Tomahawk Falls

Tomahawk Falls

Those of you who read my post about scouting this hike in early May will see that conditions on the official outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned out completely different. Rainy instead of dry, jungle instead of open woods, high water in the streams.

James Locke was my co-leader. Nine people joined us on a day when the probability of rain was forecast in the 20-30% range. I looked at the weather radar that morning and saw scattered green blobs of precipitation across the area. I figured we’d have intermittent light showers. We ended up with light showers varied by intermittent drenching rain.

The extraordinary amount of rainfall we’ve had the past few weeks has produced thriving vegetation, a bumper crop of insects, and jumbo-sized mushrooms and fungi.

This was about 18 inches across.

This was about 18 inches across.

Our route took us from Chimneys trailhead up the Road Prong trail to 4450′ elevation, where we dropped down a steep bank to the junction of Road Prong and Tomahawk Prong. We waded a third of a mile up to Tomahawk Falls and, after admiring the falls, returned to the stream junction, where some opted to re-cross Road Prong and return to the cars. Others bushwhacked a short distance to an unnamed stream running close to Tomahawk Prong and followed that valley to the crest of Sugarland Mountain. We then took the Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway down to the Chimneys trail and returned to the trailhead.

We did a little bushwhacking even before we left the Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

The wet soil and violent thunderstorms we’ve had lately have resulted in blowdowns all over the Park.

Dropping down to the stream, we waded a short distance up Road Prong to the Tomahawk Prong junction.

Lance and Dave work along the edge of Road Prong.

Lance and David work along the edge of Road Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Not far up Tomahawk Prong, I dropped chest-deep into a pool whose depth I misjudged. I performed this maneuver quietly, with no fuss, muss, or bother, remaining upright. I think the people who saw it happen were asking themselves, “Why did she do that?”

Since my camera is waterproof (I acquired it after drowning two cameras in streams) and I had my extra clothing in a plastic bag inside my pack, no harm was done. After all, none of us expected to stay dry while wading a creek on a rainy day. The only problem was that I no longer had a good way to clear the fog and rain droplets from my camera lens.

We slithered and slid our way up the stream until we reached Tomahawk Falls.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

There is another waterfall just upstream which is just as impressive. (Unfortunately my photo of it has too much fog on the lens.)

When we returned to the stream junction, it was raining fairly hard. Five people opted to return to the cars, while six soldiered on.

We traversed a short stretch of rhodo and reached the neighboring stream valley. I was shocked by how overgrown it was. When James and I scouted it on May 3, we had a pleasant stroll through open woods carpeted with wildflowers. Now it was a waist-deep jungle of nettle and blackberry. I consider myself a reasonably experienced bushwhacker, but I have to admit I was taken aback by the contrast. My only excuse is that the rainfall this year has resulted in abnormal growth of vegetation.

This is what the stream valley looked like in early May.

This is what the stream valley looked like on May 3.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

With this kind of jungle to wade through, we opted to stay in the stream most of the time, which worked out okay except for the many blowdowns that had fallen across the stream—I’m pretty sure some of them were recent.

Our crew of hardy souls toughed out the adverse conditions. One of our group, Lance Cooper, suffered a deep gash in his shin, but he persevered. I admired his attitude. The others who did the longer, more difficult hike were Cindy McJunkin, David Krispin, Buddy Sanders, and Rob Davis.

At around 4800′ the valley broadened out and the vegetation thinned somewhat, so we were able to get out of the stream and climb up a steep slope to get to the crest of Sugarland Mountain at 5400′.

Crimson bee balm

Crimson bee balm.

The group members seemed pleasantly surprised to find that yes, there really was a trail at the top of the mountain, just as I had promised. We hiked down the trail until we reached the connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

The manway isn’t hard to follow, but it was slippery and muddy in yesterday’s conditions. When we got down to the Chimneys trail, rain was gusting over the mountain. The group opted to skip going over to scale the Chimney Tops.

Would you believe that we enjoyed the hike despite the conditions? If you do, you would make a good candidate for joining a band of adventurers for an exploration of the Smokies on a rainy day.

Mountain ash berries.

Mountain ash berries.


1. Clyde Austin - July 15, 2013

Jenny, when I did the little unnamed stream it looked like your first picture of it did! Now you see why I do no off-trail from early June till late September. Glad you didn’t find my yellow jackets on “unnamed stream”. Found the real Bunion with Mike on Friday, but we just took a picture and kept on our merry way. I guesstimated an hour to get out there and back. We had fantastic weather for July on Friday and Saturday. When I saw the Sunday forecast I drove home!

Jenny - July 15, 2013

Clyde, here’s my take on seasons for bushwhacking. For the kind of hikes you enjoy, following old manways in particular, there’s no doubt summer isn’t a good time for that. Not only do you have to wade through the “salad,” as you call it (I love that term!), but it also becomes much harder to see the manway. For rockhopping up a good-sized stream or for scrambling on rocks, summer vegetation makes little difference, and you can take advantage of longer daylight hours for extended adventures. The unnamed stream we followed yesterday was tiny and in a V-shaped draw that drew blowdowns like a magnet. So much of the time we were either working over the blowdowns or wading the weeds on the streambank. Summer is definitely not the time for that place, but the situation varies so much from one place to another. That’s what makes it interesting!

2. Al - July 18, 2013

I liked the pics of the waterfalls and the shot of the crossover manway.
Brings back some memories.
Did you notice the condition of the manway that enters the SMT not too far north of where you picked up the trail ?

Jenny - July 18, 2013

Al, we didn’t look for that manway and didn’t see it. I’ve heard people mention it, but I’ve never been on it. The Chimney connector, though, is obvious even though the tree that marked it is now just a stump.

Clyde Austin - July 18, 2013

I thought I was aware of a lot of manways, but the one you all are mentioning I am not familiar with. I assume it above the Chimney Tops connector, but below where the little unnamed drainage hits Sugarland? Can you shed any light one it?
Jenny, I would agree, for stream climbing, summer makes sense, the water feels good and the salad is not too much worse.

3. Jenny - July 19, 2013

Clyde, you can see it on the 1931 map. It went up the stream valley north of the valley we took, and you’d hit the crest just south of the 5320′ knob. According to Charlie K., that is the route used in some previous SMHC outings that first visited Tomahawk Falls, but the 2006 handbook describes it as off-trail and doesn’t mention any manway, so perhaps it’s just about gone.

4. Al - July 19, 2013

Clyde and Jenny, that dated manway connected the two large valleys flanking Sugarland Mtn. It might go really far back. At one time (1980s) it swept into the SMT from the West Prong side as a grand boulevard. I tried to descend it but the wide path soon played out and the rhodo was too much for me.

Clyde Austin - July 19, 2013

Is the west side of that manway what is now the Rough Creek Trail? I have never noticed it going down Sugarland Mtn, but have never looked for it. Usually if a prominent manway hits a trail I can spot it and often do to file it away for future potential outings.

5. Al - July 20, 2013

The 1931 topo shows it as Rough Creek. The present day
Rough Creek trail seems to run up to a different spot
than the old pathway on the ’31 map, a lil more north.
They probably changed the grade for better access to the SMT.


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