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.