jump to navigation

Styx Branch variation June 4, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,
trackback
Magical worlds of upper Styx.

Magical worlds of upper Styx.

I believe I’ve been up Styx Branch eight or nine times, sometimes with other people and sometimes on my own. It is a relatively easy off-trail approach to the top of Mt. LeConte—note that word relatively— although the lower part is an awful lot easier than the upper part.

Compared with the others of the Twelve Streams, it has a shorter distance and elevation gain. However, it has its own special difficulties. Today I was thinking about that, as I climbed up by myself. One thing about it is that in the upper sections you never know where you’re going to run into bluffs or simply very steep rock that might be tough to climb. Another is that you never know where you’re going to run into Rhodo minus. More about that later.

The weather’s been dry lately, and Styx carries very little water anyway, not because it’s a tiny stream but because the water runs in subterranean paths beneath huge amounts of Anakeesta rubble. The nearly-dry streambed of the lower parts is what makes that section so easy. It’s a delightful jungle-gym of jumbled rock with a dry surface that makes footing dependable.

 

This reddish boulder marks the entry way to lower Styx.

This reddish boulder marks the entry way to lower Styx.

The hike starts at the log bridge just above Arch Rock, and that very first part has the most water in it. The whole first section always has a dark, somber, maybe even foreboding feel to it, in keeping with its name. But soon it becomes very dry.

Dry streambed along lower Styx.

Dry streambed along lower Styx.

After I turned up the left fork, I ran into obstacles.

First of a whole bunch of blowdowns.

First of a whole bunch of blowdowns.

There are a couple of beautiful tall cascades on the left fork. If I am hiking with other people, I try to go up the rocks right next to the water. If I am hiking by myself, I am more conservative and go off to the side.

The first cascade.

The first cascade.

Pretty white violets growing in damp moss.

Pretty white violets growing in damp moss.

This was part of a whole section of blowdowns that took a lot of effort to get through.

This was part of a whole section of blowdowns that took a lot of effort to get through.

From the left fork, you can angle up different gullies or through different meadows to reach points along the whole range of LeConte’s summit between High Top and Myrtle Point. You may wonder why I don’t talk about the right fork. That’s because it leads mainly to a nasty stretch of heath along the Boulevard, southeast of Myrtle Point.

At any rate, I decided I would shoot for some place closer to Myrtle Point than the way I went up the last time I was there, with my friend Cindy McJunkin on New Year’s Day. I have missed hiking with Cindy. Circumstances have prevented her from doing strenuous off-trail hikes this year, but I’m sure she’ll be back to that soon.

My route bypassed a big overhanging bluff on the right, but I had views of the top of it.

You see the top of the bluff here. I've been past it on other hikes.

You see the top of the bluff here. I’ve been past it on other hikes.

I got into that special region of upper Styx, which alternates between steep-angled meadows and peninsulas of spruce and balsam.

A stand of tall spruce between open meadows.

A stand of tall spruce between steep open meadows.

I found a nice meadow to climb—until I saw a hideous wall looming up above me.

The darker foliage is an impenetrable belt of Rhodo minus.

The darker foliage is an impenetrable belt of Rhodo minus.

Rhodo minus is the small-leafed rhododendron that you find in high elevations, often in the same places as sand myrtle and steep Anakeesta rock. Myrtle Point is surrounded by Rhodo minus.

I tried to tunnel through it and found my passage completely blocked. I’ve done a fair amount of bushwhacking, and I will say that this is the first time that I’ve ever found myself utterly unable to move forward, to the left, or to the right. I tried taking my pack off and pushing it ahead of me. Still couldn’t do it. Some of the branches were narrow and brittle and could be snapped to get through, but there were quite a few thick, rigid limbs that simply could not be broken or pushed out of the way. I ended up backing out the way I came, praying that I wouldn’t have to drop way down to get around it. Thank goodness—I found a sort of narrow tunnel that I could follow, maybe a game trail. It still wasn’t great, but at least I could move. At last I got up to the Myrtle Point side trail.

The spot I popped out on the trail. Note the dense screen of brush in the background.

The spot I popped out on the trail. Note the dense screen of brush in the background.

I was just as glad no one passed by as I emerged. I was filthy from crawling on my stomach, I had leaves and branches in my hair, and I needed a moment to compose myself and brush myself off. I walked to Myrtle Point, and oddly enough no one showed up there the whole time I stopped for a rest. It was 1:00 in the afternoon.

The sand myrtle was beautiful.

Looking northeast from Myrtle Point.

Looking northeast from Myrtle Point.

Myrtle close-up.

Myrtle close-up.

I walked over to the Lodge and looked for Nathan, because I knew from the “High on LeConte” blog he was there at the moment. I think he’s a fantastic writer. We had a great chat.

Heading down Alum Cave Trail, I had a treat of Catawba rhodo and mountain laurel as I descended, especially around Alum Cave Bluff and Inspiration Point.

Catawba blossoms and laurel buds.

Catawba blossoms and laurel buds.

If you want to learn more about the Twelve Streams of LeConte, look at the post below this one or click on the image in the sidebar at right. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Laurel blossoms.

Laurel blossoms.

 

Advertisements

Comments»

1. Kent Hackendy - June 5, 2014

I concur, Nathan is quite a skilled wordsmith. Had a nice chat with him, myself, in the Dining Room last September after my hike up Trillium. Very friendly, interesting guy.

2. Al - June 5, 2014

The one time I did the left fork of Styx I reached a point where I saw only a too steep climb to the upper bluff, near Myrtle Point. To gain the bluff I had to climb a pine tree and then I was able to step from the pine over to the bluff. I really enjoyed seeing the pics of your hike. Glad to hear about Cindy too.

3. Gary Howell - June 9, 2014

Rhodo hell — is that why it’s the Styx ? I think you’re very lucky to be able to do these hikes (remembering that 40 years ago, you were winded going up a hill with me .. quite the reverse now)

Jenny - June 9, 2014

Yes, I remember that outing very well. I was a weak, pale, thin, intellectual type person. Now I am a strong, sturdy, but still intellectual type person. Significant personal transformation is possible! Yes, we can re-invent/re-create ourselves!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s