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Whiterock Ridge to Cammerer—SMHC hike October 19, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The first open view from the ridge.

The first open view from the ridge.

This was a wonderful hike. There were only four of us, but that was a nice size for a challenging off-trail adventure. I was the substitute leader on this Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing, as the designated leader had a conflict come up with his work schedule. I’d done this route before, so I was happy to fill in.

My companions were Steve, Ken, and Clayton.

We met at the Cosby hiker parking lot because it’s a little hard for folks to find where the actual starting point for the hike is, along the twists and turns of Hwy. 32. So I drove us over in my car to the start of the Groundhog Ridge manway. Our route was to take Groundhog Ridge to the Lower Cammerer Trail, do a short jog to the west, and then go up Whiterock Ridge nearly to the top. At about 4600′ (300′ short of the summit), you run into a big sandstone bluff. So that’s where we jogged a very short distance around the bluff and reconnected with Groundhog Ridge manway for the last stiff grunt to the top.

The weather forecast called for clear, sunny skies. Well, for most of the day we were in fog. There was so much moisture in the trees and brush that whenever a wind gust shook the leaves, it almost felt like it was raining.

Whiterock Ridge, which is sort of a half-ridge that doesn’t really start until above the Lower Cammerer Trail, isn’t too bad in terms of brush, when you compare it with its neighbor to the west, Rowdy Ridge. There are patches of rhodo but they don’t go on very long, and there’s some aggressive greenbrier that you have to just force your way through. It helps to have gloves and long sleeves.

As you continue up the ridge and it starts getting steeper and steeper, you start running into small rock bluffs. Anyone who’s spent time bushwhacking in the Smokies knows this pattern.  It’s one of those fun rock-scrambling challenges where you step onto rhodo or rock and pull yourself up.

I remembered from the time I did it before that there was a Tricky Spot. You go up into this narrow slot between vertical rock. I actually had problems with it on the last trip. Well, this time I had it “sandbagged,” as rock climbers call it. I knew that I had to put my right foot in a certain spot, put my left foot onto a really narrow piece of rock, and hold onto the one available rhodo branch for stability.

I’m going to pat myself on the back here, because that was the “elegant” solution to the climbing problem. Two of the three guys with me used a different approach using a longer reach (being taller than me) and more upper body strength. (Clayton did a variation of what I did.)  My solution to the puzzle did not involve strength, only intelligent placement of hands and feet. Sorry, guys!

This photo shows you what the upper ridge was like.

It's a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

It’s a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

We reached the big sandstone bluff. Having seen me get up the lower bluffs, the guys with me teased me about how we should just go up it. Well, I’m sure it’s possible to do that, but it ‘s much easier to go around to the left and hit the upper Groundhog Ridge manway. So that’s what we did.

Big sandstone bluff.

Big sandstone bluff.

Lots of polypody ferns grow there. I think they’re beautiful.

A garden of ferns.

A garden of ferns.

So we went up the manway and before long got onto the open rocks where you have a view of the tower.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

We had nice views into the valley of Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

When we reached the top of Cammerer, it was damp and windy. We retreated to the inside of the tower. Many other folks had the same idea. I have never seen so many people inside the tower!

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

I expected to see the other SMHC hikers, the ones who came up by trail, but we only met one person from that group, who was puzzled about what happened to the others. Funny that they would get lost instead of us folks who bushwhacked up to the top!

I was ambivalent about descending Groundhog Ridge manway and suggested a trail descent. There is a certain section in the middle of the manway that has become a slippery, slimy mudslide. I don’t like going down that kind of crap, and there’s also an environmental rationale to avoid making those places worse by further use. However, the rest of my group wanted to go down that way, so that’s the way we went.

There’s one open spot on the manway which has nice views.

Clayton at the open spot.

Clayton at the open spot.

It was a great day with a wonderful small group of people. This is the sort of outing I really love.

Looking back up to the summit.

Looking back up to the summit.




1. Al - October 20, 2014

I remember Rowdy Ridge that we took a long ways back. Enjoyed the pictures. The rebuilt tower looks great.

Jenny - October 20, 2014

I remember that hike very well, Al! It was rainy and chilly when we scouted it. On the day the club did it, I brought along copies of the old SMHC songbook and we sang all verses of “Clementine,” much to the horror of bystanders around the tower.

Brian Reed - October 29, 2014

Those old SMHC references to singing sound so odd now. I’ve wondered when and why it became horribly uncool for people to amuse themselves by singing songs together. Seems like it was a universal activity at one time.

2. Jarrett - October 20, 2014

The first picture looks almost like you are in a high altitude rain forest. Overall, how long was your adventure?

Jenny - October 20, 2014

Well, it IS a rain forest. A temperate rain forest rather than a tropical rain forest. That’s what the Smokies are all about—huge amounts of rainfall on a widely varying range of elevations, from around 1,500′ at the very bottom up to nearly 6,700′, so you have an incredible variety of plant life. The spruce-fir forest up top is exactly the same as what you see in northern New England. The lower-level forest, due to the rainfall and ideal conditions, produces a number of giant trees. It’s only the introduction of invasive tree killers via packing crates from China and such like that have set things back. The world champion red spruce, 150′ tall, is in the wilds west of Raven Fork. To picture that clearly, think of a 15-story building. To answer your question about the time we took on our outing, it took us six hours to go about two miles total. That’s pretty typical for off-trail hiking in the Smokies.

3. Al - October 20, 2014

Yes it was getting colder too, I was turning blue when we scattered to head down Groundhog Ridge.

4. Brian Reed - October 29, 2014

“It was a great day with a wonderful small group of people. This is the sort of outing I really love.”

Yeah, I’ve enjoyed many solitary adventures in mountains but the ones with friends are are always the most fun to remember. Even if they are friends I never met before or since.

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