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Trout Branch—Cliff Top route March 8, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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We came up through the cliff band shown here, toward the left

Last fall, Dave and I explored up the westernmost fork of Trout Branch. This time Dave, Chris, Seth, and I went up the middle fork, the one that leads toward Cliff Top.

The forks of Trout Branch

It was a blustery day, the sun peeking out every now and then in an unsettled sky of scuttling clouds. But we warmed up quickly as we rockhopped up the stream. Water levels were moderate, making for relatively easy progress.

One pool seemed especially beautiful. We admired it when we first arrived, and when the sun came out for a moment and illuminated the water, the pool sparkled with glimmering patterns.

Pool on Trout Branch

The patterns seemed mystical, enchanting. When you look closely enough at anything in nature, you find something lovely and abstract.

Closeup of pool

Past the lower junction at 4370′, we encountered a series of cascades flowing over sandstone ledges.

Looking down from top of cascade

Each one of these giant stair steps posed the challenge of how to get up around it. Sometimes it was possible to find a way up the rock, and sometimes we had to go into the rhodo.

Big cascade on Trout Branch

And sometimes the best way to cross the stream was over a log. This one had many small rhodo seedlings growing on it.

Dave prepares to cross the log

The rock changed over to Anakeesta as we climbed.

Chris and Seth make their way up the stream

Above the junction at 4760′, we reached smaller, higher junctions. At two decision points, we went to the right both times. If we had gone left at one or both of those, I believe we would have come out on a steep grassy meadow, which is the way I did it once before.

One of the decision points. We went right.

Eventually we came out on the big face of Anakeesta pictured at top. We angled to the left and found a couple of feasible routes, and emerged on the trail right below Cliff Top just as some Alum Cave hikers were coming by. It’s always fun to startle regular hikers, who wonder, “Where on earth did you come from?!”

Trout Branch is one of the most interesting streams on LeConte, with endless variations to explore. I’ll be back.

Seth emerges onto the trail

Trout Branch—West October 6, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Cascade on Trout Branch

Trout Branch is one of the streams that drain the south side of LeConte. It forks at 4360′, and that left fork again splits at 4750′. Our adventure yesterday took us up the westernmost of the forks, the one that leads toward the ridge over to West Point. The eastern fork of the left fork leads toward Cliff Top, and the right fork leads toward the Trout/Styx divide.

Upper Trout Branch

My fellow adventurer was Dave Landreth. When we met up at the junction of Trout Branch and Walker Camp Prong, we saw that water levels in the stream were very low.

Dave finds it easy to negotiate the nearly dry streambed. Notice how the little pool at right is deep blue, while everything else is green.

I apologize for the poor quality of images in shady places. I need to learn how to adjust the settings of my new camera for these kinds of scenes. The photo below is subpar, but I include it because I want you to get an idea—even if just a hint—of how beautiful some of the pools are. This one had a little cascade running down to it.

Sorry for bad photo---but you can see that the color of the pool was just beautiful

As we got out of the main valley and started climbing more steeply, we encountered a series of sandstone shelves, each one in the range of five to ten feet high, a sort of repeated geological theme. Both sides of the stream channel were generally bounded by dense rhodo, so that you needed to find a way to get up these smooth ledges. I nearly always decline the offer of a hand up, but in one spot Dave hoisted me up a difficult spot and saved me a lot of trouble bypassing the ledge. Some of the ledges sported a fur coat of moss.

Mossy cascade

These kinds of places are somehow deeply restorative, their value intensified by the difficulty involved in reaching them.

We reached the sunnier spaces of the upper slope.

Things opened up as we climbed

This route does not feature the slide climbing of the next fork over, but we encountered sections of rock—now changing over to Anakeesta—alternating with forest floor. The streambed still carried some water.

Dave follows the dwindling stream

As we approached the ridgecrest, we encountered grassy spots mixed in with rhodo and rock slabs.

Near the ridgetop

We climbed through some blowdown, but it wasn’t severe.

Dave negotiates blowdown

We intersected the ridge a bit east of the saddle between West Point and the Alum Cave trail, and followed the fairly clear manway over to the trail. Then it was up to the Lodge for some basking in the sun. It was an utterly gorgeous fall day, when the sunshine beams down benevolently and the world seems to shine.

Dave enjoys the sunshine

Big Duck Hawk Ridge July 24, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Along Big Duck Hawk

I’ve been on Big Duck Hawk before, but I had never approached it via the route that Greg Hoover and Craig Hutto led it yesterday for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. We rockhopped up Trout Branch about a half mile to a small tributary and followed it up to a goodsized landslide scar and scrambled up that to the top of the ridge, coming out on its most interesting section. Then we went back down the same way. Total mileage was not even quite two miles. It took us six hours.

The Park Service does not have a ban on BDH, but they do on Little Duck Hawk, its narrower ridge companion. LDH is also known as Hole-in-Rock Mountain, and it is easily viewed from Alum Cave Bluff. I have traveled on it in the days before the ban.

LDH as viewed from BDH

Trout Branch was flowing fast and high, which made wading necessary much of the time. None of my stream pictures came out very well. For some excellent shots, go to this page on Dave Landreth’s Griztrax site. He is a great photographer. But just to give you a feel, here are a few shots.

Hikers along the stream

Ed Fleming prepares to cross the stream

Greg Hoover watches over his flock

Our group takes a break at the junction with the tributary

When we turned onto the tributary, we encountered a series of cascades. I think Greg Harrell was the only one who attempted to climb up them—an awful lot of water was flowing over them. I was too busy negotiating my way around the edges to take pictures on this stretch. Eventually we reached the slide, which featured the classic loose, brittle Anakeesta that you find in areas that haven’t had long enough exposure to weathering processes to turn them into the fine rock staircases you encounter on the Chimney Tops, Charlies Bunion, and the crests of the two Duck Hawk ridges.

Looking up the slide

It was steep, but it had enough footholds to make it climbable except at the very top, where we had to head over to some brush on the side in order to have something to hold onto.

Popping out on the top of the ridge

We had lunch and explored up and down the ridge a little ways. Clouds hovered overhead—a welcome shelter from the sweltering sun we’ve all been suffering through the past week.

You feel as though you are up in the sky

On the way down, the wetness of the slide made it harder to keep solid footing, which meant that the faster members of the group paid the price of having the others shower down loose rock upon them. Fortunately, no one was injured.

By the time we got back to Trout Branch, I was so wet and dirty that I welcomed its cool, refreshing waters. In fact, when we reached the bridge, I removed my pack and immersed myself in the water! Then I dripped my way back to the car, where I had a dry change of clothes. A fine outing of eleven adventurous souls.