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Bearpen Hollow August 18, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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5 comments
View from West Point.

View from West Point.

Six members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club ventured on a climb of Mt. LeConte via Bearpen Hollow despite a discouraging weather forecast. As it turned out, conditions were cool and pleasant, and we experienced only a light shower toward the very end of our hike.

Chris Sass was our fearless leader, I was the “rear leader” or “sweep” as some clubs call it, and we were joined by Rob Davis, Cindy McJunkin, Hiram Rogers, and Ed Fleming.

The lowest section of the creek is bordered by aggressive rhodo, so we stayed in the stream until things opened up a bit.

Rob and Hiram proceed next to the stream.

Rob and Hiram proceed next to the stream.

At times it was hard to see each other in the brush.

At times it was hard to see each other in the brush.

Large buckeye.

Large buckeye.

Chris and I have been up Bearpen three times in the past few years, and we have gone up the valley left, right, and center. This outing constituted the “right” variant, as we bore slightly toward the east in the upper valley and hit the ridge on that side. Some of the time, we were following bear prints in the partridgeberry. The climb up to the side ridge was steep but open, with just the right amount of rhodo to provide convenient handholds. We paused on the ridgecrest for a break and a random discussion of varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I mistakenly referred to “Mr. Stripey” tomatoes as “Mr. Smiley” tomatoes, which caused much mirth.

The left, right, and center routes all lead to the same flat area at 5600′, and from there it is a simple but inexorable climb along the ridge that leads to West Point. Partway along the ridge, we crossed that wonderful frontier from forest to open heath of myrtle and Rhodo minus. Now we could see the lay of the land and the hulking presence of LeConte. (I had to come up with a new and different way to describe that mountain.)

Cindy and Rob enjoy the open part of the ridge.

Cindy and Rob enjoy the open part of the ridge.

At times the brush grew a bit dense. Ed crawled through the jungle and I followed suit.

How often do you get to read the labels on the soles of your fellow hiker's boots?

How often do you get to read the labels on the soles of your fellow hikers’ boots?

We finally reached the mighty summit of West Point, which commands a height of 6344′ but doesn’t count for 6K peakbaggers because of its “inadequate col.”

This is why they're called the Smoky Mountains.

This is why they’re called the Smoky Mountains.

As we rested on this 6000′ imposter, I made another conversational error. I mentioned the fact that I have a collection of old SMHC songbooks and that I’d brought them along on a long-ago club hike up Mt. Cammerer via Rowdy Ridge. Now people are demanding that we sing songs on the hike that I will lead with Cindy next month, Lower Richland Mountain on September 21.  I will have to think about that, but it probably won’t happen. It would threaten the great amount of dignity  that I’ve achieved over the years. 🙂

We visited the Lodge office and marveled at the old historic photos displayed there. We also marveled at the fact that Cindy’s white shirt had remained spotless throughout the bushwhack.

On the way down the Alum Cave trail, we saw some lovely wildflowers.

Grass of Parnassus.

Grass of Parnassus.

Focus is bad, but this is just so you can see the color of these gentians.

Focus is bad, but this is just so you can see the color of these gentians.

Colony of turtleheads.

Colony of turtleheads.

As we went along, we stopped at various points of interest such as the top of the Trout Branch off-trail routes, the top of the 1000′ landslide scar, and the entrance to the Big Duck Hawk manway. It was fine outing.

Turtlehead closeup

Turtlehead closeup

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Various ailments in Bearpen Hollow June 20, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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7 comments

View toward Cliff Top from near West Point

On a warm summer day, I and off-trail enthusiast Chris Sass set forth to climb Bearpen Hollow to LeConte.  He had never been up this route before, and I had last been up it in, I think, 1983—a very long time ago! But this massive combined ignorance did not deter us from our objective of conquering this stream.

The stream is not a very large one, having a relatively small area of drainage, and we worked our way up over the mossy rocks fairly easily until things started closing in and there were blowdowns and rhodo hanging over the stream. I thought the left bank looked better. In hindsight, I feel that might have been a nearly fatal error. I think I must have gone up the right bank on that hike 27 years ago—at least, I don’t remember it being nearly as hard.

We passed a massive tulip poplar with a trunk that flared out at the bottom.

Impressive tulip poplar

After a while of making what seemed like progress, we ran into a situation that seemed to continue for a long time. We had climbed high enough that we were above the elevation of waterflow in the streambed, but now we found ourselves in a deep, narrow trough full of nettles and blackberry. When we tried to go up on the bank, we found it inhabited by dense colonies of rhodo. But, not easily deterred, we persisted. Around the 5300 foot level, it abruptly became very steep, and we added slimy layers of Anakeesta to the mix of vegetation. We heaved ourselves up over the rock, holding onto handy rhodo branches here and there.

After a while the grade relented and we found ourselves in a nearly level glade of ferns that looked almost silver in the sun.

Ferns in the sunshine

And here for the first time we followed a clearly defined ridge that led north to West Point. We saw some beautiful blossoms. I believe this is Rhododendron minus.

I loved the color of these blossoms

It was somewhere around here that our various physical ailments caught up to us. I was suffering from the aftereffects of a severe bout of insomnia the night before (this happens to me from time to time), and was experiencing a lethargy that was compounded by foot and leg cramps. I knew I had to drink more water on this warm summer day, so Chris and I both stopped and pounded down some water. It was about ten minutes afterward that Chris said he thought he might have drunk his water too fast. He looked very uncomfortable. A severe queasiness had set in.

But we persisted. I think Chris was putting a pretty brave face on the situation of a rebellious stomach. I went ahead for a bit to give him and his stomach some privacy, and we met up again on the top of West Point.

The magnificent summit of West Point

Then it was just a matter of pushing our way east from West Point to the upper Alum Cave trail. We definitely saw lots of signs that people had been along that ridge before. There were pruned branches, bits of faded flagging, and the signs on the ground of trampling by hiking boots. I would be interested if anyone can fill me in on this. West Point is not a “legitimate” 6000 footer, is it, even though it measures 6344? Doesn’t it have an “inadequate col”? Why are people going out this ridge?

After a few struggles to stay on the ridgecrest in spots where blocks of Anakeesta loomed up before us, we finally arrived on the Alum Cave trail and saw many hikers pass by. We rested there quite a while in the effort to recover from our ailments. Then we wended our way down the trail. I amused myself by locating the top of the manways to Big Duck Hawk and Little Duck Hawk even though those ridges are now “off-limits.”

We saw a beautiful laurel near Inspiration Point, completely dense with blossoms. The laurel seems to operate in increments of five: the blossom forms a pentagon, there are indentations in between that form ten points altogether, it’s all about the number five and its multiples.

Laurel at Inspiration Point

From there it was a quick walk down to the trailhead.

View from near West Point