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Climbing the “real” Charlies Bunion March 19, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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This is where it starts to get interesting

This is where it starts to get interesting

This post describes a hike done by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club up Charlies Bunion on April 10, 1988.  First, I have to explain what I mean by the “real” Bunion and the “tourist” Bunion.  The real Bunion is the large knife-edge ridge labelled as “Charlies Bunion” on the USGS Mt. Guyot quad.  The tourist Bunion is the popular destination just off the A.T. that has the little circular trail around the top.  It is just off the Guyot quad, on the extreme righthand edge of the LeConte quad.

I have also been up the tourist Bunion from the Greenbrier.  (You can read about those adventures here and here.) To get to the tourist Bunion from this approach, you take the second tributary of Lester Prong and climb up the ridge to your right.  To get to the real Bunion, you take the first tributary of Lester Prong and climb up the ridge to your left.

Partway up the tourist Bunion--I'll be writing about this in another post

Partway up the tourist Bunion–I’ve written about this in other posts (see links above)

Lester Prong might be the most interesting stream in the Smokies.  You start in the emerald depths of the Greenbrier, and you end on perpendicular crags of rotten Anakeesta shale.  I wrote in a recent post about how insight comes from connecting ideas that no one had previously thought of together.  That is mental adventure, and physical adventure is a kind of physical insight: starting here, you make a connection with there, a place you could hardly imagine when you started.  That is what makes it so wonderful.  By definition, these sorts of journeys are impossible to explain to people who haven’t been there.

I’m fortunate to have a set of pictures taken by Al Watson on the SMHC hike.  Al managed to document most of the outing except for the part where he was hanging onto the rocks with both hands.  Here are some of the group on the Dry Sluice manway after the first few stream crossings.

(From left) A visiting hiker, Jenny, Steve Higdon, Charlie Klabunde

(From left) A visiting hiker, Jenny, Steve Higdon, Charlie Klabunde

At the junction of Lester Prong with Porters Creek, we left the Dry Sluice manway and bore to the right.  We took the first tributary on the left.

This is the lower part of the tributary

This is the lower part of the tributary

We started to encounter steep cascades that glided over the layers of Anakeesta.

The hiker in the foreground has jeans, tennis shoes, and is carrying a shoulder bag instead of a pack.  He did just fine!

The hiker in the foreground has jeans, tennis shoes, and is carrying a shoulder bag instead of a pack. He did just fine!

We scrambled up beside more cascades as shown at the top of the post (the hikers in the top picture are Matt Kelleher and Dicky Simpson).  Then it was time to start the serious climb—out of the draw and up to the ridge.  Looking up from the bottom of the V-shaped valley, we faced a wide expanse of corrugated grayish-brown rock rising steeply above our heads.  Each person started maneuvering up along whichever route looked most appealing, or least horrible, depending on how you looked at it.  Soon all 15 of us were scuttling up toward the ridgecrest.

Al took this picture looking across the valley to terrain similar to what we climbed, but where we went up was more bare.

This is typical of the terrain in the upper valleys

This is typical of the terrain in the upper valleys

Once we reached the top of our climb, which was pretty much a fingers-and-toes deal, we arrived at the spine of the Bunion, which had a fair amount of vegetation along it.

Looking over to the tourist Bunion

Looking over to the tourist Bunion

We followed the ridgecrest up to the Appalachian Trail.

The spine of the Bunion

The spine of the Bunion

After relaxing for a while at an open spot near the A.T., we walked east on the trail about three-quarters of a mile to Porters Gap and descended by the east fork of Porters Creek.  Although four years had passed since a major washout in this valley, it still looked quite bare.  Since that time it has filled in quite a bit with blackberry and other vegetation.

You can make out a hiker descending the washout

You can make out a hiker descending the washout (there’s a zoom magnifier for all of these pictures)

We finally returned to the Porters Creek trail and enjoyed the beautiful April wildflowers.  Another more sensible group in the club had made its annual pilgrimage to Porters Flats to see the flowers.  Our hike was the “alternate” hike!

Triillium grandiflorum, one of the ten trilliums of the Smokies

Triillium grandiflorum, one of the ten trilliums of the Smokies

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More Raven Fork photos March 17, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains, Uncategorized.
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I found a few more pictures to add to my post, Whitewater hike up Raven Fork gorge .  Here is one of them:

Two ways to get here: whitewater paddle or whitewater hike

Two ways to get here: whitewater paddle or whitewater hike

Blue jeans on Cannon Creek February 21, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The summit of LeConte.  This is not why we climbed it.

The summit of LeConte. I guess we may have touched this point on our Cannon Creek hike.

From my notes after the hike, July 11, 1988.  The climb was 4400 vertical feet from the Porters Creek trailhead, going off-trail up Cannon Creek on the Greenbrier side of LeConte.  We came down via the Trillium Gap trail.

As we rockhop our way steadily up the very long watercourse of Cannon Creek, the group has divided into two parts.  One hiker was stung by yellow jackets early on, and the front leader accompanied him back to Knoxville because of a possible need for medical attention.  Charlie Klabunde is the substitute front leader with a group of 6, and Ray Payne is shepherding a group of 4 somewhere behind us.  It isn’t raining, but all of us are pretty much soaking wet because of damp brush, humidity, splashing into the stream, and sweat.  At one point Al Watson deliberately splashes water on me with a triumphant laugh.  Who cares at this point?

In the flux of people floundering their way up the creek, I find myself with Brian Worley and Tom, a friend of his.  The friend has never been on one of these rock-hops before.  He is holding up remarkably well, considering.  But he has made one serious error—in dressing for the hike, he chose to wear tight blue jeans.  The jeans have become wet, and they are clinging to his knees, imprisoning him.   It is time for emergency surgery.

The three of us sit down on a large boulder.  I take out my Swiss Army knife, open out the scissor attachment, and hand it to Tom.  He cuts off the pants legs just above the knees.  It takes a while, but he is finally a free man.  He stows the amputated legs in his pack, and we continue onward.  I notice that Brian is laughing, which is not unusual.  He propels himself up these creeks by force of mirth.

We should come to the waterfall before long.  We have put in hours of serious rockhopping, ticking off sections of stream foot by vertical foot.  This is the “working” section of climbing a stream, when you are chipping away at the vertical dimension at a workmanlike pace.  Higher up, the amount of effort is so high in proportion to the distance climbed that it seems haphazard and creative, accomplished by inspiration rather than technique.

We move through the gloom of the woods, under the canopy of dark, giant trees.  Now, at 4250′, I see a sudden contrast: the water is flowing down from high above us.  We gaze up at a dark, massive bluff perhaps 100 feet high.  The water cascades down about half the distance until it reaches a ledge, then slides over the ledge and tumbles down in a ghostly spray.   The living, moving stream is beautiful, but it also poses a problem: how do we get up around it?  The fall is hemmed in with the usual snarly, tangled rhododendron.  We decide to go for the left side, and begin to haul ourselves up.  It is the usual ridiculous kind of place.  The dirt is so rich, and dark, and soft, that it showers down when the toe of a boot is stuck into it.  You interweave your arms and legs with the rhododendron and crawl under, climb over, crawl under.  The plant seems to have been designed by a diabolical mind.  It’s an extra touch of genius that its flowers are actually beautiful during the one week each year that they bloom.

So we pull, slither, and tug our way up.  Eventually we reach the level of the middle ledge of the waterfall.  It is not strictly necessary to walk across it, but we’ve heard that others have done so.  Jean Bangham once told me she even sat down on the ledge and ate lunch—it must have been a drier year.  The ledge looks a bit treacherous, but we carefully make our way across water that’s about an inch deep.  At the very middle, I pause.  I feel that I’ve gone into the heart of the stream.

When we reach the far side we have more rhodo-pulling to do.  I watch as the person in front of me feeds himself into an aggressive rhodo bush.  I follow as best as I can and emerge with dirt on my hands and leaves down the back of my neck.  Not much further up, we encounter Charlie, sitting on a rock and eating lunch.  We tell him about crossing the ledge, and somehow it seems that he certifies the accomplishment by hearing about it—he is the best qualified to appreciate it.  Although Charlie is a stickler for doing things properly, sometimes that means taking a deliberate risk.  He is disappointed if a valuable experience is avoided.  He would say of some interesting obstacle, “You mean you went around that instead of over it?  But all you have to do is go right up the middle!”

It is mid-afternoon before we cross the geological divide between Thunderhead sandstone and Anakeesta slate.  Our pace slows as we negotiate steep, mossy slabs of streambed up into the balsam zone.  There’s one difficult pitch of steep rubble where I watch Charlie churning up through the rock shards, but he keeps swimming upward and then muscles his way into the thick ferns and blackberries above.  We are almost at the top—must be about 6300′—and one enormous blowdown stands in our way.  There’s a steep drop to the left, a huge complication of sharp branches to the right, and the massive trunk is head-high and impossible to climb over.  So we worm our way underneath.  As I pull myself out the other side, I see a cluster of pink turtleheads blooming.  “Places like this are great!” I say, and the others just start laughing.

pink-turtlehead