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Trout Branch scar revisited September 24, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, photography, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking up the landslide scar.

Looking up the landslide scar.

Last November I visited the Trout Branch scar with James Locke on a chilly day with a mix of snow and drizzle in the air. I had problems with cold fingers and gloves, and the photos I took weren’t good. I’d been thinking about returning ever since, and on a lovely September day I decided to revisit the scar on my own.

The landslide occurred last August. It runs from the Alum Cave trail a little above Alum Cave down to Trout Branch. Greg Harrell, who pioneered the route, calls it the “thousand foot scar” because it runs from 5000′ down to 4000′.

I was curious whether this year’s January flooding had made any difference in the washout. It had, in a way most evident in the position of the logjam at the bottom. Formerly standing to the side of Trout Branch, it has now been shoved right into the midst of the stream. Further up, things don’t look much different. The August washout had already completed the job of scouring the stream valley down to the bedrock. It looks as though, along the sides, a few more trees have been swept away.

The exposure of the Anakeesta bedrock to the air has resulted in severe acidification of the streamwater. In Trout Branch, rocks are noticeably red from sulfuric deposits. I would guess that trout no longer find Trout Branch a good place to live.

What follows is a photo gallery.

Cascade on Trout Branch.

Cascade on Trout Branch.

Stones in pool.

Stones in pool.

Double cascades. Note red-tinted rock in center.

Double cascades. Note red-tinted rock in center.

Red-tinted rocks.

Red-tinted rocks.

Huge logjam up ahead.

Huge logjam up ahead.

I climbed around the logjam.

I climbed around the logjam.

Looking up at sandstone portion of slide.

Looking up at sandstone portion of slide.

Huge slabs of exposed bedrock.

Huge slabs of exposed bedrock.

The water stains the rock.

The water stains the rock.

Starting to make upward progress.

Starting to make upward progress.

Logjam in chute.

Logjam in chute.

Foam in the water.

Foam in the water.

Getting into Anakeesta.

Getting into Anakeesta.

Steep pitch of Anakeesta.

Steep pitch of Anakeesta.

Looking down the chute.

Looking down the chute.

Anakeesta slabs.

Anakeesta slabs.

The ridges glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

The ridges glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

Anakeesta layers.

Anakeesta layers.

Above this blowdown the footing is so loose it's better to go into the woods.

Above this blowdown the footing is so loose it’s better to go into the woods.

When I was just below this blowdown, someone looked down from the trail and saw me climbing up the scar. “Are you in trouble?” she called down. “Do you need help?” “No,” I said.  “Just doing a little bushwhacking.” Soon after that I was standing on the trail.

A beautiful short hike.

Big Duck Hawk Ridge.

Big Duck Hawk Ridge.

Twelve Streams: The project and the book September 22, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, fiction, hiking, history, Smoky Mountains.
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Mossy cascade on Shutts Prong.

Mossy cascade on Shutts Prong.

Followers of this blog know that with last month’s climb up Shutts Prong, I completed a project to reach the top of Mt. LeConte via all the streams that drain its slopes. I climbed my first LeConte stream, Trout Branch, back in 1983 with Paul Threlkeld, Bill Neal, Rob Hawk, and Chris Hebb. Three of those people are no longer with us. Paul, a former president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, passed away in July. Bill Neal, also a former SMHC president, died in 1994. Chris Hebb, my former husband, died of a brain tumor in 2004.

It was in the 80s that I decided that I would like to go up all the streams of LeConte. But I moved away from the Smokies in 1989 and didn’t return for twenty years. The idea still drifted around in my thoughts, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to define the project more precisely and finish it up. At the same time, I started writing a novel titled The Twelve Streams of LeConte.

I defined the twelve streams as:

Alum Cave Creek

Styx Branch

Trout Branch

Bear Pen Hollow

Cole Creek

LeConte Creek

Roaring Fork

Surry Fork

Cannon Creek

Lowes Creek

Boulevard Prong

Shutts Prong

I had climbed all but three of them already, leaving LeConte Creek, Surry Fork, and Shutts Prong to do this year.

It would be easy to quibble with my list of streams, but after all it was my project and I could do it however I wanted. When I thought about it this year, at first I came up with eleven before I decided that I wanted the number to be twelve, studied the map, and added the obscure Surry Fork, which no one seems to climb. As I see it, the major quibble is that I should have added Trillium Branch as well. But that would have made it thirteen, and I didn’t want thirteen—so you see how arbitrary my list is.

Trillium Branch is a named tributary of Cannon Creek, and I had included another named tributary on my list, Styx Branch, which flows into Alum Cave Creek. So my list isn’t entirely consistent. On the other hand, it could easily be argued that Shutts is too far away from LeConte to be included—or that if I did, I should also throw in Walker Camp Prong.

I included Shutts because I think of it as one of the four great Greenbrier streams of the LeConte area. It merges with Boulevard Prong at the bottom. Shutts may have been the greatest adventure of them all—that’s a tough call. Cannon would certainly rank near the top.

It could also be said I should have gone up every fork of every stream, or that I should have started each creek at its mouth. That would have meant going up Roaring Fork from downtown Gatlinburg. No, I wasn’t going to do that, and I freely used trails that bypassed or paralleled the lower sections of the streams. As far as the forks are concerned, I’ve done more than one fork of Trout Branch and Styx Branch, but not of the others.

One big motivation for finishing was the book. The main character of the novel climbs the twelve streams, so I felt the author should have accomplished that for the sake of authenticity.

I’m now making final revisions to Twelve Streams. It is not a guide to hiking the streams; neither is it a murder mystery like Murder at the Jumpoff, which was published last year.

I can’t judge the literary quality of my own work, but the one thing I can definitely say about it is that it is original. No one in the world besides myself could have written anything like it. It has several narratives weaving in and out of each other, echoing certain themes. The narratives concern:

  • The journeys of the twelve streams.
  • The book—not the movie—of The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, published 1915.
  • The life of a serious reader who comes from a family of generations of readers; the teeming universe of books.
  • The challenges faced by an adventurous single woman. She has much in common with me—but beware of thinking the book is autobiographical.

Followers of this blog will not be surprised that the Boer War makes a minor appearance, as do landscape design and World War I.

I will be trying to find a literary agent to advise and assist on getting it published. The publisher of Murder at the Jumpoff , Canterbury House, is an excellent but very small publishing house specializing in genre works such as mysteries with a regional emphasis. Twelve Streams doesn’t come close to fitting its profile. I hope, of course, for a larger publishing house with national resources, but we’ll have to see what happens. I appreciate any advice, suggestions, or connections that anyone can come up with.

You will notice blog posts on subjects other than hiking appearing once again—but have no fear, I will continue to do lots of blogs about hiking. This fall I plan to do a series about the Siege of Mafeking (in the Boer War). The cast of characters fascinates me, including Colonel Baden Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), Lady Sarah Wilson (Winston Churchill’s aunt), and Sol Plaatje (one of the founders of the African National Congress). But for those blog followers not interested, the delete button is readily available.

Sol Plaatje, c. 1900.

Sol Plaatje, c. 1900.

Unlucky Horseshoe September 10, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Area of Horseshoe Mountain.

Area of Horseshoe Mountain.

For the past month, I have been haunted by the memory of my adventure going up Shutts Prong. I wanted to venture again into those wild streams. And so it was that I came up with the idea of visiting Horseshoe Mountain. I decided I would follow Horseshoe Branch from Porters Creek to the summit and descend via the stream that runs down Horseshoe’s east side into Lester Prong.

I descended that east-side stream, which forms a slide in its upper section, on a trip three years ago, going down the slide and climbing up the Jumpoff. I was accompanied by Brian Reed and Seneca Pressley on that trip.

I set out on a beautiful cool, clear September day. The first challenge I faced was to locate the junction of Horseshoe Branch and Porters. That shouldn’t be a problem, I figured. After all, I’d located the Shutts junction with no trouble at all. Also, you can see Horseshoe Mountain from the trail.

The USGS map shows the junction at just above 3200′.  Just to make sure of the location, I also printed out a copy of a Google map from Tom Dunigan’s Tennessee Landforms website, since it shows a GPS track of a person following the trail. Hmmm—the GPS track looks quite different from the dotted line of the trail on the USGS version.

To make sure I didn’t miss the junction, I left the trail below 3200′ and went to the stream through a wide swath of rhodo, then started rockhopping up Porters. Even though water levels are low these days, Porters is still a large enough creek that working upstream isn’t all that easy. I went from pool to giant boulder to blowdown, on and on, and didn’t see the junction. I went all the way up to 3400′ before heading back to the trail. I came out at the backcountry campsite—obviously past the junction.

“I must’ve just missed it,” I said to myself. “I need to go back and start lower down.”

I went down to 3050′ just to make sure, and once again proceeded upstream. After much work, I saw a wet footprint on a boulder—my own. It’s interesting how long it takes a footprint to evaporate.

I had already been concerned about time. “Okay, time to cut my losses. I’ll reverse the trip, go up the slide and down Horseshoe Branch.”

So along I went to the familiar Porters Creek manway. The stream crossings were all easy with the low water levels.

First crossing on Porters Creek manway.

First crossing on Porters Creek manway.

The manway is becoming more and more obscure with its many blowdowns. The first stretch, just past the backcountry campsite, is one of the hardest to follow. The trick is to look past each blowdown to see traces of foot travel on the ground. When you get to the stream crossings, you have the friendly cairns.

This cairn must have been here quite a while.

This cairn must have been here quite a while.

A cairn with a special shape marks the junction with Lester Prong.

Cairn at Lester junction.

Cairn at Lester junction.

Lester nearly disappeared in places with the low water, the way Styx Branch disappears and reappears.

Hardly any water in this stretch---but it reappeared.

Hardly any water in this stretch—but it reappeared.

I approached the first tributary on the left, the one I have followed many times to reach Rocky Crag (the “Real Bunion”). Distinctive cascades mark this spot.

Near first tributary of  Lester Prong.

Near first tributary of Lester Prong.

This is where you are starting to get past freestone and into bedrock.

This is where you are starting to get past freestone and into bedrock.

The mouth of the first tributary had so little water in it that, if I hadn’t been  familiar with it and hadn’t paid attention at that moment, I could have gone past it without noticing it.

“The mouth of Horseshoe Branch might have been hard to see,” I said to myself. I still don’t know. Perhaps it is located where I passed by on the other side of an island, or where I was struggling with some blowdown/boulder combo and just didn’t pay enough attention right then.

The bottom of the east-side Horseshoe stream was nearly invisible.

Good thing I knew where to look for it.

Good thing I knew where to look for it.

I climbed a pleasant jungle-gym array of rocks, punctuated with blowdown. Trouble with these narrow draws is, all sorts of debris rolls down into them. At times I left the draw to climb along the side.

Snakeroot growing to side of draw.

Snakeroot growing to side of draw.

I got into the bedrock section.

Up around 4700'.

Up around 4700′.

At around this point, I went to the side into open woods, put my hand down on a fallen log, and disturbed a wasp’s nest. I got three good stings near the elbow (I had my long sleeves pushed up). Youch! I could feel my arm stiffening up—it was pretty painful.

“This may not be the day for this hike.” I was already somewhat concerned about the amount of time it would take to descend Horseshoe Branch—especially since going down is harder than going up.

I turned around.

Ferns on the way down.

Ferns on the way down.

Finally I got back down to Lester.

Recent blowdown on Lester.

Recent blowdown on Lester.

I reached the Porters manway. Hard to believe that 25 years ago it was almost like a maintained trail.

Obstacles on Porters manway.

Obstacles on Porters manway.

Berries of witch hobble (viburnum).

Berries of witch hobble (viburnum).

Red fungus.

Red fungus.

As I went back down Porters Creek trail, the light had shifted, and I could see the northern ridges of Horseshoe Mountain more clearly—those are the ridges that give it the horseshoe shape it is named for. The trick is to find the tail of the more easterly of the two ridges, for that is exactly where Horseshoe Branch comes in.

“I will be back.”

Cardinal flower.

Cardinal flower.