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Pyramid route to Rocky Crag October 26, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The most beautiful stream in the world. Do you notice that the water is gold?

The most beautiful stream in the world. Do you notice that the water is gold?

Yesterday Clayton and I set forth (I like that old-fashioned expression of “set forth”)  to climb the ridge of Rocky Crag (also known as Real Bunion or USGS Bunion) via the Pyramid side ridge.

I had climbed up via that route two years ago, but I was careless, following a group and not paying much attention to the exact point where we had to leave that first tributary of Lester Prong to get up to that exact spot.

So now someone had studied the pictures and wanted to go up that route. I had to get it right!

Clayton and I started around 7:45 and made good progress up the 3.6 miles of trail, hitting the backcountry campsite on Porters in less than an hour and a half. Throughout the whole trip I kept insisting on stopping for water and snacks, partly just because I am getting to be a tired old soul—but not too old and tired to do this kind of adventure!

So we followed the lower Porters Creek manway. As I said to Clayton, I think it’ll be totally gone in five or so years. It used to be almost like a maintained trail. But the blowdowns and the growth of vegetation around have made it harder and harder to follow. Plus, we had to deal with autumn leaves that obscured the footway.

We got to the Lester Prong junction, and we rockhopped up the stream pretty easily to the first tributary. That’s where I took the photo above. I calibrated my altimeter carefully here because I knew we’d have to hit the side ridge to Pyramid Point pretty precisely.

We hit the first big cascade on the tributary pretty soon.

 

It's more vertical than it looks in this photo. You climb hand over foot.

It’s more vertical than it looks in this photo. You climb hand over foot.

The wonderful, enjoyable thing about this whole area is that you get into really steep stuff but there are always handholds and footholds.

Climbing the tributary. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Climbing the tributary. Photo by Clayton Carver.

We continued up the first tributary of Lester Prong until we reached a ridge that I thought was the correct side ridge. If you approach it from the left side there are cliffs. We went on a bit further up more of the wonderful mossy cascades of the tributary and finally picked a spot. I wasn’t actually 100% sure we were in the right spot but it turned out I was right. We climbed steeply through brush at the bottom but soon found ourselves on a footway that could have been made by bears or possibly certain eccentric humans that I know.

 

Climbing Pyramid Point. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Climbing Pyramid Point. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Clayton climbing up the side ridge.

Clayton climbing up the side ridge.

We topped out on the ridge and had wonderful views to all the steep ridges in the Lester Prong drainage. We could hear the idiotic voices of tourists on what most people call Charlies Bunion, but actually that didn’t bother me, it only reinforced the difference of our situation.

View to Middle Crag and Bunion Crag. Familiar places to me.

View to Middle Crag and Bunion Crag. Familiar places to me.

So from Pyramid you have to climb up the “Tooth,” as my Jefferson City friends call it. Clayton is a stronger hiker than me but he opted to have me lead the way up the Tooth. We got there and looked back down at the route we’d climbed.

We climbed the rocky bump you see up another rocky bump. Hard to describe.

We climbed the rocky bump you see and up another rocky bump. Hard to describe.

So we continued up the ridge, following the footway that I strongly suspect is mainly created by those terrible Jefferson City folks, and got up eventually to the top. Right about that time a nice innocent family arrived at the same spot, the father sure that this was an obscure spot no-one knew about. There we were, dirty and sweaty. He said, “I never see anyone else here!” We explained that we had come up from the bottom.

He didn’t understand—of course, no one understands.

A wonderful day.

Looking down Porters Creek valley.

Looking down Porters Creek valley.

Here, by popular request, is a map of the upper section of our climb.

OK, Al, here you go! Just shows the upper section, but if you ain't smart enough to get to the first tributary of Lester, you shouldn't be there.

OK, Al, here you go! Just shows the upper section, but if you ain’t smart enough to get to the first tributary of Lester, you shouldn’t be there anyway! And you know that area quite well.

 

In the land of crags and gullies April 3, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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This gully was our route to the ridgecrest

This was an expedition to the “real Bunion.” No, wait a minute, it was an expedition to the “USGS Bunion.” No! It was an expedition to Rocky Crag! Never mind. If you follow these kinds of things, you’ll know what I am talking about. I am going to be a little bit obscure about this, but if you take a close look at the USGS quads, you’ll figure it out—I’m just not going to hand over the details. You’ll see where we went pretty easily if you want to.

Our group of eight started at the parking lot for a trail well-known for spring wildflowers. I will say, first of all, that I was quite surprised that seven other people actually wanted to join me for this outing. We had Jenny, Chris, Seth, Bill, Ben, Dan, and the two infamous Gregs (Hoover and Harrell). After we crossed the log bridge over a major stream, we got into the area where spring flowers erupt everywhere out of the forest floor. We saw fringed phacelia,with some anemones thrown in for a little embellishment…

A carpet of fringed phacelia

… and even more phacelia.

Carpets of flowers as far as the eye could see

It was an explosion of wildflowers—though that sounds too violent, no doubt due to my writings about the Boer War—let us use a more gentle word. It was a profusion of wildflowers. (I still like “explosion” better.)

We passed a pretty cascade on the left. Nice waterfall. Here I will be mean and say that countless much more impressive cascades exist on the headwaters of streams that no one ever goes to. (Mean? Violent? What has gotten into me this morning?)

To the left off the trail

Now we left the maintained trail and followed a manway that crosses the stream many times.

Stream crossing on manway

Then we turned onto a stream and started rockhopping. After a short distance, the stream starts flowing over the flat ledges that are one of its defining characteristics. Notice the new-fallen snow on some of the rocks.

This stream is a gateway to adventure

The higher we climbed, the more wintry it looked.

Wintry birches

Somewhere along here, Hoover and Harrell split off to ascend to the angry-looking ridge to our left. They’ve explored just about every crevice in this area. The rest of us continued up a little higher to search out a route I’d done with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club in the 80s. I had come down off the ridge somewhere in this area last summer, but nevertheless I was surprised at how heavily vegetated the whole area seemed since that time with the SMHC. We picked up a route that would take us up near the Crag. It wouldn’t have been horribly difficult except that patches of snow and running water from snowmelt made the rock slippery. It was a matter of finding the right rock with the right texture to step up onto, and maybe grabbing onto some handy myrtle for security.

Looking down gully

Eventually we made it up to the ridgecrest, which has some beautiful big red spruces growing along it. I had that wonderful sense of topping out as I neared it, that greater proportion of sky and openness that signals the climb is nearly over. We came out right at an outcropping of Anakeesta, and since we could hear the maniacal voices of Hoover and Harrell already sitting on the Crag, we clambered up to join them. I don’t know if their route was easier or they were just faster—or both.

We gazed into the vast bowls of space around us, bounded by vertical ridges, some of them snow-covered.

View from crag

I was happy to be there. I will say happy! happy! happy! just to be silly.

Jenny on crag

We all still had a long ways to go to get back to our starting point—first of all, we had to climb the ridge that you see behind me in the above photo. About half of the group opted to walk out to a gap where a friend could pick them up and shuttle them back to the trailhead, and the rest of us descended back into the stream drainage where we’d started.The two groups arrived at the trailhead at exactly the same time.