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Interesting weather on Breakneck Ridge May 16, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Meteorology, Smoky Mountains.
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22 comments
Beautiful sky.

A lively sky.

I woke up this morning to cool, clear, radiant skies. By 12:30 today, I was walking through sleet.

I didn’t know the weather would get so fantastically complicated.  The forecast called for clouds to develop later in the day and for possible showers overnight into tomorrow. To me, it looked like a great day for a hike.

I decided to take the Breakneck Ridge manway from Hyatt Ridge down to Three Forks, the place where the Left, Middle, and Right Forks of Raven Fork join and form the famous Big Pool. When I got down to the pool, I’d decide whether to retrace my steps or follow Right Fork around to a tributary that leads up to McGee Springs.

As it turned out, I made it about a third of the way on the manway before I decided to turn around because of the weather.

The temperature was 43 degrees at the Beech Gap trailhead on Straight Fork Road. Chilly! But the sun shone brightly and everything looked fresh and green.

Only a half hour passed before clouds dotted the sky. I’ve been trying to do a better job of understanding weather, and I said to myself, “Looks like those puffy convection clouds that form on clear spring days. It’s not a front coming in.”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It was neither (a) convection nor (b) a front coming in but (c) an upper-level disturbance associated with a short-wave trough (according to the “Scientific Forecaster Discussion” on my weather website).

I still had periods of sunshine on the upper Beech Gap trail.

I still had periods of sunshine on the upper Beech Gap trail.

Cold, gusty winds hit me when I reached Hyatt Ridge. I’d guess it was in the upper 30s.  I turned north on the trail and before long came to the eastern terminus of the manway. There are three ways you can find it: pay attention to the shape of the ridge, look for a landmark sugar maple, or find the piece of pink surveyor’s tape.

This maple with a see-through trunk is at the junction of the manway and the Hyatt Ridge trail.

This maple with a see-through trunk is at the junction of the manway and the Hyatt Ridge trail.

I didn’t need the tape to find the start of the manway, but it became helpful as I went along, especially since I’d never been on Breakneck Ridge before. I’m not crazy about surveyor’s tape, and I’ve been known to take it down in certain places, but this manway seems like the kind of place where tape is useful and appropriate. It helped that the pieces of tape were short and unobtrusive, unlike the long streamers you see sometimes.

I found three vintages of tape: a faded pink, a newer pink, and a blue. In places the manway was close to invisible.

Manway runs straight ahead. See it?

Manway runs straight ahead. See it?

In other places it was obvious.

In other places it was obvious.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of hog damage at the eastern end of the manway. I spotted a pair of the critters. They gave me a loud snort and trotted away.

Hogs have been rooting up the ground through this area.

Hogs have been rooting up the ground through this area.

The sky was getting quite dark.

Dim sky on the ridge.

Dim sky on the ridge.

A shower came through. It lasted about five minutes. But at that point I decided to turn around. The weather had changed so quickly that I figured anything could happen—including a hypothermia-inducing downpour. Reluctantly I retraced my steps.

Even with the fluctuating skies, I enjoyed being up in the enchanted forest above 5000′ in a very wild part of the Smokies, full of moss and gnarly old spruce and all kinds of thriving green plants.

 

Mini-garden at base of mossy old tree.

Mini-garden at base of mossy old tree.

Big swath of false Solomon's seal.

Big swath of false Solomon’s seal.

New beech leaves.

New beech leaves.

This yellow birch seemed more like a golden birch.

This yellow birch seemed more like a golden birch.

Light showers came and went, as if individual clouds were spattering moisture and moving on. I got back to the Hyatt Ridge trail, walked down to the Beech Gap trail, and heard a strange seething noise unlike rain. It was sleet pattering down on the leafed-out trees.

Violets and sleet pellets.

Violets and sleet pellets.

At lower elevations, it turned back to intermittent rain. When I got back home, I learned that LeConte received a dusting of snow.

It was a beautiful day, even though it didn’t turn out the way I expected. I’ll be back to continue my exploration of Breakneck Ridge.

The circular world of a fern.

The circular world of a fern.

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The Enloe Creek trail is mine now August 18, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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3 comments

The trail has a few minor problems

Last month I attended a session for people interested in becoming an “Adopt-a-Trail” volunteer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have done trail maintenance on and off over the years, and it’s become sort of a habit with me.

When I lived in Knoxville in the 80s, I maintained an A.T. section between Sassafras Gap and Doe Knob, which included the infamous Birch Spring shelter (since removed due to drainage problems and possibly because it was simply hideous). In my more recent residence in New England, I maintained a really great section of the Carter-Moriah trail, going up to Mt. Moriah over beautiful granite ledges with views to the Presidential range. That was a side trail to the A.T.

Now, back in the Smokies, I felt the urge to go out there once more and clean out waterbars, lop branches, and whack stinging nettles. So off I went to learn more at a informational meeting held at a mysterious complex of buildings, not often seen by the general public, not far from the Oconoluftee visitor center. Actually, I have to admit there wasn’t anything that exciting about this building complex, which seemed to be a collecting point for a whole lot of machinery and vehicles and trail equipment.

About 35 people were present. Christine Hoyer, the head of the AAT volunteers for the Park Service, gave us a whirlwind explanation of the scope and objectives of the program, complete with an overview of the Leave-No-Trace program, a description of all park regulations affecting hikers and campers, a description of the various tools and their purposes, and last but not least, a lot of info about safety concerns. Christine was a very entertaining presenter, though she kept claiming that she was really an introvert deep down inside.

She gave us a list of available trails. It looked like an awful lot were up for grabs, including very well-known ones like the Chimney Tops and Alum Cave. (No way would I ever adopt one of those—just too many people to deal with!) I decided right away that I wanted the Enloe Creek trail, because it crosses Raven Fork, and I have a history with Raven Fork.

Christine came up with a complicated, even suspenseful, system of having us draw numbers to be picked out of a hat to help make the process of assigning trails more fair. It was actually so complicated that I won’t try to describe it here. But at any rate, for me there was no problem, because no one else wanted Enloe Creek.

So I went out to visit my trail on August 9 with my friend Gary and his daughter Noura, who is an engineering student at Olin College. It occurs to me that I should have picked Noura’s brain a bit more about engineering aspects of the trail.

Noura and Gary near Raven Fork bridge

Christine had told us that our first visit to the trail should just be a walk-through to survey conditions and determine what areas would need work—and what tools would be needed. We did bring along a pair of loppers and attacked some witch hobble and rhodo between the Hyatt Ridge turnoff and the Raven Fork bridge.

There was a sidehill section before the bridge that had a severe erosion problem.

Not too bad for someone on foot, maybe bad for someone on horseback

We had lunch on the beautiful boulders above the metal bridge, which is in fine shape (unlike the log bridge seen at top). Noura did some good scrambling around in the grotto-like spaces between the boulders.

This giant boulder has its own mini-forest on top

The logs are a good reminder of the terrific floods that roar down Raven Fork sometimes. In one that occurred in 1992, a 12-foot wall of water swept down into the Qualla reservation.

Gary and Noura had to turn around at that point, for this was the end of a weekend trip for them and they needed to drive back to the Raleigh-Durham area. I continued on and found that past the bridge, the trail was terribly overgrown with nettles and blackberries.

I have my work cut out for me

I enjoyed following the beautiful stream of Enloe Creek. I encountered the bridge shown at top. It wasn’t hard to cross halfway by rockhopping and then get onto a truncated bridge section, but it could be tricky in high water.

Past the bridge, there was a large blowdown, but you could duck under it—at least if you weren’t on horseback.

Blowdown past the log bridge

I continued on, enjoying views of Katalska Ridge, a very remote, woolly-looking place. The conditions were similar the rest of the way to the end of the trail at Hughes Ridge. It is a fairly hefty trip to do the whole trail. Because you have to do a piece of the Hyatt Ridge trail at the start, the whole outing amounts to 11 miles and about 3200′ vertical, with all the ups and downs.

The other significant problem I discovered was a big stack of folded tarps and cast-iron cooking pans at campsite #47 that looked like they had been brought in on horseback and just left there. Sorry folks, it may be convenient for you to leave that stuff there for return trips, but the rest of us don’t want to look at your clutter right there at such an otherwise beautiful spot. Unfortunately, it will probably take someone on horseback to get that stuff back out.

I’ll be back in a week or so to start tackling the underbrush with a swingblade.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Adopt-a-Trail program can contact Christine at christine_hoyer@nps.gov .

I saw my first pink turtleheads of the season