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Horseshoe Branch and Horseshoe East Ridge November 7, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , ,
Looking down ridge.

Looking down ridge.

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.

Mouth of Horseshoe Branch.

Mouth of Horseshoe Branch.

Porters Creek near Horseshoe junction.

Porters Creek near Horseshoe junction.

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.

We are looking straight up the stream.

It seems we’re looking off to the side, but no, we are looking straight up the stream.

Pretty little cascade.

Pretty little cascade.

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.

Leaves on rock.

Leaves on rock.



I left the stream and climbed up the side of the ridge. It was very tough, full of bluffs and rhodo and greenbrier.

Typical rhodo section.

Typical rhodo section.

Up top I encountered a lovely section of myrtle.

One of my favorite plants.

One of my favorite plants.

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.

A dead pine amidst pillows of myrtle and reindeer moss.

A dead pine amidst pillows of myrtle and reindeer moss.

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.

This wasn't hard going.

This wasn’t hard going.

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.

Terrible wind damage.

Terrible wind damage.


1. Al - November 7, 2013

As Broome once said, “freed from all possibility of comfort” .

Jenny - November 7, 2013

Perfect, Al! That is one of my favorite quotes from Harvey Broome.

2. Brian Reed - November 10, 2013

“Horseshoe Mountain–The Hard Way!” It would make a good adventure book title. I understand now why I’ve never heard of anyone getting up there from the base. Did the stream look passable beyond where you left it?

Jenny - November 10, 2013

Yes, it did, and on my next trip there I will stay with the stream! The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club has gone up Horseshoe Branch several times—but not since the 1970s. Not sure why. Ernie Dickerman led a couple of trips up there.

3. Brian Reed - November 10, 2013

Tried looking up the references I’d seen to a possible ancient route up Horseshoe. I had a vague memory of a visit to the Jumpoff by Paul Fink coming up in a google book search. Something about going up Mount Kephart from the NE to the Jumpoff. This was before those names existed, but he referred to the big cliff on Mount Collins (old name of Kephart). I couldn’t find that one again. I did find these:

1. A 1930s report by visiting Smithsonian scientists listing mammal species in the Smokies. Red squirrel sightings were recorded at Horseshoe Mountain along with Eagle Rocks Prong along with a couple other places frequented by SMHC types at that time. If there was not some kind of path that would be like a birder mentioning that he took a trip to the Smokies and sighted blue jays in Cades Cove, Newfound Gap, and Shirtail Branch.

2. A fascinating 1928 SMHC map posted by James Locke appears to show such a trail. Other notable features are the wacky attempt to pass off “Lumadaha”, a portmanteau of several members’ names as a Cherokee word for Mount Chapman and the confusing fact that Ramsey Prong was once called Buck Fork.

Click to access 1928_smhc_map.pdf

3. The Dutch Roth pic Peter and I could tell was taken some ways east of the summit.


Jenny - November 10, 2013

If I squint I see that trail on the 1928 SMHC map. Looks like it goes up a ridge (probably east ridge) and then over the top of Horseshoe Mt. and on to the Boulevard and/or the stateline. Hard to tell—would love to have better detail, but even that is interesting! I see what you mean about the red squirrel mention. As far as the Dutch Roth photo is concerned, I didn’t get that far along the ridge, obviously.

Even though the conditions on my hike were difficult, I really enjoyed the wildness of that north-facing Horseshoe basin. There is something that fascinates me about the Shutts Prong/Horseshoe area. Next summer when the days are long, I will go up Shutts Left Fork and over Horseshoe to Lester.

4. Al - November 15, 2013

Map Is interesting. Shows a trail up Ramsey Prong to the state line and the trail up Porters Creek to the state line. I could find only 1 trail in NC, appears to be the Oconaluftee Turnpike Authority route (begun in 1831) or as some call it now, the Will Thomas Turnpike. It runs to the north of what was then called Mingus Mill Creek. Its still there, in a lot of places.

Jenny - November 15, 2013

That map was included as a foldout in the early SMHC handbooks. I have a partial collection of those handbooks—spotty in the first decades but nearly complete starting in the 50s.

5. Al - November 27, 2013

A note on Paul Fink. Maybe his book called Backpacking was the Only Way might yield some info on Horseshoe Mountain. The book might still be in some libraries around Knoxville or maybe at Western Carolina University.

Jenny - November 27, 2013

Thanks for the information, Al. I’ll see if I can find the book.

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