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Point 5520′ March 27, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking down into the valley of Kephart Prong.

Looking down into the valley of Kephart Prong.

The original idea was to go to Rocky Crag, starting at the Kephart Prong trail. But once I got above the Kephart Prong/Grassy Branch side of the mountain and up to the stateline ridge, I got blasted by cold blustery winds. It was just too darn cold to go sit on the most exposed point in the Smokies.

Point 5520′ made a good consolation prize. It is the high point between Rocky Crag and the A.T. The map below should clarify things. Just don’t let the words “Charlies Bunion” confuse you into thinking we’re at the Tourist Bunion. I’ve discussed this too many times to go into it here.

Ignore the words "Charlies Bunion."

Ignore the words “Charlies Bunion.”

Here is a profile view of the ridge taken on another occasion (from the Tourist Bunion).

The "tooth" on the ridge is Rocky Crag.

The “tooth” on the ridge is Rocky Crag. Point 5520′ is out of sight to the right.

As I expected, the weather today changed dramatically partway through. I was just a bit off on my guess about when the new weather system would move in (the preview for tomorrow’s warm rain) and the old weather system would move out (which gave LeConte a low of zero degrees, night before last). I was probably up top three or four hours too early. I bet it’s comfy up there now, at 6:30 in the evening.

So I started up the boring old Kephart Prong trail. I always smile at the four footlog bridges. The first one is so beautifully made, wide and flat and solid, as if to lure in the unsuspecting hiker. The second one is not so nice, the third one worse, and the fourth one crappy, with a tilted, wobbly handrail. Of course, this morning the fourth one was the one that had the most ice.

But I persevered, and started running into snow on the shadier sections of trail.

Is it really late March?

Is it really late March?

Everything was crispy and crunchy. It was definitely below freezing at this point.

Tender green plants huddle beneath big icicles.

Tender green plants huddle beneath big icicles.

I got up to what the Park Service calls the Dry Sluice Gap trail and achieved the day’s high point of 5700′. The trail then drops 300′ to where it meets the A.T. By the way, total elevation gain for this hike is around 3400′, distance about 12.5 miles.

The wind was roaring out of the north. It was cold, and the A.T. was icy. I walked the short distance to the unmaintained side path and climbed up.

Heading up to 5520'.

Heading up to 5520′.

I stopped below the very top in a sheltered spot and put on my down jacket and my mittens. Brrr!

Then I climbed up the slabs to get views.

Anakeesta slabs.

Anakeesta slabs.

Horseshoe Mountain and its scar.

Horseshoe Mountain and its scar.

Looking down into Lester Prong valley.

Looking down into Lester Prong valley.

Middle Crag in foreground, Jumpoff in background.

Middle Crag in foreground, Jumpoff in background.

The view of the Tourist Bunion was blocked by Middle Crag.

The photo below shows the divide between Shutts Prong and Boulevard Prong, where I had one of my best adventures last year.

Telephoto view. LeConte looms in the background.

Telephoto view. LeConte looms in the background.

I climbed up to the actual high point and got views toward Porters Mountain.

Sawteeth in foreground, Porters Mtn. in background.

Sawteeth in foreground, Porters Mtn. in background.

Looking down valley of Porters Creek.

Looking down valley of Porters Creek.

I peered down the rabbit hole that forms the start of the traverse to Rocky Crag. It was full of snow. It didn’t look very inviting. So I turned back toward the south and descended to the A.T., enjoying the big cushions of myrtle and the wind-sculpted spruces.

By the time I got to the lower elevations, a big thaw was underway. The footlogs had lost their snow and ice, and tons of people were wandering up the trail.

It was an enjoyable day.

Micro-garden with a bonsai balsam, myrtle, and Rhodo minus.

Micro-garden with a bonsai balsam, myrtle, and Rhodo minus.

 

Anakeestaland January 29, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
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On the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar

Toward the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar.

Deep in the heart of the Smokies lies a realm called Anakeestaland that for some reason doesn’t show up on the map. Roughly speaking, it extends from the Chimneys to Eagle Rocks—but only at the higher elevations. You have to work upward through the sandstone regions to get there.

In Anakeestaland you find a certain combination of things: tidy cushions of sand myrtle, aromatic Rhodo minus, the green-striped Grass of Parnassus. The peregrine falcon chooses to live here.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

Anakeestaland collects violent storms. Catastrophic downpours rearrange things periodically, scouring out the side valleys, shoving piles of fractured rock downstream and snapping off big trees. In the logjams at the bottom, treetrunks have been twisted and the bark stripped off, ragged strips of fibrous wood have been peeled back.

Climbing upward, you pass through the regions of smooth sandstone and cross the boundary line into brittle, angular rock that makes good handholds—if the grain runs horizontally. Where it runs vertically, the going is more difficult.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

For anyone who spends time scrambling over these rocks, the sandstone and the Anakeesta develop distinctive personalities. In keeping with the typical profile of Smokies slopes, the climbing gets steeper in Anakeestaland. Things mysteriously intensify.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

So many times I have made that journey and crossed that frontier into the high, challenging, beautiful realms.

#  #  #

No Name Ridge.

The ridge with the paradoxical name of No Name.

An illegal walk in the park October 11, 2013

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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5 comments
We started before dawn.

We started before dawn.

I had a guest staying from out of town, and we were in the mood for civil disobedience. It was a no-risk proposition: I knew that after the first couple of days of the government shutdown, the park rangers were allowing people to walk from the Newfound Gap parking area past the orange barrel on the A.T. that says “CLOSED.”

The A.T. going either direction from NFG  is, in effect, the only accessible trail within the park, though it is quite possible to get to other trails by walking on gated roads or by parking close to one of the barricaded trailheads on 441 and walking a short distance. Don’t try to bicycle on a gated road, though, for the Park Service considers that a “vehicle”—Jeff George, a follower of this blog,  cycled all the way from Gatlinburg to NFG but was stopped when he tried to continue up the Clingmans Dome road.

And of course one could do a bushwhack from a non-trailhead pullout on 441. But my friend Maryanne is not a bushwhacker. Walking the A.T. to Charlies Bunion was virtually our only choice. We decided to make it more interesting by going very early.

We started hiking at 7:00. I led the way with my headlamp, and Maryanne carried a small flashlight. By the time we reached Mt. Ambler, the headlamp wasn’t needed any longer.

View near Sweat Heifer junction.

View near Sweat Heifer junction.

Sunbeams breaking through.

Sunbeams breaking through.

We were in and out of mist.

We were in and out of mist.

Witch hobble leaves.

Witch hobble leaves.

The Bunion.

The Bunion.

Horseshoe Mountain.

Horseshoe Mountain.

It made me feel sad to look over to Horseshoe, since I haven’t had the opportunity to get back over there for another try at climbing Horseshoe Branch following my unsuccessful attempt. If I don’t have a chance to do it soon, the daylight hours will be too short. It’s hard to say which way is harder, going from Porters Creek or from NFG (from the latter point, I would drop down from Dry Sluice Gap).

This zoom shows the slide. I was a little below the bottom of it when I got stung by wasps.

This zoom shows the slide. I was below the bottom of it when I got stung by wasps.

View toward the east.

View toward the east.

View toward the Jumpoff.

View toward the Jumpoff.

But it was great to be out on a fine early morning. We saw no one until we were nearly back to the trailhead.

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