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Right fork of Trout Branch December 2, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains, winter hiking.
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We looked back down the big waterfall.

We looked back down from the top of the big waterfall.

I’ve been up Trout Branch maybe four or five times over the years, but I’ve always gone to the left at the major junction just below 4400′. Most times I’ve gone up what you might call the right fork of the left fork, the one that leads up to the Alum Cave trail directly below Cliff Top. Once I took the left of the left, which goes to the West Point ridge. The right fork was the only one I hadn’t explored.

I was accompanied by Cindy McJunkin and Chris Sass on this fine outing. They are great hiking companions. Chris and I have done a lot of hiking trips together, but this fall he’s been swamped with work at his teaching position at Young Harris College in north Georgia (he teaches math). He hadn’t been able to get out for a good bushwhack adventure since August… way too long. Cindy has been bitten by the off-trail bug in the past couple of years—she’s an experienced backpacker who’s put in a lot of mileage on the A.T.—so I was glad she was able to join this outing. Fellow female bushwhackers don’t come along all that often.

Our route up Trout Branch.

Our route up Trout Branch. It terminated at the trail, a dotted line hard to see on this map. Click for zoom.

We started a little after 9:00 and proceeded up the lower stream. Even in this photo you can see a hint of red discoloration on the rocks caused by landslide activity that exposed sulfuric Anakeesta bedrock.

Look closely, and you'll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

Look closely, and you’ll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

As we got closer to the base of the big landslide, we could see patches of the “tomato soup” water that you encounter after these cataclysmic events. For photos of a trip up the slide, go here. Recent heavy rains have diluted the water.

Now we get into the "tomato soup."

Now we get into the “tomato soup.”

The logjam at the base of the slide is just amazing.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

Bottom of the slide chute.

Bottom of the slide chute.

The slide is fun to climb in dry conditions. In the ice and snow we encountered this day, it would’ve been pretty challenging.

All along the stream I enjoyed the ice formations.

Snow and ice over water.

Snow and ice over water.

There is a particularly beautiful pool a little above the landslide junction.

Chris approaches the pool.

Chris approaches the pool.
A place of dreams and imagination.

A place of dreams and imagination.

We had a treat a little further along: paw prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.
The bear walked across the snowy log.

The bear walked across the snowy log.

We saw a large waterfall ahead. In this photo you see the sunlight hitting the treetops above. We were in and out of sunlight in this stream valley.

This was a significant obstacle.

This was a significant obstacle.

We did some serious rhodo thrashing to get around the waterfall and finally got to the top, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. We got into pitches of steep terrain.

Looking down the slope.

Looking down the slope.

At around 5100′, several small valleys converge, some too small to show up on the map. At first we stayed with the largest, easternmost valley, but when we reached a point where it was clogged with blowdowns, we opted to follow a draw that angled to the left, going close to due north.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

We got into a fun bit of steep rock scrambling. When we reached smooth icy ledge we headed off to the right and got into steep spruce forest. From there it was a strenuous but straightforward climb up to the trail.

We’d thought we might cross the trail and continue upward along a valley that in days past was used as a descent route by LeConte Lodge workers. However, sunset comes so early these days that we opted to head down, and it was a good thing we did, for it was getting dark by the time we reached the lower sections of the Alum Cave trail. Can you believe it took us from around 9:15 to 2:30 to go something like two miles on the off-trail portion? If you figure we’re especially slow or inept, I invite you to try it for yourself, in similar conditions of snow and ice.

As we descended the trail, we met J.P. Krol, the winter caretaker of LeConte Lodge. Most likely he was entertaining himself with a trip down to Alum  Cave Bluff.

A great hike with two fine bushwhacking companions.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.

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Trout Branch scar revisited September 24, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, photography, Smoky Mountains.
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Looking up the landslide scar.

Looking up the landslide scar.

Last November I visited the Trout Branch scar with James Locke on a chilly day with a mix of snow and drizzle in the air. I had problems with cold fingers and gloves, and the photos I took weren’t good. I’d been thinking about returning ever since, and on a lovely September day I decided to revisit the scar on my own.

The landslide occurred last August. It runs from the Alum Cave trail a little above Alum Cave down to Trout Branch. Greg Harrell, who pioneered the route, calls it the “thousand foot scar” because it runs from 5000′ down to 4000′.

I was curious whether this year’s January flooding had made any difference in the washout. It had, in a way most evident in the position of the logjam at the bottom. Formerly standing to the side of Trout Branch, it has now been shoved right into the midst of the stream. Further up, things don’t look much different. The August washout had already completed the job of scouring the stream valley down to the bedrock. It looks as though, along the sides, a few more trees have been swept away.

The exposure of the Anakeesta bedrock to the air has resulted in severe acidification of the streamwater. In Trout Branch, rocks are noticeably red from sulfuric deposits. I would guess that trout no longer find Trout Branch a good place to live.

What follows is a photo gallery.

Cascade on Trout Branch.

Cascade on Trout Branch.

Stones in pool.

Stones in pool.

Double cascades. Note red-tinted rock in center.

Double cascades. Note red-tinted rock in center.

Red-tinted rocks.

Red-tinted rocks.

Huge logjam up ahead.

Huge logjam up ahead.

I climbed around the logjam.

I climbed around the logjam.

Looking up at sandstone portion of slide.

Looking up at sandstone portion of slide.

Huge slabs of exposed bedrock.

Huge slabs of exposed bedrock.

The water stains the rock.

The water stains the rock.

Starting to make upward progress.

Starting to make upward progress.

Logjam in chute.

Logjam in chute.

Foam in the water.

Foam in the water.

Getting into Anakeesta.

Getting into Anakeesta.

Steep pitch of Anakeesta.

Steep pitch of Anakeesta.

Looking down the chute.

Looking down the chute.

Anakeesta slabs.

Anakeesta slabs.

The ridges glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

The ridges glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

Anakeesta layers.

Anakeesta layers.

Above this blowdown the footing is so loose it's better to go into the woods.

Above this blowdown the footing is so loose it’s better to go into the woods.

When I was just below this blowdown, someone looked down from the trail and saw me climbing up the scar. “Are you in trouble?” she called down. “Do you need help?” “No,” I said.¬† “Just doing a little bushwhacking.” Soon after that I was standing on the trail.

A beautiful short hike.

Big Duck Hawk Ridge.

Big Duck Hawk Ridge.

The 1000-foot scar November 8, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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James gazes up the scar toward sandstone bluffs exposed by the landslide

James Locke and I had set Wednesday as the day for a hike, and Wednesday it would be, regardless of the weather. When we met up at the starting point, a mixed precipitation was drizzling down, just on the edge between rain and snow. Up at Newfound Gap it was all snow, and the crew at LeConte Lodge were getting yet more new accumulation to offset partial melting that had occurred since last week’s big dump.

I’d been wanting to check out a huge new landslide scar route off Trout Branch that was pioneered by Greg Harrell. He didn’t just happen to notice it, he went out deliberately looking for new scars soon after hearing that LeConte had received six inches of rain in a day, early in August. Looking across from the Chimneys, he saw a brand-new jagged opening that extends all the way down from the 5200′ point on Alum Cave trail where it slabs around Peregrine Peak, down past Big Duck Hawk ridge and on to Trout Branch. Since then, he’s been up a couple times with other people. He and Chris Sass did a trip in late September, and Chris got some really nice photos that you can see here.

I especially recommend Chris’s photos because I had an embarrassing mishap with my camera as James and I climbed up the slide. After switching to heavier gloves, I accidentally set the camera in video mode, and it stayed that way the whole way up the interesting section. Duh!!! I ended up with a set of short, wobbly, substandard videos from each time I turned the camera on. The frame capture shown at top is the best I can offer. My apologies!

When we started up Trout Branch, we found patchy snow conditions in the surrounding woods and moderately high water.

Lower Trout Branch

At 4000′, we reached a distinctive tabletop boulder that marks the spot a couple of small stream basins join the main stem of Trout Branch. This is the place where the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club turned to climb up to Big Duck Hawk in July 2011.

The tabletop boulder at 4000′.

But things have gotten rearranged since then. You don’t really need to watch for the tabletop boulder, because just to your right is a giant pile of debris left from the landslide, trees heaped on top of each other, the bark peeled right off many of them. The force evidenced by this is simpy astounding.

You can make out the debris pile past where James is standing.

Awe-inspiring force is represented by this debris.

We climbed up the scar, reaching the interesting band of sandstone shown at top. Everything was stripped down to bare rock as high as 25 or 30′ up on both sides. It must have been a cataclysm.

In a couple of places we took to the woods on either side and found the amount of slushy snow deepening as we climbed, but nowhere above about knee deep. In the scar itself, the snow had mostly been washed away or melted. We crossed the geological boundary line to Anakeesta and found it to be a certain variety with lots of spiky textures that helped gaining a foothold but no clear strata as you find sometimes with this type of rock.

The way grew steeper in that classic progression of Smokies slopes, and up at the very top we had some tough scrabbling to get up an unstable slope of gravelly soil and loose rock. We came out on the Alum Cave trail just as a hiker passed by. The steepness was such that I had my hands on the edge of the trail right next to his feet starting to pull myself up, and he politely asked if I wanted a hand!

In the chilly, snowy conditions, we opted to hike down the trail rather than descending via Big Duck Hawk or some variation off of it. The fog was so thick that you could hardly see Alum Cave even when right underneath it, and Inspiration Point featured whiteness of an inspiring intensity. And so a short but fascinating hike ended.