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An illegal walk in the park October 11, 2013

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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We started before dawn.

We started before dawn.

I had a guest staying from out of town, and we were in the mood for civil disobedience. It was a no-risk proposition: I knew that after the first couple of days of the government shutdown, the park rangers were allowing people to walk from the Newfound Gap parking area past the orange barrel on the A.T. that says “CLOSED.”

The A.T. going either direction from NFG  is, in effect, the only accessible trail within the park, though it is quite possible to get to other trails by walking on gated roads or by parking close to one of the barricaded trailheads on 441 and walking a short distance. Don’t try to bicycle on a gated road, though, for the Park Service considers that a “vehicle”—Jeff George, a follower of this blog,  cycled all the way from Gatlinburg to NFG but was stopped when he tried to continue up the Clingmans Dome road.

And of course one could do a bushwhack from a non-trailhead pullout on 441. But my friend Maryanne is not a bushwhacker. Walking the A.T. to Charlies Bunion was virtually our only choice. We decided to make it more interesting by going very early.

We started hiking at 7:00. I led the way with my headlamp, and Maryanne carried a small flashlight. By the time we reached Mt. Ambler, the headlamp wasn’t needed any longer.

View near Sweat Heifer junction.

View near Sweat Heifer junction.

Sunbeams breaking through.

Sunbeams breaking through.

We were in and out of mist.

We were in and out of mist.

Witch hobble leaves.

Witch hobble leaves.

The Bunion.

The Bunion.

Horseshoe Mountain.

Horseshoe Mountain.

It made me feel sad to look over to Horseshoe, since I haven’t had the opportunity to get back over there for another try at climbing Horseshoe Branch following my unsuccessful attempt. If I don’t have a chance to do it soon, the daylight hours will be too short. It’s hard to say which way is harder, going from Porters Creek or from NFG (from the latter point, I would drop down from Dry Sluice Gap).

This zoom shows the slide. I was a little below the bottom of it when I got stung by wasps.

This zoom shows the slide. I was below the bottom of it when I got stung by wasps.

View toward the east.

View toward the east.

View toward the Jumpoff.

View toward the Jumpoff.

But it was great to be out on a fine early morning. We saw no one until we were nearly back to the trailhead.


The crag in fog March 26, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The ridge was a tapestry of rock, myrtle, and fog

My good hiking buddy Chris and I decided to visit what is called by some the “Real Bunion” and by others “Rocky Crag.” The Real Bunion designation comes from looking at the USGS Mt. Guyot quad, which puts the “Charlies Bunion” label squarely on a ridge that practically no one ever goes to, in contrast to the destination of that name that is visited by many people.

Taken on a different day, obviously. Profile of the ridge we climbed.

We picked a date. The forecast called for 30% chance of rain showers. In one sense we lucked out—it was raining hard on the drive over, but the rain stopped before we met at Newfound Gap. In another sense, we didn’t luck out at all—we were shrouded in dense fog throughout most of our hike except where we dipped down below about 4500′.

Our original plan was to go out on the A.T. to Porters Gap and drop down the East Fork of Porters. But the unfavorable conditions and the likelihood of slow going in streams running high led us to opt for a shorter route via the Dry Sluice manway. The steep upper slopes were decorated with white foaming rivulets everywhere.

Water plunged down everywhere on the steep slope.

The footing on the upper manway is never easy, and the wetness made it extra slippery. But we descended without incident, as the expression goes. (“Incident” always means something negative, for some reason.)

Chris on the upper manway.

Once we reached Porters Creek, we walked through carpets of wildflowers: up at this elevation just getting going, so down at Porters Flats the blooms must be going crazy.

Dutchman's breeches.

I didn’t succeed in keeping my feet dry doing the rockhop up Lester Prong.

Distinctive cairn beside Lester Prong.

We turned up our tributary and reached the beautiful cascade not far above the junction.

The cascade was looking its best in the high water conditions.

The rock beside the cascade makes a lovely staircase for climbing. I apologize for the blurry photos—my fingers were frozen and I had a hard time holding the camera steady.

Chris climbs beside the cascade.

Just above the cascade, we followed a nifty corridor of open woods between big communities of rhodo. We reached the ridgetop and followed it over its lumps and bumps.

The first knob along the ridge.

What’s great about the ridge is that despite the steepness and the exposure, you always have friendly Anakeesta handholds or convenient vegetation to hold onto.

Typical ridge section.

We worked our way steadily toward the prominent crag.

Looking back down the ridge.

We will come back on a sunny day when the myrtle is blooming.

Chris has some great photos of the outing here.


Chris relaxes on the crag.

Of lopping and stone waterbars June 6, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Our crew pauses between Icewater and the Bunion

Yesterday was National Trails Day. I’d decided to get out there and lend one more set of arms and legs to the effort. The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the Park Service, and Friends of the Smokies had organized the effort in GSMNP in which an army of 100 volunteers descended upon the A.T. between Indian Gap and Dry Sluice Gap to generally pound, prune, and groom the trail into submission.

I was part of a five-person crew headed by Dick Ketelle, who has been giving much of his time to A.T. maintenance for many years. He is master of all the tools that can possibly be used, from pulaski and pick-mattock to swingblade and loppers, sledgehammer and pry bar, chainsaw and even good old-fashioned cross-cut.

There was quite a long and complicated assembly at Sugarlands before we all carpooled up to Newfound Gap. We heard from park superintendent Dale Ditmanson, although what seemed to be on his mind this morning was not so much trail maintenance as the very unfortunate recent episode in which a tourist-habituated bear bit a stupid, ignorant person who got too close, and the bear had to be euthanized. The Park Service came under a huge amount of emotional attack and intense local press coverage for killing the bear, and Ditmanson gave us his side of the story. The whole bear episode had been a lose-lose situation.

So we could understand the superintendent’s slight obsession with the subject. At any rate, we eventually got up to Newfound Gap and set off to do our work. I grabbed up a swingblade and a surprisingly heavy pick-mattock and headed up the trail as Dick led us along at a fairly blistering pace. I soon began to regret that I hadn’t fueled up with the free donuts at Sugarlands, and I found myself, with a tool in each hand, unable to wipe the sweat from my brow. I did not regret that we got bogged down for a bit among other, slower-moving crews who were stopping to do sections closer to the Gap.

By Icewater Spring we had left all but one group of the others behind. That group went on to Dry Sluice Gap. After we passed the shelter we started working on building up some old defunct stone waterbars. We scraped out the uphill side to create a better outflow trench and found some nice flat, sharp-edged rocks to raise the height of the waterbar.

The flat rocks were placed end-up across the trail

It gets a little crowded with people swinging sharp tools in close quarters, so two of us went ahead and dug out a few more waterbars. As the trail leveled off somewhat and transitioned from sidehill to ridgetop, the number of waterbars decreased, and we turned our attention to lopping.

We, and quite a few random hikers, reached the Bunion at a good time for lunch. I hadn’t been out there via the A.T. for years, and I gazed around at the places in the Porters Creek and Lester Prong valleys where I have had some great off-trail adventures. My friend Brian is talking about doing a climb up a slide on the side of Horseshoe Mountain, and I could see the top of the slide across the Lester Prong valley. If you look closely in the photo, you can see the very top just below the high point on the Horseshoe ridge. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain

You also get a good view of the Jumpoff.

The Jumpoff is the rocky scar

This is an incredible place.

We headed back toward Newfound Gap to do “more of the same.” I have to admit that my talents lie more in lopping than stonework, so I was glad to take over the main lopping responsibilities.

Eventually we worked our way back past Icewater and started running into the other crews. We stopped to help a group between the Boulevard and Sweat Heifer junctions with installing a beautiful new stone step.

The stone was lovingly placed into a carefully created hole

By the time we finished with that, it was getting toward 4:00—time to head out. A picnic was scheduled for Metcalf Bottoms, but I, as the odd North Carolinian amongst a gaggle of Tennesseans, opted to head directly toward home. The picknickers may have had to deal with a bit of moisture, as the heavens opened about that time, dispensing a generous quantity of what someone I know calls “hydrological head poo.” But a fine day nonetheless.