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Whiterock Ridge to Cammerer—SMHC hike October 19, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The first open view from the ridge.

The first open view from the ridge.

This was a wonderful hike. There were only four of us, but that was a nice size for a challenging off-trail adventure. I was the substitute leader on this Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing, as the designated leader had a conflict come up with his work schedule. I’d done this route before, so I was happy to fill in.

My companions were Steve, Ken, and Clayton.

We met at the Cosby hiker parking lot because it’s a little hard for folks to find where the actual starting point for the hike is, along the twists and turns of Hwy. 32. So I drove us over in my car to the start of the Groundhog Ridge manway. Our route was to take Groundhog Ridge to the Lower Cammerer Trail, do a short jog to the west, and then go up Whiterock Ridge nearly to the top. At about 4600′ (300′ short of the summit), you run into a big sandstone bluff. So that’s where we jogged a very short distance around the bluff and reconnected with Groundhog Ridge manway for the last stiff grunt to the top.

The weather forecast called for clear, sunny skies. Well, for most of the day we were in fog. There was so much moisture in the trees and brush that whenever a wind gust shook the leaves, it almost felt like it was raining.

Whiterock Ridge, which is sort of a half-ridge that doesn’t really start until above the Lower Cammerer Trail, isn’t too bad in terms of brush, when you compare it with its neighbor to the west, Rowdy Ridge. There are patches of rhodo but they don’t go on very long, and there’s some aggressive greenbrier that you have to just force your way through. It helps to have gloves and long sleeves.

As you continue up the ridge and it starts getting steeper and steeper, you start running into small rock bluffs. Anyone who’s spent time bushwhacking in the Smokies knows this pattern.  It’s one of those fun rock-scrambling challenges where you step onto rhodo or rock and pull yourself up.

I remembered from the time I did it before that there was a Tricky Spot. You go up into this narrow slot between vertical rock. I actually had problems with it on the last trip. Well, this time I had it “sandbagged,” as rock climbers call it. I knew that I had to put my right foot in a certain spot, put my left foot onto a really narrow piece of rock, and hold onto the one available rhodo branch for stability.

I’m going to pat myself on the back here, because that was the “elegant” solution to the climbing problem. Two of the three guys with me used a different approach using a longer reach (being taller than me) and more upper body strength. (Clayton did a variation of what I did.)  My solution to the puzzle did not involve strength, only intelligent placement of hands and feet. Sorry, guys!

This photo shows you what the upper ridge was like.

It's a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

It’s a bearway with a lot of greenbrier.

We reached the big sandstone bluff. Having seen me get up the lower bluffs, the guys with me teased me about how we should just go up it. Well, I’m sure it’s possible to do that, but it ‘s much easier to go around to the left and hit the upper Groundhog Ridge manway. So that’s what we did.

Big sandstone bluff.

Big sandstone bluff.

Lots of polypody ferns grow there. I think they’re beautiful.

A garden of ferns.

A garden of ferns.

So we went up the manway and before long got onto the open rocks where you have a view of the tower.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

Most people approach the tower from the opposite side.

We had nice views into the valley of Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

This is the divide between Chestnut Branch and Big Creek.

When we reached the top of Cammerer, it was damp and windy. We retreated to the inside of the tower. Many other folks had the same idea. I have never seen so many people inside the tower!

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

Every square foot in the tower was taken up with hikers.

I expected to see the other SMHC hikers, the ones who came up by trail, but we only met one person from that group, who was puzzled about what happened to the others. Funny that they would get lost instead of us folks who bushwhacked up to the top!

I was ambivalent about descending Groundhog Ridge manway and suggested a trail descent. There is a certain section in the middle of the manway that has become a slippery, slimy mudslide. I don’t like going down that kind of crap, and there’s also an environmental rationale to avoid making those places worse by further use. However, the rest of my group wanted to go down that way, so that’s the way we went.

There’s one open spot on the manway which has nice views.

Clayton at the open spot.

Clayton at the open spot.

It was a great day with a wonderful small group of people. This is the sort of outing I really love.

Looking back up to the summit.

Looking back up to the summit.

 

Cammerer via Whiterock Ridge December 16, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Hoar frost on upper Whiterock Ridge

Hoar frost on upper Whiterock Ridge.

You won’t find Whiterock Ridge on the map. But I’ll be nice and show you where it is.

It's the half-ridge between Groundhog Ridge and Rowdy Ridge.

It’s the half-ridge between Groundhog Ridge and Rowdy Ridge.

I have to give credit to Greg Harrell for pioneering this route.

I started out with my hiking buddies Chris Sass and Cindy McJunkin. We were fueled by muffins provided by Chris’s wife Bethann—sweet potato muffins with crystallized ginger and chocolate chips, if I am remembering the details right.

Actually, our original plan (pioneered by me) was to explore the upper left fork of Shutts Prong starting from Newfound Gap, going down to the stream from the Boulevard trail and then following the stream up to the Horseshoe Lead. But the Newfound Gap Road had been closed for more than a day and we couldn’t take a chance on wondering when the road would re-open today. So we shifted plans.

It was an utterly beautiful hike that entailed all the different degrees of frost with their distinctive patterns as we climbed from the no-frost elevation up to thin snow and beyond that to the hoar frost zone. It was a day of a luminous blue sky and crystal formations in the trees.

Even in the lower elevations we could see the patterns of frost and wind on the trees and the understory vegetation.

This is what the forest looked like in the lower elevations.

This is what the forest looked like in the lower elevations.

Even individual rhodo leaves had the windblown frost.

I like the way you see the action of the wind in the frost.

I like the way you see the action of the wind in the frost.

We decided to go up to the ridgecrest directly from the Lower Cammerer trail. The ridge was inhabited by a fair amount of vegetation, but it was manageable.

Chris grapples with the brush.

Chris grapples with the brush.

We climbed up steeply and reached the junction of two worlds.

Here to there---is connection possible?

Here to there—is connection possible?

We tackled a series of rock bluffs, the last of which was the most difficult, leading up into a rock slot with one handy laurel to aid the way to the top. It led us to a viewpoint where we had open views of worlds of frost.

We saw the view over the glowing ridgeline shown at top, and we could also see up past some serious cliffs to the tower. If you look very closely at the photo below, you’ll see the famous tower.

The tower is visible as a faint shape on the horizon. Note the cliffs directly below.

The tower is visible as a faint shape on the horizon. Note the cliffs directly below.

Above this viewpoint, we gradually merged with the Groundhog Ridge manway, with a few points of uncertainty, but it didn’t matter, because all we had to do was continue upward. Eventually we got up above the forest and onto the open rocks close to the summit.

Cindy climbs last boulders to the tower.

Cindy climbs last boulders to the tower.

It was an incredible day. The one strange thing was that I managed to get my eye injured early on the way up even though I always wear glasses. Somehow a branch stabbed me from the side. It was the kind of injury that looks a lot worse than it really is, the eye swelling and saturated with blood. I saw a doctor this evening and, after examination, she told me it’s not a big problem—my eye will just look “impressibly horrible” for a week or so.