Bushwhack to Chimneys January 16, 2015Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
I believe this is the fifth time I’ve climbed off-trail to the outer Chimney and then made the traverse to the inner Chimney, the one that’s at the end of the maintained trail. My friend Clayton had not done it by that route, so we decided to do that trip.
It was an overcast day but with temperatures above freezing. Not bad conditions for doing a trip that would be pretty difficult in icy conditions.
Since we did have subfreezing temperatures in the past week, we noticed that it was easier to see all the cascades in the area, now white with ice.
We climbed up to the ridge that runs north of the outer Chimney and made our way out to the knob where you find a giant cairn. I consider this the #2 best cairn in the Smokies. The #1 is located on the Porters Creek manway just where you start climbing up very steeply. That one is so huge and well-constructed that folks call it the “Mother Cairn.” Well, this one ain’t so bad either.
Something funny happened at that point. Just as we approached the knob, which is covered with pretty dense laurel, Clayton and I went in different directions. I made my way to the cairn, having been there before and knowing the way. I got there… and waited… and waited… and Clayton didn’t show up. I started calling his name, and he didn’t answer. That area has some really stiff dropoffs, and I started thinking he had fallen off the edge somewhere. I called again, and he still didn’t answer.
So, Clayton must have gotten killed falling off a cliff, I decided. I started thinking about the process of contacting the rangers.
It turned out that he was having exactly the same thoughts. He was on another edge of the knob, calling my name, and finally deciding I had gotten killed falling off a cliff.
Even though we were, I would guess, around 20 yards from each other, we couldn’t hear each other. Finally I climbed back up to the top of the knob and called out, and I got an answer. What a relief! It was actually really funny.
We made the fun climb up to the outer Chimney. Generally it works best to go to the left where you hit the bluffs.
We made the traverse over to the tourist Chimney, and Clayton explored one of the interesting holes on the top. It’s tricky in there—not too hard to go down or up, but there’s a side where you could slide into outer space. I’ve done it before and didn’t do it this time.
You might notice he is wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat. Folks who follow the NFL know that the Cowboys lost to the Packers last weekend in the playoffs. I watched that game. It was one of those games that was probably decided by a questionable call, concerning whether a pass into the end zone was complete. Clayton was pretty sick about that, and I could totally understand. People who aren’t into sports think it’s kind of silly to get so wrapped up in these things. As I’ve said before, I believe sports is one of the few areas of our lives that concerns a true contest of human beings, totally unlike the artificial political or pop-culture realms. Clayton was generous enough to say that he’d be in favor of my team, the Patriots, since his was now out of contention. We’ll see what happens this weekend against the Colts.
We didn’t see a single other person until partway down the newly reconstructed trail. We got closer to the bottom on all those new steps. (I’m not so sure they are necessary. Water drainage yes, steps too close together and too short, no.) There we saw a few more people. I’d guess we saw eight or ten people total on the trail.
I always like noticing the exact spot where Road Prong and Walker Camp Prong join to form the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Just call me a geography nerd.
It was a great hike.
Cold-weather climb to Fox Hunters Camp January 8, 2015Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Southern Appalachians.
Tags: East Fork of Fisher Creek, Fox Hunters Camp, Plott Balsams
The plan for today was to join Clyde Austin, Mike Harrington, and Frank March for a bushwhack along All Night Ridge, which parallels Anthony Creek in the Cades Cove area of the Smokies.
But the Park Service had other plans. At sundown yesterday, they closed the Newfound Gap Road. There was only a dusting of snow yesterday despite cold, blustery conditions, but the thinking seems to be that black ice might be a hazard overnight. Having seen this pattern before, I figured they’d probably reopen it around 9:00 the next morning. And they did—just about 9:00 on the nose.
That didn’t do me any good. I had to meet my friends at 8:00 at the Anthony Creek trailhead. To get there on time from my house in Sylva, NC, I would have needed to drive past the Smokemont gate around 6:00.
I’d been looking forward not only to hiking on a ridge where I hadn’t been before, but using my cold-weather gear. The forecast was for temps near zero in the early morning. I’d dug out my heavy parka, my heavy mittens, and my Sorel boots, which haven’t been used much since I left New England. Never mind.
I woke up to a temp of 4 degrees at my house and decided I’d wait till things warmed up a bit and do a hike I’ve done many times before in the nearby Plott Balsams. You climb from 3000′ at the trailhead to about 5000′, where you find an open spot known as the Fox Hunters Camp. And you pass a beautiful waterfall that’s just a little bit off the trail. I’ve featured it often in this blog. But I never get tired of it, especially in icy conditions.
I figured I’d do the side trip to the waterfall on the way down. I headed up the steep East Fork trail, plodding along with a heavier pack and more layers than usual. It turned out I was overprepared. The temp at the trailhead was in the upper teens when I started, and I didn’t really need the snowpants or the down parka. Another weather system was coming in, and things warmed up rapidly.
It was so pleasant at the Fox Hunters Camp that I just relaxed in the sunshine for a while. There was no wind.
I descended, passing lots of rhodo that had gone droopy in the cold. It always bounces back with a vengeance, growing more ferocious than ever. If you bushwhack in this part of the country, you know what I mean.
I reached the really steep part of the trail and turned off on sort of a bench in the hillside to reach the waterfall. There’s no trail, but it’s quite a short distance.
I’ve visited the waterfall in all levels of waterflow and all degrees of iciness. Today, it was not iced over as completely as I saw it last winter—it takes about four or five days of continuous severe cold for that to happen. A sort of tube of ice forms over the whole thing, with just a narrow slit where you can still see the water flowing, almost as if designed so that the viewer can appreciate the living water in contrast to the frozen mass.
But today offered something good, a high level of flow from some very heavy rains we had not long ago. At any rate, it was beautiful.
Below the upper section of the waterfall I noticed an interesting ice pattern.
I gazed down to the sunny lower falls before continuing on my way. Always a worthwhile trip.
P.S. I am adding some info at the request of a viewer.