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Trout Branch—Cliff Top route March 8, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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We came up through the cliff band shown here, toward the left

Last fall, Dave and I explored up the westernmost fork of Trout Branch. This time Dave, Chris, Seth, and I went up the middle fork, the one that leads toward Cliff Top.

The forks of Trout Branch

It was a blustery day, the sun peeking out every now and then in an unsettled sky of scuttling clouds. But we warmed up quickly as we rockhopped up the stream. Water levels were moderate, making for relatively easy progress.

One pool seemed especially beautiful. We admired it when we first arrived, and when the sun came out for a moment and illuminated the water, the pool sparkled with glimmering patterns.

Pool on Trout Branch

The patterns seemed mystical, enchanting. When you look closely enough at anything in nature, you find something lovely and abstract.

Closeup of pool

Past the lower junction at 4370′, we encountered a series of cascades flowing over sandstone ledges.

Looking down from top of cascade

Each one of these giant stair steps posed the challenge of how to get up around it. Sometimes it was possible to find a way up the rock, and sometimes we had to go into the rhodo.

Big cascade on Trout Branch

And sometimes the best way to cross the stream was over a log. This one had many small rhodo seedlings growing on it.

Dave prepares to cross the log

The rock changed over to Anakeesta as we climbed.

Chris and Seth make their way up the stream

Above the junction at 4760′, we reached smaller, higher junctions. At two decision points, we went to the right both times. If we had gone left at one or both of those, I believe we would have come out on a steep grassy meadow, which is the way I did it once before.

One of the decision points. We went right.

Eventually we came out on the big face of Anakeesta pictured at top. We angled to the left and found a couple of feasible routes, and emerged on the trail right below Cliff Top just as some Alum Cave hikers were coming by. It’s always fun to startle regular hikers, who wonder, “Where on earth did you come from?!”

Trout Branch is one of the most interesting streams on LeConte, with endless variations to explore. I’ll be back.

Seth emerges onto the trail