Scouting No-Name Ridge May 4, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Alum Cave Creek, Mt. LeConte, No-Name Ridge
Last weekend I viewed the different approaches to No-Name Ridge from Anakeesta Ridge. Yesterday a group of us climbed up to No-Name, but by a different route than the one I’d intended—not a bad one, though. Our party consisted of myself, Craig Hutto (who will be my co-leader on the July 20 outing for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club), Greg Hoover, Chris Sass, and Clayton Carver.
We went up Alum Cave Trail a short distance to the split between Styx Branch and Alum Cave Creek and began our rockhop up the stream. Alum Cave Creek is hemmed in by dense rhodo almost the entire way, so it becomes a challenge to keep your feet dry when you get to a deep pool with no easy way to bypass it on either side. Having been up this creek twice before, I’d already decided beforehand that I wouldn’t go to a special effort to keep my feet dry. This is also because I’m not the greatest rockhopper in the world! 🙂
I was so busy negotiating the stream that I didn’t take photos along the way. I didn’t wade through any deep pools but felt free to step on rocks an inch underwater. I did end up accidentally going knee-deep in one spot!
The idea was to get up to a stream junction around 4560′ and look for the bottom of a Y-shaped landslide scar.
When we reached that section of the stream, things got complicated. We saw minor logjams and water that had a reddish discoloration from disturbance of sulfuric Anakeesta bedrock. Within a very short distance, we found several places where slides had come down.
The one we picked turned out to be past the correct route, the Y-shaped scar. But it was a fun way to go, alternating between Anakeesta slabs and patches of vegetation that weren’t too bad.
When things didn’t open up into a completely bare landslide area, we realized we’d missed the Y-shaped scar. But we couldn’t see it from where we were, and traversing across looked as though it would take us through a tangle of briers and laurel. Plus, the way we were going seemed pleasant.
Before long we reached the ridgecrest. Because our route had gradually angled eastward, we reached the ridge above the spectacular open area. So we downclimbed and scrambled over the fun rock spine with its little ups and downs.
We found a great spot to stop for a break, and by closely examining the photos of the ridge I’d brought along, we determined that the Y-shaped scar was probably directly below us—though it couldn’t actually be seen, because of the belt of heath immediately below the ridgecrest.
Some folks wanted to drop down to confirm the location of the slide, while others wanted to continue with the original plan, to go up the ridge to the Boulevard trail and over the top of LeConte. Since my co-leader preferred to go down, and Hoover had some surveyor’s tape with him, I was happy to let them take the much shorter route back down as long as the departure point for the Y-slide could be clearly identified. Chris and I continued upward while the other three went back down to the stream valley. And they did indeed find that the Y-slide was just below.
The upper section of No-Name is long, steep, and brushy, so it took Chris and me a while to get up it. But we eventually popped out onto the trail and sat for a rest, while passing hikers noticed our disheveled condition and assured us “it wasn’t much further” and so on, obviously having no idea of the route we’d taken to that point.
So, we are now all set to take any experienced off-trail hikers up the Y-slide on the SMHC outing in July. And we will remove the surveyor’s tape as we go—I always hate to see tape left in the woods.
Valley of the Duck Hawks March 2, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Alum Cave Creek, Big Duck Hawk, Little Duck Hawk, Little Duck Hawk ban
This was one of the strangest hikes I’ve done. Events of the day included a surprising but pleasant coincidence and… surveillance by helicopter!
The valley runs between the ridges of Little Duck Hawk and Big Duck Hawk. In the map below, it is the unnamed tributary of Alum Cave Creek that hits the Alum Cave trail between the letters “u” and “m” in “Alum.”
LDH and BDH are both classic routes for off-trail hikers, but LDH has been off-limits for many years. Park Service regs say the rationale is to protect the nesting habitat of duck hawks (peregrine falcons). I wouldn’t be surprised if safety is another rationale, since traversing the ridge involves an extremely exposed rock climb up and over a knife-edge that is just inches wide at its narrowest point. For going across the ridge, a whopping $20,000 fine is the threatened punishment.
In bygone years the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club went over LDH all the time, as well as BDH. I went back and forth across LDH a number of times before the route was banned.
At any rate, I had no intention of going over LDH, just climbing up the valley, following it where it bent to the northwest to hit BDH where it forms an open walkway below a steep slope.
So I set forth on a pleasant, warm Sunday morning. I figured my stream might flow under the Alum Cave trail through a culvert. I walked along slowly, looking at the terrain to my left, and spotted a culvert. It was embedded in one of the worst rhodo thickets imaginable, and I didn’t think the flow was large enough. So I went on, and suddenly a friendly voice said to me, “What are you up to today, Jenny?”
I snapped out of my trance and saw my old friend Dick Ketelle—longtime champion bushwhacker—carrying an overnight pack. He said he’d stayed up top trying to get some good pictures. I explained my strange quest, and he was one of the few people I could’ve run into who didn’t think I was nuts. He suggested that I start a little further up in an area of open woods I’d forgotten about. He accompanied me to the spot he was thinking and bade me good luck.
As expected, it soon gave way to rhodo. The boundary line was very distinct.
But soon I angled over to the streambed and found that the going wasn’t bad.
Like Styx Branch, this stream appeared and disappeared from time to time. There were slabs covered with moss, but the rock had edges good for footholds even where it was wet.
This whole hike was only half a mile long, though of course conditions were slow. I was about halfway up when I heard a voice calling loudly. It seemed too purposeful and too loud, and too far away, to be the usual babbling of tourists down on the trail. It seemed to be saying something like “Hey, where are you going?” And the person seemed to be yelling at me.
I was not exactly moving silently through the underbrush as I snapped twigs, trampled leaves, and wrestled past rhodo branches. But I can’t imagine that anyone was able to hear me that far away from the trail. The only thing I could figure out is that someone heard or saw me going into the brush and encountered a ranger afterwards, either by accident or searching one out.
And the ranger, if that’s who it was, must have been assuming I was headed for LDH.
I kept going, thinking perhaps I was mistaken about the whole thing. The brush got thicker, and I ran into a nasty patch of greenbrier.
I got up to about 4600′, not too far below where I’d make the climb up to BDH. I got my first glimpses of LDH.
And it was around this point that I heard the helicopter going back and forth overhead. Were they hoping to spot me on the spine of LDH? I will never know for sure. It does seem awfully suspicious.
I kept going for a bit. But then I started thinking. “What if someone’s waiting for me on the trail? They’d spot me as an obvious bushwhacker by my dirty clothes—if they don’t in fact have my photo on a wall of “Wanted Bushwhackers” at Sugarlands. Along with the other suspects, of course.”
My problem was, what if they defined the valley next to LDH as part of the banned area? What if this was the excuse they were looking for to go after Jenny Bennett, that notorious off-trail hiker? WHAT IF THEY FINED ME $20,000?
I turned around. When I got back down to the open woods, I brushed myself off as best I could and stepped quietly onto the trail. Nothing happened.
The two photos below are telescopic views of the two holes of LDH. Most of the time people see only the upper one.
Anakeesta Canyon September 16, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Alum Cave Creek, Alum Cave Trail, Anakeesta Ridge
One of the many things that I like about Greg Harrell is the way he gives names to every significant feature he encounters in his off-trail explorations of the Smokies. These names are always capitalized, and they are always used as if they carry as much weight as the official names you see on the USGS maps. And because of the way he uses those names, they do carry as much weight, as far as I am concerned.
And so it was decided between Greg, Chris Sass, and myself that we would visit the Anakeesta Canyon, traversing its upper bowl and going to Anakeesta High-Pass before descending the Anakeesta Scar. You will not find any of these place names on the official maps, although Greg did email us a copy of the Park Service map of the Smokies with the phrase “Anakeesta Scar Parking” and an arrow pointing to its location mysteriously added, in exactly the same typeface that is used in the rest of the map.
We left a car at this officially designated parking area and started our hike at the Alum Cave trailhead, leaving it before long to rockhop up Alum Cave Creek.
It’s the second time I’ve rockhopped up Alum Cave Creek, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for a normal human being to keep their feet dry on it, even in the current conditions of very low water levels. It is completely hemmed in by rhodo on both sides, and it features frequent pools that fill the whole stream basin in such a way that it would take laborious rhodo-thrashing to go around them. That’s just too time-consuming, and Chris and I soon decided to just wade. I don’t know what Greg did. He was way up ahead of us.
(I will add that most of the time on this hike, Chris and Greg were up front and I was behind. They are both fast bushwhackers. I am a medium bushwhacker.)
After a while we caught up to him, sitting on a giant hemlock blowdown.
Soon afterward, at 4450′, we left the main stream to make our way southeast up a tributary. It featured small bluffs and enough vegetation to keep things challenging. We noticed in many places along this side stream that the water had a reddish tint, apparently from iron oxide present in the Anakeesta rock.
Eventually we emerged into a high bowl of solid Anakeesta that got steeper and steeper. Just below the point where it got distinctly “cliffy,” we climbed onto a small side ridge for a break and some views.
After our break, we contoured southwestward across an alternating series of scars and vegetation-clogged side ridges. The idea was to hit Anakeesta Ridge at the distinct col between the 5582′ point and the 5988′ Anakeesta Knob.
We could tell that we were close to the pass when we saw a skyline not far above us, and there we went straight up.
We took another break at the pass and shared entertaining anecdotes about our other hiking companions—a time-honored tradition.
From there we did more traversing, except in the opposite direction and this time angling downward. We crossed more scars and more side ridges and eventually got down into the basin of a small tributary of Walker Camp Prong. Toward the bottom I discovered that I had a big rip in the seat of my pants. That must have been amusing for the people who drove by as we made the short walk alongside the highway up to the shuttled car. We also saw a couple of kids riding go-carts down the highway that were powered solely by gravity.
It was a great day.