Horseshoe Branch and Horseshoe East Ridge November 7, 2013Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Horseshoe Branch, Horseshoe Mountain, Porters Creek
I still didn’t make it to the top of Horseshoe Mountain from Porters Creek. But I explored!
At least I made more progress than I did in September, when I couldn’t even find the mouth of Horseshoe Branch, tried to reverse the direction of my trip by going up Lester Prong and up Horseshoe from that direction, and came up short.
The mouth of Horseshoe is not very obvious, especially in low water. A big rhodo branch grows across it. Still, I should have seen it.
On this trip, I decided I would climb Horseshoe Branch as far as its junction with a draw at 3800′ shown as not having a permanent water flow and then climb to the crest of the easterly of the two ridges that curve around the watershed in a horseshoe shape. I’d heard that this ridge was used as a route in the old days. Then I would climb the ridge to the top. It didn’t work out that way.
The lower section of Horseshoe Branch is overhung with rhodo. It would be very tough to keep feet dry in higher water conditions, but in this dry weather, I was able to keep my boots out of the water.
Part of the challenge of keeping feet dry was all the newly fallen leaves floating on shallow water, making it hard to tell what was ground and what was water.
I left the stream and climbed up the side of the ridge. It was very tough, full of bluffs and rhodo and greenbrier.
Up top I encountered a lovely section of myrtle.
In places, deep spongy mounds of myrtle were blended with reindeer moss (not a true moss, a lichen). I had never seen this before. It was wonderful.
But this pleasant scenario did not last. The laurel grew thicker, though I was able to follow a bearway, crawling on hands and knees in places.
Then I ran into a zone of severe wind damage (see photo at bottom)—and the rhodo came back. (It always does.) I persevered for a while, but I was making such slow progress that I wasn’t sure I could make it to Horseshoe Mountain and back down without running out of daylight.
I bailed out to the northeast to hit the Porters Creek valley. I’m not sure I made the right decision. The conditions going down were horrific—solid rhodo mixed with hemlock blowdowns, punctuated by bluffs. But if the wind damage had continued on the ridge, it would have been bad news.
It was a very tough hike.