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Whiterock Ridge to Cammerer—SMHC hike October 19, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The first open view from the ridge.

The first open view from the ridge.

This was a wonderful hike. There were only four of us, but that was a nice size for a challenging off-trail adventure. I was the substitute leader on this Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing, as the designated leader had a conflict come up with his work schedule. I’d done this route before, so I was happy to fill in.

My companions were Steve, Ken, and Clayton.

We met at the Cosby hiker parking lot because it’s a little hard for folks to find where the actual starting point for the hike is, along the twists and turns of Hwy. 32. So I drove us over in my car to the start of the Groundhog Ridge manway. Our route was to take Groundhog Ridge to the Lower Cammerer Trail, do a short jog to the west, and then go up Whiterock Ridge nearly to the top. At about 4600′ (300′ short of the summit), you run into a big sandstone bluff. So that’s where we jogged a very short distance around the bluff and reconnected with Groundhog Ridge manway for the last stiff grunt to the top.

The weather forecast called for clear, sunny skies. Well, for most of the day we were in fog. There was so much moisture in the trees and brush that whenever a wind gust shook the leaves, it almost felt like it was raining.

Whiterock Ridge, which is sort of a half-ridge that doesn’t really start until above the Lower Cammerer Trail, isn’t too bad in terms of brush, when you compare it with its neighbor to the west, Rowdy Ridge. There are patches of rhodo but they don’t go on very long, and there’s some aggressive greenbrier that you have to just force your way through. It helps to have gloves and long sleeves.

As you continue up the ridge and it starts getting steeper and steeper, you start running into small rock bluffs. Anyone who’s spent time bushwhacking in the Smokies knows this pattern.  It’s one of those fun rock-scrambling challenges where you step onto rhodo or rock and pull yourself up.

I remembered from the time I did it before that there was a Tricky Spot. You go up into this narrow slot between vertical rock. I actually had problems with it on the last trip. Well, this time I had it “sandbagged,” as rock climbers call it. I knew that I had to put my right foot in a certain spot, put my left foot onto a really narrow piece of rock, and hold onto the one available rhodo branch for stability.

I’m going to pat myself on the back here, because that was the “elegant” solution to the climbing problem. Two of the three guys with me used a different approach using a longer reach (being taller than me) and more upper body strength. (Clayton did a variation of what I did.)  My solution to the puzzle did not involve strength, only intelligent placement of hands and feet. Sorry, guys!

This photo shows you what the upper ridge was like.

It's a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

It’s a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

We reached the big sandstone bluff. Having seen me get up the lower bluffs, the guys with me teased me about how we should just go up it. Well, I’m sure it’s possible to do that, but it ‘s much easier to go around to the left and hit the upper Groundhog Ridge manway. So that’s what we did.

Big sandstone bluff.

Big sandstone bluff.

Lots of polypody ferns grow there. I think they’re beautiful.

A garden of ferns.

A garden of ferns.

So we went up the manway and before long got onto the open rocks where you have a view of the tower.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

We had nice views into the valley of Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

When we reached the top of Cammerer, it was damp and windy. We retreated to the inside of the tower. Many other folks had the same idea. I have never seen so many people inside the tower!

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

I expected to see the other SMHC hikers, the ones who came up by trail, but we only met one person from that group, who was puzzled about what happened to the others. Funny that they would get lost instead of us folks who bushwhacked up to the top!

I was ambivalent about descending Groundhog Ridge manway and suggested a trail descent. There is a certain section in the middle of the manway that has become a slippery, slimy mudslide. I don’t like going down that kind of crap, and there’s also an environmental rationale to avoid making those places worse by further use. However, the rest of my group wanted to go down that way, so that’s the way we went.

There’s one open spot on the manway which has nice views.

Clayton at the open spot.

Clayton at the open spot.

It was a great day with a wonderful small group of people. This is the sort of outing I really love.

Looking back up to the summit.

Looking back up to the summit.


Cammerer via Leadmine Ridge October 17, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Ed climbs up the rocks


Only six people went on this outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Oh, what fools you others are to have missed out on this wonderful off-trail adventure on a beautiful October day!

We started up the right fork of Groundhog Creek and traveled easily in or near the creek through open woods. Before long we reached the Lower Cammerer Trail and made the short traverse over Rowdy Ridge to the drainage of Rowdy Creek. The original plan had been to go up Rowdy Ridge, but assorted knowledgeable people had consulted with each other and decided that Rowdy did not offer sufficient rewards to offset the punishment of the unrelenting thick brush.

As a matter of fact, I led an SMHC hike up Rowdy with Al Watson back in the 80s. I have to admit that it was pretty much 100% brush crawling, but we did have a great time at the top singing all verses of “Clementine” from the copies of the old SMHC songbook that I had brought along, much to the horror of other hikers who happened by.

The difference between Rowdy and Leadmine is that the latter offers some fun rock scrambling near the top that gets you out of the dense laurel.

We climbed steeply through open woods to reach the ridgecrest and then started dealing with the laurel and rhodo.


David and Hiram negotiate the ridgecrest


Rebekah seemed to be having a good time.


Rebekah climbs up the faint bear trail on the ridge


There were places where bears traveling on the ridge had very thoughtfully created neatly spaced footprints up the steeper sections of the deep, soft duff.

Just when the brush was starting to get a bit too claustrophobic, we started encountering some large boulders that we could scramble up and get out of the vegetation.


Looking up the rocky section of ridge


We had emerged from cool, dark shadows into a world of light and space and color.


Hiram's hiking apparel was color-coordinated with the foliage


It was the kind of day that makes you think of yodeling. You will be relieved to hear that none of us actually did that.


Looking down the ridge at a world of color


We reached the fire tower and encountered a few other people who liked the idea of Cammerer on a nice fall day.


A few other people had the idea of visiting the top of Cammerer


We relaxed on the large boulder on the far side of the fire tower, ate lunch, and applied the lavender-scented hand sanitizer that Rebekah had brought along. It was nearly enough to overcome any offensive odors that might possibly have developed during the strenuous brush-crawling.

Then it was just a matter of descending the Groundhog Ridge manway. The soil in the upper section of the manway has always reminded me of chocolate pudding. An old friend in the Hiking Club commented once (after I made that comparison), “Remind me not to have dinner at your place!”

The soil is rather slippery, the upper section very steep, and I decided that I would make it a personal challenge to see if I could get down the manway without my butt touching the ground. I almost succeeded.

We got down safely, stopping for a break on the Lower Cammerer Trail, where we continued a longstanding SMHC tradition of gossiping about the more notable “characters” in the club.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.


Chris descends the Groundhog Ridge manway