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New Year’s hike up Styx Branch January 1, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Icy cascade near a stream junction.

Icy cascade near a stream junction.

The year 2013 was, I have to say, objectively, one of the worst years of my life. The saving grace was completing the Twelve Streams of LeConte. I know this must come across as kind of a tease —“What happened to her this year?”—but I choose to keep this a mystery.

Going from December 31 to January 1 is, in a sense, meaningless, but by exerting imagination we can give these things symbolic importance. So, when my friend Cindy McJunkin suggested a New Year’s Day hike, it helped to dispel the gloom. I got her e-mail while I was up in Northampton, Massachusetts, visiting my sister. As usual, I spent my spare time up there doing short, steep hikes in the Holyoke Range. The picture below was taken on Christmas Day.

View from Mt. Holyoke to the Connecticut River.

View from Mt. Holyoke to the Connecticut River.

The weather looked good for January 1, so we agreed to meet at the Alum Cave trailhead. And off we went up Styx Branch at the foot bridge above Arch Rock.

Styx shortly above the bridge.

Styx shortly above the bridge.

The water dwindles here. It disappears higher up.

The water dwindles here. It disappears higher up.

We turned up the left fork, which had no water at all this day, and climbed up to an area of blowdowns.

A lot of blowdowns in this stretch.

A lot of blowdowns in this stretch.

Cindy climbs a blowdown pile.

Cindy climbs a blowdown pile.

We encountered a lot of beautiful icicle formations.

Great icicles to the left.

Great icicles to the left.

As we got higher, we found that ice on the rocks made it difficult to climb up the rocks of the stream.

Here, water was flowing underneath the ice.

Here, water was flowing underneath the ice.

We reached a familiar junction where I had gone to the right a few times, past an imposing rock bluff. This time we stayed straight ahead. We climbed through an interesting mixture of grass and ice.

This was really great!

This was really great!

We started to have good views down the stream valley.

I always think of this as the halls of the mountain king.

I always think of this as the halls of the mountain king.

We had a couple of slightly awkward manuevers around icy bluffs.

Above 6000', you run  into a few challenges.

Above 6000′, you run into a few challenges.

We came out near the junction of the Myrtle Point side trail and the Boulevard trail. One of the many, many routes up Styx!

We proceeded to Myrtle Point for lunch. Then, the familiar descent via Alum Cave trail. One thing noteworthy: icicles were crashing down from Alum Cave Bluff in the thawing temperatures. We noted the line of shattered ice on the ground that marked the fall line from the bluff, and did our best to avoid lingering in that zone. We passed a couple who were taking pictures of each other in the fall zone holding icicles. I said, “You might want to move a little away from there,” but they didn’t pay any attention. Oh, well…

I’m very glad to have a new friend for sharing these adventures!

Cindy left, Jenny right. Two female bushwhackers!

Cindy left, Jenny right. Two female bushwhackers.

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Comments»

1. Jeff G. - January 1, 2014

Here’s to a better 2014, Jenny. It seems to be going around. Great write-up as usual.

Jenny - January 2, 2014

Thank you, Jeff!

2. Pat H - January 2, 2014

I’m continually amazed by the spectacular scenery depicted in these photographs. Not being familiar with your region, the photos both surprise and delight.

Jenny - January 2, 2014

Glad you’re enjoying the photos. Yes, no one would confuse this with Wyoming. Come visit the Smokies some time!

3. Kent Hackendy - January 2, 2014

Nice way to kick off the year.

On falling icicles:

on the way down from LeConte via Alum Cave last April, there were some major ones crashing down at regular intervals.I didn’t linger too long where the water was dripping along the trail, that’s for sure. I can’t believe anybody would be stupid enough to stand directly in a zone where massive icicles were coming down. Darwin Award candidates, maybe? 😉

All the best for 2014.

Jenny - January 2, 2014

Yes, I think we have Darwin Award candidates!

4. Al - January 3, 2014

Sure looks different in winter time. Awesome pictures too. Just wondering, that place you went straight instead of to the right (on the left fork), what was the elevation ?

Jenny - January 3, 2014

About 5800′. There are a lot of side draws up there that barely show up on the map.


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