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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.

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Comments»

1. Ronnie - August 6, 2013

Your off trail feats always amaze me,way to go and nice report!

Jenny - August 6, 2013

Thanks, Ronnie! You know as well as anyone what these places are like.

2. Al - August 7, 2013

Congratulations, what a climb.

3. Jim Plant - August 7, 2013

You’re amazing. Stunning photos of the stream with pools and cascades. Did you see any sign anyone had been there before?

Jenny - August 7, 2013

Hi, Jim. No sign at all. I do know that over the years a few SMHC members have been up the left fork of Shutts to go up to the saddle on Horseshoe Mountain and drop down to Lester Prong to loop back to Porters. In my collection of old SMHC handbooks (not a complete set), I haven’t found any mention of trips up the right fork, and I don’t know of anyone who’s been there, but of course it’s possible people have done it. One of the reasons it’s not done much if at all is that a loop trip is so long the way I did it. It would also be possible to loop around to the Porters Creek/ Dry Sluice manway and drop down that way. That would be quite a bit shorter than going over LeConte, offset somewhat by the higher exertion required to descend the manway. The practical way to explore the right fork would be to have a shuttled car at Newfound Gap.

4. Jeff G. - August 7, 2013

Great report and pictures. Thanks for another Smokies fix.

5. James Locke - August 7, 2013

Congrats on finishing your goal. Figured you’d do the hardest one solo. We need to do some hiking in the Raven Fork now that water levels are finally subsiding

6. BrianR - August 8, 2013

Wow! Congrats on completing a whale of a dayhike. You must be in some kind of shape. How does that one compare to Lowes? It must have been a pleasure walking along where creek flow over bedrock like that. It’s always a highlight for me for some reason. I looked at the geology map. Believe it or not some guys got paid to hike up Shutts Prong once upon a time. Took the right branch like you but probably turned back when it got steep. They show the Anakeesta starting about the same elevation you noticed it, then briefly returning to sandstone for a half mile or so.

http://geology.er.usgs.gov/eespteam/Mtleconte/website/pdf_files/mlc_layout.pdf

Jenny - August 9, 2013

It’s been a long time since I did Lowes, but one major difference is that Lowes’ gradient is much more even over its whole course. Lowes and Cannon involve more off-trail elevation change before you reach the crest, which is the only reason I said Shutts is “one of the most challenging” instead of “the most challenging.” With its little benches of rock and cascades, Shutts reminded me of Lester. I have a feeling there must be some chutes in its uppermost sections like the ones on upper Lester, given the signs of severe flooding, but on the other hand the upper basin looks heavily forested. I’ll have to go back with some other people and tackle the challenge of the upper basin. Thanks for the geology link!

MIke Harrington - August 28, 2013

I did lower Shutts in 2009 on the way to the Horseshoe ridge saddle point and Lester Prong. The area at about 3800′ where you turned right (and we turned left) had lots of recent slide debris and we followed the slide much of the way up Horseshoe mtn. We thought the slide was fairly new at that time–raw looking bare rock, etc.. Also wondered about the road not taken in those possible turns to the right. Now, thanks to you, we know at least part of that other story. Thank you for running this blog and sharing your many hiking escapades.

Jenny - August 28, 2013

I’d like to explore the left fork of Shutts as well as doing more in the right fork. I plan to go up Horseshoe Branch in the very near future but will probably go down the Horseshoe slide into Lester, almost certainly easier than descending off Horseshoe Mtn. via Shutts left fork.

7. Al - August 9, 2013

Jenny, how long did it take to get from your car up to the Blvd trail ?

Jenny - August 9, 2013

It took me roughly from 7:30 to 3:30. Pretty damn slow, huh? The killer was the 3.5 hours it took me to do the one mile rhodo bash from the stream up to the ridgecrest and over to the trail. As best as I can remember: Leave trail 8:30, go 2 miles up stream and stop for lunch 11:30, start climbing ridge 12:00, reach trail 3:30, rest until 4:00, reach High Top 5:30, Trillium Gap 7:30, back at car 10:00 (all times approximate). A 14.5 hour hike. I was moving slow from the time I reached the trail.

Al - August 9, 2013

…and then that long drive back across the mountain. Just amazing. Must have been a lot more difficult than Cannon Creek, another night trip to get back to cars.

8. Jenny - August 11, 2013

Funny thing is, I long to go back and explore that upper basin.

9. Al - August 14, 2013

…and you will


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