Bearpen Hollow August 18, 2013Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Bearpen Hollow, Mt. LeConte, West Point
Six members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club ventured on a climb of Mt. LeConte via Bearpen Hollow despite a discouraging weather forecast. As it turned out, conditions were cool and pleasant, and we experienced only a light shower toward the very end of our hike.
Chris Sass was our fearless leader, I was the “rear leader” or “sweep” as some clubs call it, and we were joined by Rob Davis, Cindy McJunkin, Hiram Rogers, and Ed Fleming.
The lowest section of the creek is bordered by aggressive rhodo, so we stayed in the stream until things opened up a bit.
Chris and I have been up Bearpen three times in the past few years, and we have gone up the valley left, right, and center. This outing constituted the “right” variant, as we bore slightly toward the east in the upper valley and hit the ridge on that side. Some of the time, we were following bear prints in the partridgeberry. The climb up to the side ridge was steep but open, with just the right amount of rhodo to provide convenient handholds. We paused on the ridgecrest for a break and a random discussion of varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I mistakenly referred to “Mr. Stripey” tomatoes as “Mr. Smiley” tomatoes, which caused much mirth.
The left, right, and center routes all lead to the same flat area at 5600′, and from there it is a simple but inexorable climb along the ridge that leads to West Point. Partway along the ridge, we crossed that wonderful frontier from forest to open heath of myrtle and Rhodo minus. Now we could see the lay of the land and the hulking presence of LeConte. (I had to come up with a new and different way to describe that mountain.)
At times the brush grew a bit dense. Ed crawled through the jungle and I followed suit.
We finally reached the mighty summit of West Point, which commands a height of 6344′ but doesn’t count for 6K peakbaggers because of its “inadequate col.”
As we rested on this 6000′ imposter, I made another conversational error. I mentioned the fact that I have a collection of old SMHC songbooks and that I’d brought them along on a long-ago club hike up Mt. Cammerer via Rowdy Ridge. Now people are demanding that we sing songs on the hike that I will lead with Cindy next month, Lower Richland Mountain on September 21. I will have to think about that, but it probably won’t happen. It would threaten the great amount of dignity that I’ve achieved over the years. 🙂
We visited the Lodge office and marveled at the old historic photos displayed there. We also marveled at the fact that Cindy’s white shirt had remained spotless throughout the bushwhack.
On the way down the Alum Cave trail, we saw some lovely wildflowers.
As we went along, we stopped at various points of interest such as the top of the Trout Branch off-trail routes, the top of the 1000′ landslide scar, and the entrance to the Big Duck Hawk manway. It was fine outing.
Mt. LeConte via Shutts Prong August 6, 2013Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Anakeesta Ridge, Boulevard Prong, Mt. LeConte, Shutts Prong, Smokies geology
With my latest adventure, I have completed a project I started many years ago: the Twelve Streams of LeConte. Shutts was one of the most challenging of any of the stream routes, amounting to roughly three miles of off-trail and 15 miles of trail. Total elevation gain approached 5000′ because of the ups and downs on the Boulevard trail.
Last week I went out the Boulevard trail to look at the route options from the top. I decided that if I did the trip solo, it was too steep and too risky for me to go directly up the upper basin of the right fork of Shutts Prong. Instead, I opted to head west to hit the top of the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge. I noticed a large landslide area on one of the side ridges.
Studying the map, it appeared to me that the side ridge with the slide went up close to Point 5386. You’ll notice that there are two knobs of nearly the same elevation. Point 5386 is the one further south.
As it turned out, I didn’t go up the landslide side ridge after all, but the one next to it, for reasons I’ll describe below.
I started my day by hiking up Porters Creek trail to 2700′ and dropping down to the stream. Fortunately, the Boulevard/Shutts junction is located in a place where Porters is close to the trail—the section in between is pretty jungly. I found the confluence without any problem. Boulevard and Shutts join shortly before running into Porters. I suppose that short stretch should be called Shuttsevard or Bouleshutts.
I bore left at the split and started to encounter one small cascade after another, often spilling into deep pools. Shutts is a beautiful stream.
I did a fair amount of wading up the stream, as it was much easier than working through the rhodo along the sides and quite pleasant.
I encountered the first Anakeesta in the Thunderhead sandstone/ Anakeesta divide fairly low, around 3300′. One cascade in this section had a neat division between Anakeesta on the left and sandstone on the right.
As I got higher in the stream, I started to run into debris and logjams from past flooding.
In one place, the streamwater had become completely acidified. I’ve seen this happen in places like Alum Cave Creek and Trout Branch where severe localized flooding occurred. Fortunately on Shutts this was restricted to a very small area.
Now it was time to look for my side ridge. Its location was clear both from the elevation and because the stream turned from southwest to south just before the ridge came in. Unfortunately, that whole area was a complete jungle of rhodo, nettles, and blackberry. I looked at it and figured it would take hours just to get to the bottom of the landslide area I’d seen. I decided to continue upstream and see how things looked. At the next side ridge, I found relatively open woods at the bottom. I decided to go up that one.
Soon I found that the open woods closed up again, and I got into a truly ferocious snarl, mainly rhodo. It became a real struggle to climb steeply while pushing through all the twining branches at the same time. I came out on open rock for a bit, but it didn’t last. The top photo was taken from this point. I had a nice view to the major surrounding features.
I got back into myrtle, and then into more rhodo. It transitioned from large-leaf rhododendron to Rhodo minus, which I usually like, but this was a terrible nuisance.
The struggle with the rhodo was extremely tiring. Things didn’t get any better when I reached the ridgecrest and plowed through a combination of rhodo, blackberry, and blowdown. Only toward the very top, where the ridge reaches Anakeesta Gap, did the woods open up a little.
Incidentally, this ridge runs together with Anakeesta Ridge on the other side of the Boulevard. I wonder whether the two ridges should really be considered as one continuous formation?
When I reached the point where the ridgecrest approached the trail, I dropped down and was very glad to be done with the bushwrestling. I rested for a while, had food and water, and got a second wind.
I was still about three miles from the Lodge and the Trillium Gap junction. Along I went over the gentle ups and downs of the Boulevard trail. I saw some nice wildflowers.
Now all I had to do was descend the nine miles of the Trillium Gap, Brushy Mountain, and Porters Creek trails. At least I saw more flowers along the way.
All in all, a very challenging but worthwhile experience. In the end, you have to work pretty hard to reach these valuable places.