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Bushwhack to Chimneys January 16, 2015

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The inner (tourist) Chimney always looks imposing from the outer Chimney.

The inner (tourist) Chimney always looks imposing from the outer Chimney.

I believe this is the fifth time I’ve climbed off-trail to the outer Chimney and then made the traverse to the inner Chimney, the one that’s at the end of the maintained trail. My friend Clayton had not done it by that route, so we decided to do that trip.

It was an overcast day but with temperatures above freezing. Not bad conditions for doing a trip that would be pretty difficult in icy conditions.

Since we did have subfreezing temperatures in the past week, we noticed that it was easier to see all the cascades in the area, now white with ice.

Not a great photo, but you see how the surrounding cascades show up with all their ice.

Not a great photo, but you see how the surrounding cascades show up with all their ice.

We climbed up to the ridge that runs north of the outer Chimney and made our way out to the knob where you find a giant cairn. I consider this the #2 best cairn in the Smokies. The #1 is located on the Porters Creek manway just where you start climbing up very steeply. That one is so huge and well-constructed that folks call it the “Mother Cairn.” Well, this one ain’t so bad either.

The second-best cairn in the Smokies. A great one, only outdone by the one on Porters Creek manway.

The second-best cairn in the Smokies. A great one, only outdone by the one on Porters Creek manway.

Something funny happened at that point. Just as we approached the knob, which is covered with pretty dense laurel, Clayton and I went in different directions. I made my way to the cairn, having been there before and knowing the way. I got there… and waited… and waited… and Clayton didn’t show up. I started calling his name, and he didn’t answer. That area has some really stiff dropoffs, and I started thinking he had fallen off the edge somewhere. I called again, and he still didn’t answer.

So, Clayton must have gotten killed falling off a cliff, I decided. I started thinking about the process of contacting the rangers.

It turned out that he was having exactly the same thoughts. He was on another edge of the knob, calling my name, and finally deciding I had gotten killed falling off a cliff.

Even though we were, I would guess, around 20 yards from each other, we couldn’t hear each other. Finally I climbed back up to the top of the knob and called out, and I got an answer. What a relief! It was actually really funny.

Clayton, alive and well at the cairn.

Clayton, alive and well at the cairn.

We made the fun climb up to the outer Chimney. Generally it works best to go to the left where you hit the bluffs.

Clayton took this picture of me approaching the top of the outer Chimney.

Clayton took this picture of me approaching the top of the outer Chimney.

We made the traverse over to the tourist Chimney, and Clayton explored one of the interesting holes on the top. It’s tricky in there—not too hard to go down or up, but there’s a side where you could slide into outer space. I’ve done it before and didn’t do it this time.

Clayton in the hole.

Clayton in the hole.

You might notice he is wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat. Folks who follow the NFL know that the Cowboys lost to the Packers last weekend in the playoffs. I watched that game. It was one of those games that was probably decided by a questionable call, concerning whether a pass into the end zone was complete. Clayton was pretty sick about that, and I could totally understand. People who aren’t into sports think it’s kind of silly to get so wrapped up in these things. As I’ve said before, I believe sports is one of the few areas of our lives that concerns a true contest of human beings, totally unlike the artificial political or pop-culture realms. Clayton was generous enough to say that he’d be in favor of my team, the Patriots, since his was now out of contention. We’ll see what happens this weekend against the Colts.

We didn’t see a single other person until partway down the newly reconstructed trail. We got closer to the bottom on all those new steps. (I’m not so sure they are necessary. Water drainage yes, steps too close together and too short, no.) There we saw a few more people. I’d guess we saw eight or ten people total on the trail.

I always like noticing the exact spot where Road Prong and Walker Camp Prong join to form the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Just call me a geography nerd.

It was a great hike.

Looking up Road Prong from the bridge, just above the junction.

Looking up Road Prong from the bridge, just above the junction.

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.

Scouting Tomahawk Falls May 4, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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James prepares to climb beside the first waterfall.

James prepares to climb past the first waterfall.

Yesterday James Locke and I scouted a hike we will lead July 14 for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. The hike will have two options. People wanting an easy outing can go to Tomahawk Falls and back out again on the Road Prong and Chimneys trails. Those who want something more challenging will go to the falls, return to Road Prong and traverse to an unnamed stream that runs just north of Tomahawk Prong, follow that up to the Sugarland Mountain trail, take the manway connector to the upper Chimneys trail, visit the Chimneys, and descend the trail.

Since access to the Chimneys trail is currently blocked by reconstruction of the bridge over Walker Camp Prong that was damaged by the January floods, we scouted the hike starting from Indian Gap and climbing back up to the gap at the end.

Speaking of the January floods, this was the first time since then that I’d been past the section of US 441 that washed out. For three months I was unable to reach my favorite parts of the Smokies—the areas around Newfound Gap, Mt. LeConte, and the Greenbrier. However, the experience of driving over the reconstructed section didn’t turn out quite as exciting as I’d hoped. I crossed the short stretch of new pavement in a flash, with hardly a chance to admire the major drainage work above and below the grade.

James and I descended the Road Prong trail amidst swathes of spring beauties.

Carpets of spring beauties.

Carpets of spring beauties.

Bluets along Road Prong.

Bluets along Road Prong.

We dropped down from the trail a little above the Tomahawk Prong junction to make sure we didn’t miss it. A small log jam there made it easy to spot once we were down in the stream.

Looking past the small logjam down Road Prong.

Looking past the small logjam down Road Prong.

Since Tomahawk Prong is a shallow stream hemmed in by rhodo, the way you get up it is to wade. We kept our boots on to travel the half-mile to the falls—it is too far to wear Crocs or similar footgear.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

James, an avid fisherman who spends many hours wading streams, was fast and agile going up the watercourse—and he managed to spot a few brookies along the way. I was slower, slipping and sliding on the mossy rocks. After a half hour we reached the waterfall I had seen pictured as Tomahawk Falls. It was wide, but not very high.

The waterfall I'd seen in a photograph.

The waterfall I’d seen in a photograph.

But we’d glimpsed another waterfall just past it, taller and narrower. So we went up to that point.

The second waterfall.

The second waterfall.

It was perhaps 18 or 20 feet high, and seemed more impressive to us than the first, which seemed closer to 12 feet than the 15 I’d read in a description. Fortunately, since the two falls are so close together, we can easily visit both.

We returned down the stream and made a short crossing through the rhodo over to the next stream valley. This was a lovely little stream.

The stream we followed to the Sugarland crest.

The stream we followed to the Sugarland crest.

The only obstruction we encountered was a couple of large hemlock blowdowns. We saw lots of wildflowers.

Umbrella leaf starting to unfurl.

Umbrella leaf starting to unfurl.

Dutchman's breeches.

Dutchman’s breeches.

Hobblebush (viburnum) and spring beauties.

Hobblebush (viburnum) and spring beauties.

Vasey's trillium.

Vasey’s trillium.

Trout lily.

Trout lily.

The way grew steep as we approached the ridgetop through worlds of wildflowers. We hit the crest just south of a gap and dropped a short distance to the trail.

The manway that connects with the Chimneys trail is about a mile north of where we reached the Sugarland trail. We hunted a short while and found its upper end. The manway is fairly steep but easy to follow.

Sugarland - Chimneys connector manway.

Sugarland – Chimneys connector manway.

As we descended the manway, I realized I was getting very hungry. I grabbed a few peanut M&Ms when we reached the Chimneys trail. I figured I’d have lunch on top of the Tourist Chimney.

At the base of the Chimney we encountered one other person. With the trailhead closed off, we hadn’t expected to see anyone at all, but he had come down from Indian Gap as well—though not of course by the same route that we took. We stowed our poles near the Park Service warning sign, and I climbed directly up from that point, realizing halfway up this short pitch that it was sketchy. But I found a nifty handhold, wafer thin but solid, and got up onto the main part of the Chimney. I continued climbing, taking a somewhat unorthodox route. As I neared the top, I realized that James had stopped following. I didn’t blame him. I wasn’t making the climb look realistic.

I enjoyed the view from the top for a few minutes. I especially marveled at the very visible slide that comes down from the Alum Cave trail at Peregrine Peak into Trout Branch. James and I climbed that last fall. He went back this year after the January flood and explored the lower section, finding that it had been enlarged and considerably rearranged by the deluge. I look forward to going back and taking another look.

I descended the Chimney and joined James for lunch. It was not until we’d headed down the trail that I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture from the Chimney. Well, just to prove that I have in fact explored both Chimneys quite a bit, here is a photo from an SMHC outing that I led with Chris Sass that climbed up off-trail from the Chimneys picnic area.

Photo from SMHC outing June 2011. We came over from the outer Chimney.

Photo from SMHC outing June 2011. We came over from the outer Chimney.

James and I descended to the Road Prong trail junction. Now we faced the 1500-foot climb to Indian Gap. It’s always tough to do a major climb at the end of a hike. At least we had the beautiful waterfalls of Road Prong to occupy our attention.

Talking Falls.

Talking Falls.

We passed a slope covered with luxuriant moss.

Lots of moss.

Lots of moss.

Approaching the Tomahawk Prong junction from the direction opposite to the way we’d come in the morning, we identified a couple of features that marked the best spot to drop down from the trail on the club outing. Under a lowering cloud deck, we arrived back at Indian Gap. Things will look very different when we come back in July.

Snapped-off spruce trunk---one of the markers for the Tomahawk junction.

Snapped-off spruce trunk—one of the markers for the Tomahawk junction.