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Bushwhack to Chimneys January 16, 2015

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
The inner (tourist) Chimney always looks imposing from the outer Chimney.

The inner (tourist) Chimney always looks imposing from the outer Chimney.

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.

Not a great photo, but you see how the surrounding cascades show up with all their ice.

Not a great photo, but you see how the surrounding cascades show up with all their 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.

The second-best cairn in the Smokies. A great one, only outdone by the one on Porters Creek manway.

The second-best cairn in the Smokies. A great one, only outdone by the one on Porters Creek manway.

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.

Clayton, alive and well at the cairn.

Clayton, alive and well at the cairn.

We made the fun climb up to the outer Chimney. Generally it works best to go to the left where you hit the bluffs.

Clayton took this picture of me approaching the top of the outer Chimney.

Clayton took this picture of me approaching the top of the outer Chimney.

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.

Clayton in the hole.

Clayton in the hole.

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.

Looking up Road Prong from the bridge, just above the junction.

Looking up Road Prong from the bridge, just above the junction.


1. Steve Keeble - January 16, 2015

Jenny…even though I don’t always leave a comment, I always enjoy reading about your adventures in the backcountry.

Thanks for sharing and good luck to your Pats!


Jenny - January 16, 2015

Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the good wishes about the Pats!

2. Hoover - January 16, 2015

Woo Hoo! A good one! I think I know exactly where you two split up. I usually have a fuzzy moment there. Neither direction seems to work well, but left is better. Thanks for the vicarious trip. As a former sports fan, I’ll just mention that I like sports but I don’t like commitment to a team just because they happen to be in the place where I live. Same
impulse that that leads to nationalism and war but on a smaller scale. We ought to chat about that on a hike sometime. πŸ™‚

Jenny - January 16, 2015

That issue of loyalty to team and nation is an interesting one. As far as I am concerned, I formed my loyalty to the New England Patriots when I was living up there. If it was just a matter of geographical location, I should have transferred my loyalty to the Carolina Panthers. NOT! There is something about the team and the coach that continues to command my respect. Regarding loyalty to nation—in other words, patriotism—that is an even deeper issue. I have had discussions about people in other countries about this. (As I think you know, I used to do a lot of international travel.) I consider myself to be patriotic. I guess I make a point of this because it might go against assumptions. I am not a Tea Party Republican. I hate the way politicians manipulate the concept of patriotism. Yet, despite all that, I truly love my country. Now, think about this. Most of us love our own parents, right? But if you look around from an objective perspective, you might think that maybe OTHER people would have made better parents. So does that mean that our familial love is something we should overcome? πŸ™‚ You probably didn’t intend for this to be such a deep discussion—but it is about a very interesting subject!

Brian Reed - January 16, 2015

I hope for Greg’s sake he is not reminded of the Guns of August every time he sees a Vols flag fluttering from a car. It would be a truly grim existence πŸ™‚

Hoover - January 20, 2015

Good comparison of parents and nation. I’ll chew on that one for awhile.

3. Kent Hackendy - January 16, 2015

I haven’t been up to the Chimneys in many years due to the amount of foot traffic on the trail leading there.. If I ever get back up the, off-trail would be the way to go.

Jenny - January 16, 2015

Clayton and I were commenting on how rare it was to see so few people when we reached the maintained trail. Well, that’s what you get on an overcast midweek day in January. So it is possible to miss the crowds depending on the day, the weather, and the season. But if you would like to do the off-trail approach to the Chimneys, I’d be glad to go with you.

Al - January 16, 2015

Great pictures. I would like to see that cairn someday.

When you and Clayton decide to do the Tsali (Charlie) Rock let me know before you go. I want you to check out something that I have a picture of near the rock. I also want to mail you a narrative of my travel to the rock ( well maybe) in ’49.

I was reminded of the rock again yesterday as I passed by Lollis Rd near Bryson City. Back in the late forties or early fifties Ben Lollis and ranger Bill Rolen visited the rock and the ranger’s son Billy sent me a shot of Ben sitting on the Rock. Billy now lives in Waynesville.

Jenny - January 16, 2015

I would love to explore that Deep Creek drainage in more detail. I will definitely let you know if I plan a trip in that area. You probably know more about it than just about anyone.

Kent Hackendy - January 16, 2015

Sounds good. More than likely I’ll be down during periods when the Chimneys trail will be pretty busy (early spring and late summer).

4. Clayton - January 16, 2015

It’s really funny to read about us getting split up but during that short time I was getting extremely nervous. I kept thinking to myself please don’t let this be happening right now. Please. Lol.

Jenny - January 16, 2015

After we reconnected and found out there was no problem, it seemed really hilarious. I picture it in a cartoon style, with you wandering around with this thought bubble over your head, “She fell off a cliff and died.” And I was wandering around not that far away with the same thought, “He fell off a cliff and died.” As soon as we reconnected of course those thoughts became irrelevant. Of course I was seriously worried about you. If you had in fact fallen off a cliff it would have been utterly devastating. But as soon as we found out that this hadn’t happened, it became funny to me… actually, I still laugh about it when I think about it. Please don’t think this means I don’t care. I was thinking I’d go down to Sugarlands and report that event, and then after that, life for me honestly wouldn’t have been worth living. Trust me on that.

Brian Reed - January 16, 2015

You are lucky Jenny. Author pens novel about man being shoved off cliff. Man falls of cliff while hiking with her. People would ask questions.

5. Brian Reed - January 16, 2015

Ha! As the creator of the Mother Cairn I have to salute the builder of the Chimney Tops Cairn. It is sited in a place of unmatchable magnificence. I like Clayton. He has good tastes in hiking routes.

Jenny - January 17, 2015

I didn’t realize you were the creator of the Mother Cairn. For real? I thought various different people had built it up over many years. It’s such a work of art that you should have signed it somewhere down on the bottom, like a sculpture.

Brian Reed - January 18, 2015

Yeah it looked pretty much the same two weeks ago as it did after Seneca and I had a vigorous lunch break there in 1995, although people build cool spires on the top sometimes. We stopped after getting down the steep part and decided to build it for no particular reason. It does actually mark where you need to leave the creek bed going down. The funny thing is while we were building it two hikers came by, the only time I’ve met someone other than Mike Maples on a manway. They complimented the cairn and continued on the wrong way!

6. Al - January 18, 2015

Maybe the FRS (Family Radio Service) could serve as a short range way to keep hikers in touch. See FRS on Wikipedia. No FCC license required and very light weight.

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