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Tomahawk Falls July 15, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Tomahawk Falls

Tomahawk Falls

Those of you who read my post about scouting this hike in early May will see that conditions on the official outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned out completely different. Rainy instead of dry, jungle instead of open woods, high water in the streams.

James Locke was my co-leader. Nine people joined us on a day when the probability of rain was forecast in the 20-30% range. I looked at the weather radar that morning and saw scattered green blobs of precipitation across the area. I figured we’d have intermittent light showers. We ended up with light showers varied by intermittent drenching rain.

The extraordinary amount of rainfall we’ve had the past few weeks has produced thriving vegetation, a bumper crop of insects, and jumbo-sized mushrooms and fungi.

This was about 18 inches across.

This was about 18 inches across.

Our route took us from Chimneys trailhead up the Road Prong trail to 4450′ elevation, where we dropped down a steep bank to the junction of Road Prong and Tomahawk Prong. We waded a third of a mile up to Tomahawk Falls and, after admiring the falls, returned to the stream junction, where some opted to re-cross Road Prong and return to the cars. Others bushwhacked a short distance to an unnamed stream running close to Tomahawk Prong and followed that valley to the crest of Sugarland Mountain. We then took the Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway down to the Chimneys trail and returned to the trailhead.

We did a little bushwhacking even before we left the Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

Tackling a blowdown on Road Prong trail.

The wet soil and violent thunderstorms we’ve had lately have resulted in blowdowns all over the Park.

Dropping down to the stream, we waded a short distance up Road Prong to the Tomahawk Prong junction.

Lance and Dave work along the edge of Road Prong.

Lance and David work along the edge of Road Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Looking up Tomahawk Prong.

Not far up Tomahawk Prong, I dropped chest-deep into a pool whose depth I misjudged. I performed this maneuver quietly, with no fuss, muss, or bother, remaining upright. I think the people who saw it happen were asking themselves, “Why did she do that?”

Since my camera is waterproof (I acquired it after drowning two cameras in streams) and I had my extra clothing in a plastic bag inside my pack, no harm was done. After all, none of us expected to stay dry while wading a creek on a rainy day. The only problem was that I no longer had a good way to clear the fog and rain droplets from my camera lens.

We slithered and slid our way up the stream until we reached Tomahawk Falls.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

The falls flows into a pretty pool.

There is another waterfall just upstream which is just as impressive. (Unfortunately my photo of it has too much fog on the lens.)

When we returned to the stream junction, it was raining fairly hard. Five people opted to return to the cars, while six soldiered on.

We traversed a short stretch of rhodo and reached the neighboring stream valley. I was shocked by how overgrown it was. When James and I scouted it on May 3, we had a pleasant stroll through open woods carpeted with wildflowers. Now it was a waist-deep jungle of nettle and blackberry. I consider myself a reasonably experienced bushwhacker, but I have to admit I was taken aback by the contrast. My only excuse is that the rainfall this year has resulted in abnormal growth of vegetation.

This is what the stream valley looked like in early May.

This is what the stream valley looked like on May 3.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

This is what the streambank looked like July 14.

With this kind of jungle to wade through, we opted to stay in the stream most of the time, which worked out okay except for the many blowdowns that had fallen across the stream—I’m pretty sure some of them were recent.

Our crew of hardy souls toughed out the adverse conditions. One of our group, Lance Cooper, suffered a deep gash in his shin, but he persevered. I admired his attitude. The others who did the longer, more difficult hike were Cindy McJunkin, David Krispin, Buddy Sanders, and Rob Davis.

At around 4800′ the valley broadened out and the vegetation thinned somewhat, so we were able to get out of the stream and climb up a steep slope to get to the crest of Sugarland Mountain at 5400′.

Crimson bee balm

Crimson bee balm.

The group members seemed pleasantly surprised to find that yes, there really was a trail at the top of the mountain, just as I had promised. We hiked down the trail until we reached the connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

Sugarland-Chimneys connector manway.

The manway isn’t hard to follow, but it was slippery and muddy in yesterday’s conditions. When we got down to the Chimneys trail, rain was gusting over the mountain. The group opted to skip going over to scale the Chimney Tops.

Would you believe that we enjoyed the hike despite the conditions? If you do, you would make a good candidate for joining a band of adventurers for an exploration of the Smokies on a rainy day.

Mountain ash berries.

Mountain ash berries.