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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. LeConte’

For various reasons the hike schedule I had intended to keep with my great-nephew has been delayed. But this Monday we got out on our 3rd day hike, this time to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many years ago I had attempted a winter assault via the Bulls Head Trail with a college friend, only to be shut down by icy trail across slides. The thought of slipping down the thousand foot plus slope of cleared forest covered in ice on rock, runs shivers up my spine even now. We crossed one slide ever so tenuously only to be confronted by a second one a short distance later. We turned back, knowing we still had to recross the first one to be delivered to safety. For all of those many years I had wanted to complete this trail. Now my young relative was getting to go up Mt. LeConte for his first time while I completed the only way I hadn’t been to the top. The trail starts in Cherokee Orchard above Gatlinburg. Both of us having stayed at my oldest brother’s house in Knoxville and getting up early, we were on the trail at 7:15. There were actually two cars in the parking lot and one man and son starting up the Grotto Falls Trail as we left. From there you take a 0.4 mile jog on the Old Sugarlands Trail to Bulls Head Trail. It is obvious from the pictures that this has been a high precipitation season.

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Short way over to the turn up the mountain

Log bridges are a staple in the park. The one pictured is longer than usual and the nearness to the road means that gravel is put down to reduce rutting and erosion.

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first bridge

I remember well the pictures of Gatlinburg burning in the fires of 2016. I also knew that the national park had sustained damage. Of the 16,000 acres that burned, 10,000 were in the park. We were about to see the remnants of those fires.

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Contrast

There were great swathes of mountain slope that no tree was left alive by the fire along side other areas where no damage seemed to exist. Very few areas had brush fires that didn’t get up in the treetops. There was a goodly amount of natural charcoal. Secondary Succession is in full swing these four years after the fires. Root sprouts of trees, seedlings of Table Mountain Pine whose cones need fire to open, and abundant annuals covered the ground. 

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Death and renewal

All of this clearing results in non-stop views around every corner. You can see in the next picture the large cylindrical hotel that is built just outside of the park at the entrance to Cherokee Orchard. Two ridges beyond that hotel you can see the strip that is Pigeon Forge. This line of sight convinces me that the far ridges on the horizon are toward a stretch of mountains on the far side of the Tennessee Valley from LaFollete northward to at least Cumberland Gap.

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Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and beyond

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Wooly Tops Mountain?

The exclusively mineral soil speaks strongly of the degree of erosion that took place on these slopes that receive over 100 inches of rain a year. It saddened me to consider what had been lost. As I discussed this with my sister-in-law in the evening, she reminded me that when my father was young, the area had been logged extensively*, rendering it much the same as these smaller areas now. Some 80 to 100 years later it was the lush forest I so loved. It can repair again. 

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bare, mineral soil

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Secondary Succession well under way

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continuous views

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some type of wild grapes

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Lampshade Spiders

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glimpse of the top

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gap between Bulls Head and Balsam Point

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Oswego Tea

I asked myself why some places were completely burned and others seemingly untouched. When we entered the woods from a burned over area, there were almost always coneflower and Oswego Tea which grow in wet seeps. Even in significant drought like was occurring when the wildfires hit, these areas have abundant water under the surface. The fire was doused by the seeps, preventing wholesale destruction.

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Where there were seeps, no fire

There is a constant battle for resources in the forest. When life is good- abundant sunlight, rainfall, nutrients, temperate climate- the battle is intense. Parasites are opportunistic. When life is good or when it is stressed, parasites find resources that are being squandered or difficult to use, and they rob them from other organisms. A common example of plant parasite in the mountains is Dodder.

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Dodder (Cuscate sp.) on Stinging Nettles

Lichen comes in deliciously diverse forms. The texture and variety in this next picture could keep my eyes busy for hours.

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Love the texture

If you can’t find anything else interesting to look at, check out the mushrooms. They come in so many shades and sizes.

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Caught in the forest on the run

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Classic Toadstool look

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Ancient looking Yellow Birch all fern and moss decorated

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Spruce, fern, and moss! We must be above 5000 feet.

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The lush, highland forest

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The fir trees persist

Balsam Firs! Now we are above 6000 feet. A bit of the Canadian Boreal Forest in the Southern Appalachians (There are no long a’s in that word.) Clifftop is not quite the highest point on Mt. LeConte, but it is the most visited for the views of steep, cloud cloaked ridges beyond.

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near the edge

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Over the Alum Cave Bluff Trail ridge

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over the edge

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My phone camera is not the latest generation and digital zoom is pitiful, but sometimes you have to emphasize what you are taking a picture of.

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Newfound Gap

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windblown Heather and Spruce

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Clingsman’s Dome almost revealed

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LeConte Lodge

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Mountain Boomer

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Shelf Fungus

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Rainbow Falls

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There are few healthy Hemlocks after the wooly adelgid, but the park service treats some of the tree to preserve them.

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A healthy Hemlock

The lower part of the Rainbow Falls Trail may be one of the most heavily traveled stretches of trail in the park due to the large waterfall and distance from Gatlinburg. To prevent the erosion from destroying this segment of the forest the park service has put in segments of permanent rock steps. I’m thinking these had to be placed by small skid-stears (like a Bobcat, etc.). I don’t know if even four stout men could lift many of these stones.

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The hike was 14 miles on a high overcast day with thunder on either side of us as we neared the end. It was a good outing, a goal accomplished, an enjoyment of God’s green earth that can so well repair itself and be beautiful in the process and at the conclusion.

I end this entry with a little camera envy. I have an older version cellphone. My great-nephew has one with a far superior camera. I guess when my first blog entry goes viral and get requests to have sponsors, I’ll get some good camera equipment. Anyway here are the pictures I asked him to take mostly of smaller things I knew my camera wasn’t up to:

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Caught in the Crossing

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“Bull’s Head Gap” overlook cairn

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Panarama of 180+ degrees

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*History of logging n the Smokies: https://www.smokiesadventure.com/smokymountains/history/logging_in_the_smokies.htm#:~:text=Before%20the%20boom%20of%20logging%20in%20the%20Smokies%2C,attention%20of%20logging%20companies%20in%20the%20late%201800s.

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