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Tomahawk Falls July 15, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Tomahawk Falls

Tomahawk Falls

Those of you who read my post about scouting this hike in early May will see that conditions on the official outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned out completely different. Rainy instead of dry, jungle instead of open woods, high water in the streams.

James Locke was my co-leader. Nine people joined us on a day when the probability of rain was forecast in the 20-30% range. I looked at the weather radar that morning and saw scattered green blobs of precipitation across the area. I figured we’d have intermittent light showers. We ended up with light showers varied by intermittent drenching rain.

The extraordinary amount of rainfall we’ve had the past few weeks has produced thriving vegetation, a bumper crop of insects, and jumbo-sized mushrooms and fungi.

This was about 18 inches across.

This was about 18 inches across.

Our route took us from Chimneys trailhead up the Road Prong trail to 4450′ elevation, where we dropped down a steep bank to the junction of Road Prong and Tomahawk Prong. We waded a third of a mile up to Tomahawk Falls and, after admiring the falls, returned to the stream junction, where some opted to re-cross Road Prong and return to the cars. Others bushwhacked a short distance to an unnamed stream running close to Tomahawk Prong and followed that valley to the crest of Sugarland Mountain. We then took the Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway down to the Chimneys trail and returned to the trailhead.

We did a little bushwhacking even before we left the Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

The wet soil and violent thunderstorms we’ve had lately have resulted in blowdowns all over the Park.

Dropping down to the stream, we waded a short distance up Road Prong to the Tomahawk Prong junction.

Lance and Dave work along the edge of Road Prong.

Lance and David work along the edge of Road Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Not far up Tomahawk Prong, I dropped chest-deep into a pool whose depth I misjudged. I performed this maneuver quietly, with no fuss, muss, or bother, remaining upright. I think the people who saw it happen were asking themselves, “Why did she do that?”

Since my camera is waterproof (I acquired it after drowning two cameras in streams) and I had my extra clothing in a plastic bag inside my pack, no harm was done. After all, none of us expected to stay dry while wading a creek on a rainy day. The only problem was that I no longer had a good way to clear the fog and rain droplets from my camera lens.

We slithered and slid our way up the stream until we reached Tomahawk Falls.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

There is another waterfall just upstream which is just as impressive. (Unfortunately my photo of it has too much fog on the lens.)

When we returned to the stream junction, it was raining fairly hard. Five people opted to return to the cars, while six soldiered on.

We traversed a short stretch of rhodo and reached the neighboring stream valley. I was shocked by how overgrown it was. When James and I scouted it on May 3, we had a pleasant stroll through open woods carpeted with wildflowers. Now it was a waist-deep jungle of nettle and blackberry. I consider myself a reasonably experienced bushwhacker, but I have to admit I was taken aback by the contrast. My only excuse is that the rainfall this year has resulted in abnormal growth of vegetation.

This is what the stream valley looked like in early May.

This is what the stream valley looked like on May 3.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

With this kind of jungle to wade through, we opted to stay in the stream most of the time, which worked out okay except for the many blowdowns that had fallen across the stream—I’m pretty sure some of them were recent.

Our crew of hardy souls toughed out the adverse conditions. One of our group, Lance Cooper, suffered a deep gash in his shin, but he persevered. I admired his attitude. The others who did the longer, more difficult hike were Cindy McJunkin, David Krispin, Buddy Sanders, and Rob Davis.

At around 4800′ the valley broadened out and the vegetation thinned somewhat, so we were able to get out of the stream and climb up a steep slope to get to the crest of Sugarland Mountain at 5400′.

Crimson bee balm

Crimson bee balm.

The group members seemed pleasantly surprised to find that yes, there really was a trail at the top of the mountain, just as I had promised. We hiked down the trail until we reached the connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

The manway isn’t hard to follow, but it was slippery and muddy in yesterday’s conditions. When we got down to the Chimneys trail, rain was gusting over the mountain. The group opted to skip going over to scale the Chimney Tops.

Would you believe that we enjoyed the hike despite the conditions? If you do, you would make a good candidate for joining a band of adventurers for an exploration of the Smokies on a rainy day.

Mountain ash berries.

Mountain ash berries.

Sharing the fun of the Chimneys February 19, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Dusty crosses from the North Chimney to the Tourist Chimney

Friends had been saying they wanted to go up the Chimneys off-trail from the picnic ground. So Chris Sass and I gladly volunteered to take them up by the same route we led a Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing last June. Many variations exist, and we could have gone a different way, but this is the best way to go if you want to visit what I’ve come to think of as the Magic Cairn.

The friends joining us were Dave Landreth, Seth O’Shields, and Dusty Allison.

We’d thought of descending via the ridge that leads northwest from the North Chimney, but we decided, looking at the cliffs on it as we climbed up the other side of the valley, that it had best be done going up rather than down. Another possible descent route, down a ridge from Sugarland Mountain, was rejected as being too time-consuming by the time we reached the Sugarland-Chimney connector manway.

The first point of interest encountered on this trip is a manmade dam on the stream.

Dam on tributary of West Prong

Not far above the dam, where the route follows pleasant open woods beside a small stream, we saw our first spring wildflowers of 2012—on February 18!

Wood anemones

The way steepened steadily as we approached the ridgecrest.

Dave nears the ridgetop

Past a small curtain of briers, we crawled through a bearway, hearing the sounds of traffic on the Newfound Gap road nearly directly below us. A short descent through an opening, and voila! The Magic Cairn!

One of the great destinations of the Smokies

I like the way the road disappears into the tunnel immediately below.

View from the cairn

Everyone was taking pictures

Our destination

We climbed along the narrowing ridge, negotiating a few bluffs and traversing around a couple of them.

One of many small scrambles

Eventually we emerged onto the really fun part—the open Anakeesta scramble.

Looking down the ridge. You can see the loop-the-loop on the Newfound Gap road to the right.

We arrived at the top. As we chatted and ate our lunch, we saw a fellow in an orange shirt over on the Tourist Chimney who tried a couple times to go across to where we were, but he gave up the effort after a short distance and retreated.

View over to Tourist Chimney

We crossed and passed through the crowds without stopping, then descended the trail. We stopped at the bridge over the West Prong. (I guess technically it is still Walker Camp Prong at that point, just barely above the junction with Road Prong.)

Greenish pool below the bridge

I noticed a small waterfall emerging from right under the bridge. And so a very pleasant outing concluded.

Official hike to Chimneys June 12, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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This was pretty typical of the trip

I was almost astonished that a handful of adventurous souls decided go on the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing to the Chimneys by way of the Chimneys picnic ground. Off trail hike. About 2000′ vertical in about a mile. But I think everyone involved was proud to have accomplished this.

One thing I noticed right away was that the vegetation was much thicker and higher than when my co-leader Chris Sass and I (and brave companion Ben Bacot) scouted it a month ago. The tall green growth does make it harder to see the basic contours. At least, that’s my excuse for hitting the ridge further north than I intended.

Steep getting up to the ridge---approaching the crest

Once we got up to the ridge, I expected we would immediately traverse a short distance to an impressive overlook with a giant cairn. We did not find the giant cairn, though we’d found it easily on our two scouting trips! We believe we hit the ridge a bit too low and then wandered around crisscrossing animal tracks without finding it. Very disappointing. We searched around for a bit, but finally decided to cut our losses and continue up the ridge to the northern Chimney.

We got a beautiful view of that Chimney.

Glimpse up our ridge to northern Chimney

So much beautiful laurel. It really inspired us as we did the hand-over-foot section up the Anakeesta that now predominated over the lower sandstone.

Once we arrived on the northern Chimney, we had a great view of the exposed ridge over to the southern¬† (tourist) Chimney. Darkening skies hung over us, and we heard thunder, but it seemed that the bad weather was drifting away from us, toward the east. I wasn’t totally convinced of that, but sitting up there was so wonderful that I felt I was willing to take the risk of thunder and lightning.

And this is the way we had to go to get over to the "tourist" Chimney

We made it over there, only to discover the usual conglomeration of frightened tourists who can’t seem to make it up past what I consider to be the “crux”—a polished handhold of Anakeesta that you grasp and step up a trivially frightening section of rock to get up to the top.

Our trip down the Chimneys trail was uneventful. At the bottom—the West Prong crossing—we noticed an absolutely beautiful laurel hanging over the stream. It was being visited by countless butterflies of different colors.

Laurel hanging over West Prong

On our way back down to the Chimneys picnic area, we visited Fort Harry Falls.

Fort Harry Falls

And we did talk about the Civil War history, as I’d wanted to do, the vicious phase of the war when Colonel Kirk’s Union raiders attacked several places in western NC and were met in battle by the Thomas legion of Confederate Cherokees. But Confederate bushwhackers did similar damage in Cades Cove, and in the end, the important thing for me is, Confederate bushwhackers murdered my great-great grandfather in Flat Rock, NC, in 1864.