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Right fork of Trout Branch December 2, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains, winter hiking.
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We looked back down the big waterfall.

We looked back down from the top of the big waterfall.

I’ve been up Trout Branch maybe four or five times over the years, but I’ve always gone to the left at the major junction just below 4400′. Most times I’ve gone up what you might call the right fork of the left fork, the one that leads up to the Alum Cave trail directly below Cliff Top. Once I took the left of the left, which goes to the West Point ridge. The right fork was the only one I hadn’t explored.

I was accompanied by Cindy McJunkin and Chris Sass on this fine outing. They are great hiking companions. Chris and I have done a lot of hiking trips together, but this fall he’s been swamped with work at his teaching position at Young Harris College in north Georgia (he teaches math). He hadn’t been able to get out for a good bushwhack adventure since August… way too long. Cindy has been bitten by the off-trail bug in the past couple of years—she’s an experienced backpacker who’s put in a lot of mileage on the A.T.—so I was glad she was able to join this outing. Fellow female bushwhackers don’t come along all that often.

Our route up Trout Branch.

Our route up Trout Branch. It terminated at the trail, a dotted line hard to see on this map. Click for zoom.

We started a little after 9:00 and proceeded up the lower stream. Even in this photo you can see a hint of red discoloration on the rocks caused by landslide activity that exposed sulfuric Anakeesta bedrock.

Look closely, and you'll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

Look closely, and you’ll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

As we got closer to the base of the big landslide, we could see patches of the “tomato soup” water that you encounter after these cataclysmic events. For photos of a trip up the slide, go here. Recent heavy rains have diluted the water.

Now we get into the "tomato soup."

Now we get into the “tomato soup.”

The logjam at the base of the slide is just amazing.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

Bottom of the slide chute.

Bottom of the slide chute.

The slide is fun to climb in dry conditions. In the ice and snow we encountered this day, it would’ve been pretty challenging.

All along the stream I enjoyed the ice formations.

Snow and ice over water.

Snow and ice over water.

There is a particularly beautiful pool a little above the landslide junction.

Chris approaches the pool.

Chris approaches the pool.
A place of dreams and imagination.

A place of dreams and imagination.

We had a treat a little further along: paw prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.
The bear walked across the snowy log.

The bear walked across the snowy log.

We saw a large waterfall ahead. In this photo you see the sunlight hitting the treetops above. We were in and out of sunlight in this stream valley.

This was a significant obstacle.

This was a significant obstacle.

We did some serious rhodo thrashing to get around the waterfall and finally got to the top, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. We got into pitches of steep terrain.

Looking down the slope.

Looking down the slope.

At around 5100′, several small valleys converge, some too small to show up on the map. At first we stayed with the largest, easternmost valley, but when we reached a point where it was clogged with blowdowns, we opted to follow a draw that angled to the left, going close to due north.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

We got into a fun bit of steep rock scrambling. When we reached smooth icy ledge we headed off to the right and got into steep spruce forest. From there it was a strenuous but straightforward climb up to the trail.

We’d thought we might cross the trail and continue upward along a valley that in days past was used as a descent route by LeConte Lodge workers. However, sunset comes so early these days that we opted to head down, and it was a good thing we did, for it was getting dark by the time we reached the lower sections of the Alum Cave trail. Can you believe it took us from around 9:15 to 2:30 to go something like two miles on the off-trail portion? If you figure we’re especially slow or inept, I invite you to try it for yourself, in similar conditions of snow and ice.

As we descended the trail, we met J.P. Krol, the winter caretaker of LeConte Lodge. Most likely he was entertaining himself with a trip down to AlumĀ  Cave Bluff.

A great hike with two fine bushwhacking companions.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.

You think it’s cold? March 24, 2013

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains, winter hiking.
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Summit of Mt. Madison

Summit of Mt. Madison.

I’m sure you feel the same way I do—you’re sick of winter. It’s March 24, I’m in North Carolina, and there’s snow in the forecast the next couple of days. Today a friend and I had planned to go up Bradley Fork looking for the F-15 jet engine. The prospect of a wet chilly day decided us against it. Well, I suppose we have nothing to complain about compared with the folks in the Midwest.

I thought I’d share some old photos of winter hikes. Perhaps by looking at them, you will feel warmer by comparison. All of them were taken in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire.

Winter hiking can actually be fun. We had a nice sunny day for this climb of Mt. Washington. No wind, and temps were above zero—not something you take for granted there in winter.

Bob climbs the Lions Head Winter Route on Washington.

Bob climbs the Lions Head Winter Route on Washington.

Above Tuckerman Ravine.

Above Tuckerman Ravine.

I make my way up ice near the top of Washington.

I make my way up ice near the top of Washington.

Observation Deck on Washington. Bob is posturing, as usual.

Observation Deck on Washington. Bob is posturing, as usual.

Conditions on a climb we did of Adams were really cold and windy.

I look cold. It was about three degrees and windy.

I look cold. It was about three degrees and windy.

Looking from Adams to Madison.

Looking from Adams to Madison.

We had “snow goblins” along the trail on a climb of Mt. Eisenhower.

Adam hikes along Crawford Path toward Eisenhower.

Adam hikes along Crawford Path toward Eisenhower.

I looked cold on Eisenhower, too.

Adam and I approach Eisenhower summit.

Below Mt. Jefferson.

Below Mt. Jefferson.

Sometimes the trip was long hard work.

I'not sure the summit of Middle Carter was worth the effort.

I’m not sure the summit of Middle Carter was worth the effort.

Bob crosses Lonesome Lake on the way to North Kinsman.

Bob crosses Lonesome Lake on the way to North Kinsman.

Adam tackles upper slopes of Lafayette.

Adam tackles upper slopes of Lafayette.

Bob and Pete on Moriah.

Bob and Pete on Moriah.

Mike and Bob on the Tripyramids.

Mike and Bob on the upper Sabbaday Brook trail, approaching the Tripyramids.

Oh, I forgot. This last one isn’t in the Whites. This is East Kennebago in western Maine—a bushwhack peak. I’m holding a moose horn we found.

Stay warm, and maybe spring will arrive one of these days!

East Kennebago---a canister peak.

East Kennebago—a canister peak.

Blackrock in winter December 31, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, winter hiking.
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Looking SW from Blackrock summit

Looking west from Blackrock summit. The conical peak is Perry Top on the Fisher-Dicks Creek divide.

As I made the short drive from my home toward the imposing wall of the Plott Balsams, I saw that the frost line in the trees was around 4500′. The spruces and balsams on the ridgetop had a ghostly look from a distance—they looked even more ghostly when I finally got up among them.

I headed up via my standard cold-weather route. It would be my route all year round if it wasn’t for the thriving poison ivy that’s a real problem for me when it gets knee-high. I follow an unmaintained trail from close to the trailhead and make a short bushwhack connection to the East Fork trail, hitting it where it enters the ravine of the stream.

I encountered a thin layer of slushy snow as I climbed up past the invisible waterfall. Eventually I got into a world of glazed branches, sparkling beautifully in the sun.

A magic wand of ice had been waved over the forest.

A magic wand of ice had been waved over the forest.

Snow started to cover the branches, making the rhodo droop over the trail.

It started to look wintry.

It started to look wintry.

I reached my favorite lunch spot at 4900′. It is a flat cleared area, obviously used for camping although there is no water nearby. It looks down into the West Fork valley toward Pinnacle Bald and The Pinnacle, but views are very limited in the summer.

Clearing at 4900'.

Clearing at 4900′.

I don’t know what the story is behind this clearing—maybe it originated in the logging days and has been kept cleared—but it has a really odd mix of vegetation. You see junipers, a few spruce, Table Mountain pines, and lots of oaks. When the ground is clear of snow, you see a tiny bright pink lichen growing here and there amidst the mica-sparkling gravel. Carpets of club moss stand next to a patch of invasive Scotch broom, which is a real plague in southern Jackson County.

The other side of the trail features a nifty three-tiered mix of rhodo growing under oaks and laurel under rhodo.

There's something I like about the small leaves on the bottom, then large leaves, then upright trunks. Hard to explain.

There’s something I like about the small leaves on the bottom, and then large leaves, then upright trunks. Hard to explain!

The oaks are all covered with gray-green lichen from the moist cool air up there near 5000′.

Gnarly lichen-covered oak branches.

After having my peanut butter sandwich, I headed on along the old roadway that contours east, then turned for the steep climb up to the crest. I put on my microspikes here but found that even up on the heights the temps close to the freezing point made for annoying clumps of snow and leaves that stuck to my spikes. I’d stop every now and then and stamp my feet to get rid of the accumulation, but kept the spikes on because I was convinced that soon I’d get into solid subfreezing temps. It finally happened on the upper ridge.

And I was glad I had the spikes up there on the craggy ridgetop. I could see that a period of freezing rain had preceded the snow even up that high.

Rocks and ice.

Rocks and ice.

Ice damage.

Ice damage.

I made my way around the little fortress of rocks that I mistook for the summit the first time I came up here and scrambled over the steep little ups and downs toward the true high point. At one spot I took a fairly good slide even with the spikes. I emerged onto the summit block of Blackrock. It was so neatly blanketed in its cap of snow that I was almost sorry to mess up the sparkling white with my footsteps, but I clambered up on top and marveled in the views on a crystal-clear day.

View toward Sylva.

View past Sylva.

View toward Waterrock Knob.

View toward Yellowface and Waterrock Knob.

The Parkway is closed (maybe for the season), and so no one had made the trip out from Waterrock along the crest. And I could see from the lack of footprints that no one else had climbed Blackrock or gone anywhere other than The Pinnacle, that rock nubbin that’s a popular destination.

Coming back down, I took off the spikes as soon as I got back to the freezing line, figuring the clumping would just make it harder to keep my footing on that steep slope of snow over slippery oak leaves. It was a bit tedious, but I made it back to the roadway and decided to go back down via the West Fork. I sort of wish I hadn’t. I kept running into people who asked me if I’d been to “the top,” or how far it was to “the top,” and they meant The Pinnacle. I didn’t bother explaining that I hadn’t been to that “top,” just the one 1000′ higher that not so many people go to in the winter.

What a wonderful place!

What a wonderful place!