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Chestnut Branch to Cammerer (again) December 18, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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6 comments

Even in December, it was a beautiful day to enjoy the teeming life of the Smokies.

I’d done the Chestnut Branch/Cammerer hike this past January.  Since I’ve been holding off on bushwhacking the past six weeks because of my knee problem, I was looking for a really good trail hike—and this is one that brought back good memories, so why not try it again? There aren’t that many places to get in a decent amount of vertical on a trail dayhike in the Smokies, but this one gives you 3500′ or so, 12 miles roundtrip.

Starting out in the upper 20s, the morning was about five degrees warmer than the last time—no old snow today, but a few spots of ice—with brilliant, luminous sunshine. But the really great thing today was that I discovered that, after weeks of physical therapy, I have legs of steel! (No matter that I also have brain of silly putty.) I will never underestimate strength training again.

I averaged 2.75 mph over the whole distance. All those hours of lunging, squatting, stepping, hopping, and balancing seem to be paying off. In early January I will find out what the doctor has to say, and I hope very much to get back to off-trail. Something short would seem appropriate—like one of the routes on the north side of Cammerer.

You may be surprised that I took no pictures from the summit of Cammerer despite the crystal clear visibility. All I can say is that some photos can be beautiful and boring at the same time. The first picture I took was on the way back down, of some frost needles pushing up through the soil.

Extruded frost

At around 4500′, the giant spruce trees loomed overhead. This is my favorite kind of forest. The only problem for photographers is that it’s nearly impossible to get tall trees into the lens.

In the halls of the giant spruce

I emerged from the pleasant gloom of the evergreens at a switchback where a dramatic rock outcrop leads down, down, down into the complicated stream valleys. Pines—I believe they were pitch pines—grew along the spine of the rocks.

Layer upon layer of depth and distance

Looking south, I noticed the same ridge I’d observed on my January hike. This time, just below the heath I’d noticed before, I spotted tall green healthy evergreens above a forest of brown hardwoods, with probably dead hemlocks mixed in.

Alternation of green and brown

Just past the outcrop, I passed a beautiful wall constructed by the CCC crew—obviously the same hands were at work here as at the Cammerer lookout.

CCC wall

On the way up, a seemingly infinite series of log steps on the trail had caused me some annoyance. They weren’t quite as irritating on the way down, but they still seemed gratuitous. For some reason, trail maintenance crews installed these dozens and dozens of steps on the section of the A.T. between the Lower Cammerer junction and the upper Mt. Cammerer turnoff. They are not waterbars—they are definite steps, placed along a very moderate grade where the footing is not difficult. The result, for a hiker climbing upward, is a constant little burst of extra effort every few feet—not so bad for a dayhiker, but I think probably pretty aggravating for someone with a full pack. On one of the Smokies hiking forums, I recently came across a comment that the Chestnut Branch/A.T. approach to Cammerer was strangely tiring. I believe this is the reason why.

Why are there so many of these *#@! steps?!

I enjoyed the music of Chestnut Branch as I descended into the lower portion of the valley, listening to the water resounding over all the little cascades and pools. The water was descending to Big Creek and then to the Pigeon River. I leave you with a few photos I took at the Pigeon, down by the Waterville hydro plant, in the morning shortly before I started my hike.

The Pigeon River is never quiet

The waters of Shining Rock, Middle Prong Wilderness, and the eastern Smokies all join here

Ceaseless flow

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