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Bearpen Hollow August 18, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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View from West Point.

View from 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.

Rob and Hiram proceed next to the stream.

Rob and Hiram proceed next to the stream.

At times it was hard to see each other in the brush.

At times it was hard to see each other in the brush.

Large buckeye.

Large buckeye.

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.)

Cindy and Rob enjoy the open part of the ridge.

Cindy and Rob enjoy the open part of the ridge.

At times the brush grew a bit dense. Ed crawled through the jungle and I followed suit.

How often do you get to read the labels on the soles of your fellow hiker's boots?

How often do you get to read the labels on the soles of your fellow hikers’ boots?

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.”

This is why they're called the Smoky Mountains.

This is why they’re called the Smoky Mountains.

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.

Grass of Parnassus.

Grass of Parnassus.

Focus is bad, but this is just so you can see the color of these gentians.

Focus is bad, but this is just so you can see the color of these gentians.

Colony of turtleheads.

Colony of turtleheads.

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.

Turtlehead closeup

Turtlehead closeup

Mt. LeConte via Shutts Prong August 6, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking down from the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge

Looking back down where I climbed up on the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge

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.

A landslide area is visible in this photo taken from the Boulevard trail.

A landslide area is visible in this photo taken from the Boulevard trail.

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.

Map showing off-trail portion of my route.

Map showing off-trail portion of my route. (Click for zoom)

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.

"Shuttsevard" runs into Porters at the cascade to the right. Porters runs straight ahead.

“Shuttsevard” runs into Porters at the cascade to the right. Porters runs straight ahead.

Large pool on "Shuttsevard."

Large pool on “Shuttsevard.”

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.

Cascade and pool, cascade and pool is the name of the game.

Cascade and pool, cascade and pool is the name of the game.

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.

Asters along the stream.

Asters along the stream.

Magical pool.

Magical pool.

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.

Anakeesta on left, sandstone on right.

Anakeesta on left, sandstone on right.

Fern garden beside the stream.

Fern garden beside the stream.

Anakeesta cascade. It was fun scrambling up these little stairsteps.

Anakeesta cascade. It was fun scrambling up these little stairsteps.

Mysterious regions of a Smokies stream pool.

Mysterious regions of a Smokies stream pool.

Tilted strata of Anakeesta.

Tilted strata of Anakeesta, each one neatly edged in moss.

Mossy cascade.

Mossy cascade.

Geological stripes.

Geological stripes.

As I got higher in the stream, I started to run into debris and logjams from past flooding.

Quite a mess.

Quite a mess.

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.

It smelled like sulfur.

It smelled like sulfur.

Things got more and more messy as I proceeded upstream.

Things got more and more messy as I proceeded upstream.

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.

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain.

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain.

Interesting clouds over upper basin of right fork.

Interesting clouds over upper basin of right fork.

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.

Tangle of myrtle.

Tangle of myrtle.

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.

Coneflower and filmy angelica.

Coneflower and filmy angelica.

Monkshood.

Monkshood.

Made it!

Made it!

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.

Yellow fringed orchid.

Yellow fringed orchid.