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Frowning Rock Ridge April 7, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, plants, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking down Frowning Rock Ridge

Looking down Frowning Rock Ridge

Your faithful blogger goes places for you so that you don’t have to go there yourself. From the comfort of your armchair, you can visit the upper portion of Frowning Rock Ridge.

For some background on my obsession with the headwaters of Bradley Fork, go here. I’ll repeat one of the maps from that post, showing names that I gave to these very wild ridges that no one has ever visited, as far as I can determine:

Part of the headwater streams and ridges of Bradley Fork.

Part of the headwater streams and ridges of Bradley Fork.

In its appearance, Frowning Rock Ridge is the strangest and most interesting of the ridges, to judge from the map. But I couldn’t even see it from any of the viewpoints I visited on my earlier trip of 24.6 miles and 5260 total vertical feet.

My altimeter came up with exactly the same figure today, even though I circled the watershed clockwise instead of counterclockwise this time—after I subtracted out my foray of 300 vertical feet down the ridge. It just so happens that the ridge joins with the A.T. at about 12 miles into the trip whichever direction you take, so it doesn’t matter whether you start with Bradley Fork and Hughes Ridge or with Dry Sluice trail and Richland Mountain.

Last night when I was preparing for the trip, I looked at a satellite image of the ridge at a higher magnification than I’d done before. It looked to me as though the ridge might actually be vegetated on nearly all of its crest even though it has huge slides going off to the left (west).

The wide slides come down the left side of the ridge into a draw.

The wide slides come down the left side of the ridge into a draw.

It is hard to orient yourself with a satellite image. The draw to the west of the ridge almost seems to look like a ridge itself, but that reverses the ridge/valley structure. Two narrow slides come down to the same draw from the other side . . . but things have changed since this image was created.

More about the slides in a moment. For right now, let’s just say that when I looked closely at this image, I thought, “Well, that vegetation will make things safer for me when I explore down the ridge!” It did give me lots of stuff to hang onto. It also made the ridge virtually impenetrable.

After a brief period of spruce forest interspersed with witch hobble, it turned into what you see below.

I crawled through the jungle.

I crawled through the jungle.

Every now and then, the way would be almost clear for a few feet.

It didn't last.

It didn’t last.

I got glimpses of a pretty big slide to the right. This is different than what the satellite image shows.

Telephoto view of slide.

Telephoto view of slide.

Much later in my outing, I had a glimpse of the area from the upper Bradley Fork trail. There is a huge slide that comes down from just west of Laurel Top—exactly what this might be the upper part of. Very intriguing. I wish I could have taken a picture of it, but from that standpoint, there was too much forest in between, and the light was bad.

From the ridge, I had views of what I call Fortress Ridge to the west and Fishtail Ridge to the east.

Fortress Ridge, with a heath-covered side ridge coming down.

Fortress Ridge, with a heath-covered side ridge coming down.

Fishtail Ridge has some interesting exposed rock.

Fishtail Ridge has some interesting exposed rock.

I wrestled with the rhodo and laurel for a while. It was pretty grim, and I saw no signs that it would let up any time soon. In fact, it got worse as the ridge grew narrower and steeper. Plus, I had to take into account the dimensions of my overall outing. So I turned around and crawled back up. Of course, the wind-blasted branches had all been aiming downslope, so to speak, so now I was going against the grain. Experienced bushwhackers will know what I mean.

Valley of Frowning Rock Prong from the A.T. close to the ridge.

Valley of Frowning Rock Prong from the A.T. close to the ridge.

I hadn’t seen anyone all day, but now I ran into a total of six thru-hikers. I had a burst of adrenalin from my mini-adventure, so I galloped past them all with my much lighter pack, turned down Hughes Ridge, and felt great until I hit the junction with the upper Bradley Fork trail. All of a sudden I felt horribly tired, and I still had 7.4 miles to go. I stopped, had something to eat, and pressed on.

It was pretty much of a death march from that point on. Fortunately, once down on the section of trail that goes along Bradley Fork itself, the flowers made a nice show. But I will say that I took all of the photos below at the beginning of the hike, not at the end. In my final miles, I was in that robotic mode where I didn’t even want to break stride to take a picture—and I knew ahead of time it was going to be that way. So below you will see some photos from early in the morning.

A lovely cluster of Trillium grandiflorum.

A lovely cluster of Trillium grandiflorum.

My first geraniums of 2013.

My first geraniums of 2013.

A carpet of phacelia.

A carpet of phacelia.

Mayapples and phacelia.

Mayapples and phacelia.

I feel as though I don’t want to set foot on the lower Bradley Fork trail again for quite a while, but I do want to explore some of the slides in the headwaters area, possibly going out from Newfound Gap. For now, I will just daydream about it.

I don’t expect many people will be interested in this.

Hepatica with furry new leaves just starting to grow. It's spring!

Hepatica with furry new leaves just starting to grow. It’s finally spring!