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Anakeestaland January 29, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
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On the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar

Toward the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar.

Deep in the heart of the Smokies lies a realm called Anakeestaland that for some reason doesn’t show up on the map. Roughly speaking, it extends from the Chimneys to Eagle Rocks—but only at the higher elevations. You have to work upward through the sandstone regions to get there.

In Anakeestaland you find a certain combination of things: tidy cushions of sand myrtle, aromatic Rhodo minus, the green-striped Grass of Parnassus. The peregrine falcon chooses to live here.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

Anakeestaland collects violent storms. Catastrophic downpours rearrange things periodically, scouring out the side valleys, shoving piles of fractured rock downstream and snapping off big trees. In the logjams at the bottom, treetrunks have been twisted and the bark stripped off, ragged strips of fibrous wood have been peeled back.

Climbing upward, you pass through the regions of smooth sandstone and cross the boundary line into brittle, angular rock that makes good handholds—if the grain runs horizontally. Where it runs vertically, the going is more difficult.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

For anyone who spends time scrambling over these rocks, the sandstone and the Anakeesta develop distinctive personalities. In keeping with the typical profile of Smokies slopes, the climbing gets steeper in Anakeestaland. Things mysteriously intensify.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

So many times I have made that journey and crossed that frontier into the high, challenging, beautiful realms.

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No Name Ridge.

The ridge with the paradoxical name of No Name.

Mt. LeConte via Shutts Prong August 6, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking down from the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge

Looking back down where I climbed up on the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge

With my latest adventure, I have completed a project I started many years ago: the Twelve Streams of LeConte. Shutts was one of the most challenging of any of the stream routes, amounting to roughly three miles of off-trail and 15 miles of trail. Total elevation gain approached 5000′ because of the ups and downs on the Boulevard trail.

Last week I went out the Boulevard trail to look at the route options from the top. I decided that if I did the trip solo, it was too steep and too risky for me to go directly up the upper basin of the right fork of Shutts Prong. Instead, I opted to head west to hit the top of the Shutts/Boulevard divide ridge. I noticed a large landslide area on one of the side ridges.

A landslide area is visible in this photo taken from the Boulevard trail.

A landslide area is visible in this photo taken from the Boulevard trail.

Studying the map, it appeared to me that the side ridge with the slide went up close to Point 5386. You’ll notice that there are two knobs of nearly the same elevation. Point 5386 is the one further south.

Map showing off-trail portion of my route.

Map showing off-trail portion of my route. (Click for zoom)

As it turned out, I didn’t go up the landslide side ridge after all, but the one next to it, for reasons I’ll describe below.

I started my day by hiking up Porters Creek trail to 2700′ and dropping down to the stream. Fortunately, the Boulevard/Shutts junction is located in a place where Porters is close to the trail—the section in between is pretty jungly. I found the confluence without any problem. Boulevard and Shutts join shortly before running into Porters. I suppose that short stretch should be called Shuttsevard or Bouleshutts.

"Shuttsevard" runs into Porters at the cascade to the right. Porters runs straight ahead.

“Shuttsevard” runs into Porters at the cascade to the right. Porters runs straight ahead.

Large pool on "Shuttsevard."

Large pool on “Shuttsevard.”

I bore left at the split and started to encounter one small cascade after another, often spilling into deep pools. Shutts is a beautiful stream.

Cascade and pool, cascade and pool is the name of the game.

Cascade and pool, cascade and pool is the name of the game.

I did a fair amount of wading up the stream, as it was much easier than working through the rhodo along the sides and quite pleasant.

Asters along the stream.

Asters along the stream.

Magical pool.

Magical pool.

I encountered the first Anakeesta in the Thunderhead sandstone/ Anakeesta divide fairly low, around 3300′. One cascade in this section had a neat division between Anakeesta on the left and sandstone on the right.

Anakeesta on left, sandstone on right.

Anakeesta on left, sandstone on right.

Fern garden beside the stream.

Fern garden beside the stream.

Anakeesta cascade. It was fun scrambling up these little stairsteps.

Anakeesta cascade. It was fun scrambling up these little stairsteps.

Mysterious regions of a Smokies stream pool.

Mysterious regions of a Smokies stream pool.

Tilted strata of Anakeesta.

Tilted strata of Anakeesta, each one neatly edged in moss.

Mossy cascade.

Mossy cascade.

Geological stripes.

Geological stripes.

As I got higher in the stream, I started to run into debris and logjams from past flooding.

Quite a mess.

Quite a mess.

In one place, the streamwater had become completely acidified. I’ve seen this happen in places like Alum Cave Creek and Trout Branch where severe localized flooding occurred. Fortunately on Shutts this was restricted to a very small area.

It smelled like sulfur.

It smelled like sulfur.

Things got more and more messy as I proceeded upstream.

Things got more and more messy as I proceeded upstream.

Now it was time to look for my side ridge. Its location was clear both from the elevation and because the stream turned from southwest to south just before the ridge came in.  Unfortunately, that whole area was a complete jungle of rhodo, nettles, and blackberry. I looked at it and figured it would take hours just to get to the bottom of the landslide area I’d seen. I decided to continue upstream and see how things looked. At the next side ridge, I found relatively open woods at the bottom. I decided to go up that one.

Soon I found that the open woods closed up again, and I got into a truly ferocious snarl, mainly rhodo. It became a real struggle to climb steeply while pushing through all the twining branches at the same time. I came out on open rock for a bit, but it didn’t last. The top photo was taken from this point. I had a nice view to the major surrounding features.

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain.

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain.

Interesting clouds over upper basin of right fork.

Interesting clouds over upper basin of right fork.

I got back into myrtle, and then into more rhodo. It transitioned from large-leaf rhododendron to Rhodo minus, which I usually like, but this was a terrible nuisance.

Tangle of myrtle.

Tangle of myrtle.

The struggle with the rhodo was extremely tiring. Things didn’t get any better when I reached the ridgecrest and plowed through a combination of rhodo, blackberry, and blowdown. Only toward the very top, where the ridge reaches Anakeesta Gap, did the woods open up a little.

Incidentally, this ridge runs together with Anakeesta Ridge on the other side of the Boulevard. I wonder whether the two ridges should really be considered as one continuous formation?

When I reached the point where the ridgecrest approached the trail, I dropped down and was very glad to be done with the bushwrestling. I rested for a while, had food and water, and got a second wind.

I was still about three miles from the Lodge and the Trillium Gap junction. Along I went over the gentle ups and downs of the Boulevard trail. I saw some nice wildflowers.

Coneflower and filmy angelica.

Coneflower and filmy angelica.

Monkshood.

Monkshood.

Made it!

Made it!

Now all I had to do was descend the nine miles of the Trillium Gap, Brushy Mountain, and Porters Creek trails. At least I saw more flowers along the way.

All in all, a very challenging but worthwhile experience. In the end, you have to work pretty hard to reach these valuable places.

Yellow fringed orchid.

Yellow fringed orchid.