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Point 5520′ March 27, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking down into the valley of Kephart Prong.

Looking down into the valley of Kephart Prong.

The original idea was to go to Rocky Crag, starting at the Kephart Prong trail. But once I got above the Kephart Prong/Grassy Branch side of the mountain and up to the stateline ridge, I got blasted by cold blustery winds. It was just too darn cold to go sit on the most exposed point in the Smokies.

Point 5520′ made a good consolation prize. It is the high point between Rocky Crag and the A.T. The map below should clarify things. Just don’t let the words “Charlies Bunion” confuse you into thinking we’re at the Tourist Bunion. I’ve discussed this too many times to go into it here.

Ignore the words "Charlies Bunion."

Ignore the words “Charlies Bunion.”

Here is a profile view of the ridge taken on another occasion (from the Tourist Bunion).

The "tooth" on the ridge is Rocky Crag.

The “tooth” on the ridge is Rocky Crag. Point 5520′ is out of sight to the right.

As I expected, the weather today changed dramatically partway through. I was just a bit off on my guess about when the new weather system would move in (the preview for tomorrow’s warm rain) and the old weather system would move out (which gave LeConte a low of zero degrees, night before last). I was probably up top three or four hours too early. I bet it’s comfy up there now, at 6:30 in the evening.

So I started up the boring old Kephart Prong trail. I always smile at the four footlog bridges. The first one is so beautifully made, wide and flat and solid, as if to lure in the unsuspecting hiker. The second one is not so nice, the third one worse, and the fourth one crappy, with a tilted, wobbly handrail. Of course, this morning the fourth one was the one that had the most ice.

But I persevered, and started running into snow on the shadier sections of trail.

Is it really late March?

Is it really late March?

Everything was crispy and crunchy. It was definitely below freezing at this point.

Tender green plants huddle beneath big icicles.

Tender green plants huddle beneath big icicles.

I got up to what the Park Service calls the Dry Sluice Gap trail and achieved the day’s high point of 5700′. The trail then drops 300′ to where it meets the A.T. By the way, total elevation gain for this hike is around 3400′, distance about 12.5 miles.

The wind was roaring out of the north. It was cold, and the A.T. was icy. I walked the short distance to the unmaintained side path and climbed up.

Heading up to 5520'.

Heading up to 5520′.

I stopped below the very top in a sheltered spot and put on my down jacket and my mittens. Brrr!

Then I climbed up the slabs to get views.

Anakeesta slabs.

Anakeesta slabs.

Horseshoe Mountain and its scar.

Horseshoe Mountain and its scar.

Looking down into Lester Prong valley.

Looking down into Lester Prong valley.

Middle Crag in foreground, Jumpoff in background.

Middle Crag in foreground, Jumpoff in background.

The view of the Tourist Bunion was blocked by Middle Crag.

The photo below shows the divide between Shutts Prong and Boulevard Prong, where I had one of my best adventures last year.

Telephoto view. LeConte looms in the background.

Telephoto view. LeConte looms in the background.

I climbed up to the actual high point and got views toward Porters Mountain.

Sawteeth in foreground, Porters Mtn. in background.

Sawteeth in foreground, Porters Mtn. in background.

Looking down valley of Porters Creek.

Looking down valley of Porters Creek.

I peered down the rabbit hole that forms the start of the traverse to Rocky Crag. It was full of snow. It didn’t look very inviting. So I turned back toward the south and descended to the A.T., enjoying the big cushions of myrtle and the wind-sculpted spruces.

By the time I got to the lower elevations, a big thaw was underway. The footlogs had lost their snow and ice, and tons of people were wandering up the trail.

It was an enjoyable day.

Micro-garden with a bonsai balsam, myrtle, and Rhodo minus.

Micro-garden with a bonsai balsam, myrtle, and Rhodo minus.

 

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Comments»

1. Michael Ray - March 28, 2014

Jenny,
Thanks for another intertesting adventure. We learned about “map Charlies Bunion” from a previous blog that you wrote, and last December, using the same route as in this account, we did the hike. What a fantastic place! Thanks for sharing!
Michael Ray

Jenny - March 28, 2014

I’m glad you were able to use the information and do a great hike!

2. Kent Hackendy - March 28, 2014

I always love the feeling of emerging from the shade into the brilliant sun on a cold, wintery day in the mountains. It’s amazing how rapidly the rays warm you up when you’re above 5,000′.

I’m having a hard time believing it’s late March, myself. There’s very little new growth to be found as we approach April. I can’t remember the last the lawn was so yellow this time of year.

Jenny - March 28, 2014

That’s a nice way to describe it, Kent. In the winter, the difference between shade and sun seems more pronounced. Perhaps someone in the tropics would quarrel with this—as in, you don’t go out into the sun at midday—but at this latitude the sun/shade differences in winter translate into different layers of clothing. As I climbed up through alternating shaded and sunny sections of trail, it was almost as if I needed to take a layer off and put it back on each time.

3. Al - March 28, 2014

Almost like being there when I look at those great pictures. Gave me an idea for a club or group adventure. Up Kephart Prong and up Sweat Heifer trail. Hit an old RR grade, cross it and get on Hunter Creek then up to the AT. Should hit it at the spot your first picture was taken.

Jenny - March 28, 2014

What a great idea, Al. That old RR grade still shows up on the USGS quad. You would go from where it crosses Upper Grassy Branch up to Hunter Branch. The thing that’s neat about that whole area is that there’s a lot of open grassy woods (which is why the name of Grassy Branch is so appropriate). There isn’t so much rhodo or laurel there. Going on the upper Dry Sluice Gap trail (as the Park Service now calls it—really the Richland Mountain trail), you can see those grassy slopes that seem to invite exploration. That’s a great suggestion.

Al - March 29, 2014

…so many options for adventures in that area. Bill Hart and I did one from your rocky chute in the picture down Hunter Creek to the RR grade and then turned right to follow the grade out to the head of Jack Bradley Branch. Then descended to the 441 road where we had left one car.

4. freedlife - March 29, 2014

Boring ol’ trails are like old mittens. Worn out, familiar, and hard to throw away. Lovely post, lovely place. Thanks for sharing.

Jenny - March 29, 2014

Thanks for visiting.

5. Jon Henderson - March 31, 2014

Awesome, Jenny! I hope to do some of these types of off trail hikes with my kids someday.


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