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A spring morning in the Smokies May 8, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
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15 comments
Spring is the morning of the year.

The morning woods invite me in.

The Luftee runs straight toward a green vanishing point.

The Luftee runs straight toward a green vanishing point.

Kephart Prong tumbles toward the Luftee.

Kephart Prong tumbles toward the Luftee.

Geraniums.

Geraniums.

Phlox.

Phlox.

A pinkish phlox and a bluish phlox grow together.

Pinkish phlox and bluish phlox growing together.

Showy orchis.

Showy orchis.

Painted trillium.

Painted trillium. Everything in threes.

An encyclopedia of leaf shapes.

An encyclopedia of leaf shapes.

Flow of water and flow of sunlight.

Flow of water and flow of sunlight.

Toothwort.

Toothwort.

The valley of Grassy Branch lives up to its name.

The valley of Grassy Branch lives up to its name.

Bluets.

Bluets.

Arbutus pushes up from winter into spring.

Arbutus pushes up from winter into spring.

Spring beauties still thriving at 5500'.

Spring beauties still thriving at 5500′.

Witch-hobble.

Witch-hobble.

Morning sun shines on the serviceberry.

Plants, trees, and people all reach up toward the spring sunlight.

Point 5520′ March 27, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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10 comments
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.