Posted by: pjbarr | April 13, 2010

White Rock Roost

Start: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
Finish: Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower
Distance: 10.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 230.8 mi.
Side Trips: Mt.Guyot, Mt. Cammerer
Side Trip Miles: 1.2 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Mt.Guyot, Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, Fighter Plane Wreckage, Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower & Sunset, Meeting a New Friend

“I have never wanted to leave a top of a mountain.” – Harvey Broome, on White Rocks, 1956

It will be difficult to leave the The Smokies tomorrow. How thoroughly I have enjoyed my passage over these mountains that I so dearly love. How fortunate I have been to revel in this beauty in really perfect weather with clear skies over the course of my travels. I have not been neglected of a single vantage point during my time on the trail within the park. I have gone out of my way to include even more of these exhilarating places and their panoramas. I truly feel as I have sucked the marrow out of this great place, drunken in it’s splendor to the very last drop, and graciously absorbed all that this high wild range has to offer.

Knowing I had a shorter day today, I slept in and was purposefully lazy eating breakfast and packing my things. Additionally, I so love the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter that I wanted to revel in its fine amenities for as long as possible: a nearby spring, a spacious privy, sweet balsam aroma and especially its wild remoteness. Many say Tri-Corner Knob is the most remote location in the entire Park. Geographically, I have proven this false, but it does have one of the most remote feels in the Smokies. Earl Shaffer, though a different shelter made of logs but nevertheless in just about the same location, called the shelter “one of the best in the Park and with one of the coldest and sweetest springs.”

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A bear had been reported to be terrorizing this shelter for weeks and sure enough the shelter log had a story from only four days prior of a bear stealing a pack and dragging it off. The story definately had legitimacy to it: the victim left their name and address and ask please to return his belongings if they were found. Allison and I awoke at this shelter last May to find an adolescent bear inside the shelter with us. What a peculiar thing to wake up to. No bears last night, or this morning on this visit. No guinea hen either, one of which I found had taken up residence here last October on the Wolly Tops trip with Brian and Jenny. I long wondered the origins of that stupid looking bird at such a remote shelter, but it will always be a mystery – both its beginning and its end!

I have so many good memories at the Tri-Corner Shelter. I visited it first with Brad on our very first Smokies backpacking trip. There we found thru-hiker, Rowboat, who let us finish his Hamburger Helper he had cooked. So now, I prepare Hamburger Helper every single night I’m on the trail as a result. I’ve visited the shelter on numerous occasions in years past while chasing six thousand foot peaks, of which a hand full circle the shelter. Allison and I once spent two straight nights here, as well as an afternoon napping while waiting for a down pour to subside.

Last night my shelter mates included Southern, a guy who I last saw at Neels Gap, Grapevine, a guy nursing a sprained ankle, and Glynda the Good, perhaps the biggest nut case I’ve met on the trail yet. Southern reminds me of my college roommate Mark in each appearance, accent, and mannerism. For this reason I feel like I already know him. Glynda the Good is quite nice and good natured. I’ve enjoyed her company and quite frankly been enormously entertained by her. But she’s a whack-job through and through. She wholeheartedly believes in zombies, for one. I’ve learned where to find them, how to kill them, why they exist, and what club to join should I become a believer myself. She’s also carrying a pack that easily weighs in at over 65 pounds for her one month section hike. And she claims to have most every obscure disease and syndrome in the book. Since she is harmless, it has been a delight to stay with her in a change of pace kind of way.

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I begrudgingly left Tri-Corner by 10:00 am, my latest start on this hike so far. It did not take long to reach Guyot Spring. Here I turned off the trail and climbed 50 yards and dropped my pack. I bushwhacked the remainder of the way to the summit of Mount Guyot. This was at least my fourth time to the top of this peak. But this trip had a purpose: to collect a small stone from the summit and carry it with me to deposit on the summit of Mount Guyot in New Hampshire. I dug into the small rock cairn searching for just the right stone. In the process, I found a small plastic Tar Heels keychain that I had left in the cairn in 2006. I had searched for it on my visit with Allison last spring but did not find it then. I was tickled to find it now and I redeposit it back into the cairn after selecting my stone.

The bushwhack up and down was far better than my previous ascents – perhaps because I am more familiar with this mountain with each successive climb. I once feared it – the highest trailess peak in the eastern U.S. But now it is more like an old friend I look forward to visiting.
The summit has no views, only a small pile of stones with a green tarnished copper benchmark dated 1929. Harvey Broome had even seen this BM on his climb of this peak in the 1930’s and beyond. As had Earl Shaffer who climbed to this summit on his 1965 southbound thru hike as a voluntary side trip – 45 years ago. The summit once hosted a crudely built wooden surveyor’s tower – as did Clingmans Dome – in the 1920’s. Nothing remains of it today.

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Pockets of remaining snow made the bushwhack a bit treacherous, but I returned to the trail in one piece. The much anticipated side trip took less than forty minutes, which included at least 10 minutes on the summit setting up photographs. I needed not even the GPS. Perhaps I’ll bring a stone from the New Hampshire Mt. Guyot back here in the fall or next year. This is my small tribute to one of my hiking heroes, the southeast’s first real peak bagger, and first true explorer of the high southern Appalachian crest – before any trails existed and without benefit of maps. Rather, the Swiss geographer and explorer made the maps. Mt. Guyot is a fitting monument to this great man, the second highest peak in the Smokies, the 4th highest peak in the eastern U.S., and the high point of Haywood County. It is fitting that this peak has no trails; Guyot himself never had the benefit of them.

Shortly after returning to the trail, I climbed the shoulder of Old Black. I recalled memories of Dave and I popping out of the woods here after a difficult ascent up Ramsey Prong. I climbed Guyot that time, too. I also remembered my friend Bob and I leaving the trail here to descend the western spur, Pinnacle Lead to reach a peak during my 5,000 foot summit quest. That bushwhack was horrendous and we barely made it back to the trail before dark.

Shortly thereafter, I enjoyed the southern view from Deer Creek Gap. This grassy gap had cement slabs remaining from its role as a helicopter landing pad in the 1980’s where a F-4 fighter jet crashed nearby and the military flew out the wreckage. The view of the Big Creek drainage was expansive. I could see the fire tower jetting out from the summit of Mt. Sterling. Big Cataloochee and Loftee Knob were visible across the valley, as were Old Black and Mt. Guyot.

I soon came to the wreckage of that F-4 fighter plane. A few twisted pieces of metal remain beside the trail just below Inadu Knob. The jet hit the mountain just barely not clearing the crest, going in excess of the sound barrier. Both men on board were killed instantly. There a down pour unleashed on Brad and I on that trip in 2004. We ran, futilely to Cosby Knob the entire remainder of the day. While I was examining the wreckage today, I met another thru- hiker Kricket from Atlanta. He was very curious and quite appreciative for me telling him the history of the site.

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It was a long downhill to Camel Gap. A short climb followed by an even shorter decent lead to Cosby Knob Shelter. Here in 2004 with Brad, I spent the most miserable night outdoors ever. The roof leaked and soaked my sleeping bag. I shivered through-out the night and slept little. The shelter has since been renovated and appears to be a much nicer place to stay. Like Tri-Corner it has both a very proximate spring and privy. It hasn’t the remote magical setting of Tri-Corner, however.

I got water there since my sleeping location tonight would not have any. Hoofing four liters of water up hill was a worthy price for tonight’s accommodations.

Prior to Low Gap, I ran into a guy with the trail name Slow Motion. We talked at length and I enjoyed our conversation. He is the trail maintainer from Sunup Knob to Crosby Knob. Must be a tough section – steep grades each way up from Low Gap that both get ample horse traffic destruction. He thru hiked in 1974. I thanked him for his trail work.


This was my first visit of many to Low Gap where I didn’t meet another person, though Slow Motion’s encounter was only about 200 yards out. This gap with its four way trail intersection is typically Grand Central Station for Smokies hiking. I believe it was a significant historical crossing of the Smokies in the past, though I know none of its history unlike other significant gaps like Ekameetlee, Indian, and False Gap.

The climb up Sunup Knob and Cammerer Ridge was long and hot and my pack, weighed down by water, was heavy. I reached the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower at about 3:30 pm. At the tower, a friend whom I hadn’t yet met was waiting on me. Aurora, from Dandridge, she is an environmental specialist with the TVA. She contacted me late last year about fire towers after having gotten my book. She was especially excited to learn of my thru hike and offered to help if I needed it. She is deeply involved with the AT and is working to initiate an AT license plate, like the program we have in NC, for TN.

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At the tower I picked her brain about her career. She has a job that falls into one of the several career interest categories I maintain. We talked a lot about fire towers, too. She suggested putting together a pot luck dinner as a fund raiser to help my Shuckstack restoration project if I would be willing to travel to Tennessee and give my Lookout Towers Slide Show Presentation and talk. This is a fantastic idea and we hope to do this in October. Thanks Aurora! It was great meeting you and getting to talk with you. Thanks so much for hiking up to the tower to meet me and be part of my thru-hike. I’ll see you in the fall!

I’ve always wanted to spend the night in the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower. This would finally be my overnight destination today. I’ve now camped next to the Albert Mountain Lookout, atop the Wesser Bald Lookout, and in the Mt. Cammerer Lookout. I hope to camp in Rich Mountain Lookout this Sunday after my brief hiatus in Hot Springs.

Spending the night here is probably more meaningful to me than many others. For me, it is reenacting history – the countless nights that tower operators spent here while on duty. The burden of having such a lonely job but one with the best view in the world is a sentiment that attracts me to the history of the towers. In this quaint structure someone lived weeks at a time.

The Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower was built by the CCC and completed in 1939. It is a unique octagonal lookout tower with a stone base that is about 20 feet high on the NC side. This castle turret-like structure, built of local stone quarried on the slops just below, supports a wooden live-in cab completely circled with windows.

The history and stories with this tower are extensive so I will not ramble on. Consult a certian “red book” that some guy wrote on the subject of fire towers – – If I recall correctly its coverage of Mt. Cammerer is quite good.

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This tower represents and is a monument to the most successful lookout tower restoration in North Carolina and all of the Southeast. It was restored in the 1990’s by a group of guys who fundraised for the project and later blossomed into The Friends of the Smokies, the Park’s leading fundraising organization. It is the success and methodology of the project used to restore this very tower that I wish to mirror on the other end of the Park at Shuckstack.

Once known as White Rock, the mountain was renamed for Arno Cammerer, an early director of the National Park Service and promoter of the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was also known as Sharp Top, as engraved in its 1928 benchmark on a rock just outside the tower’s door.

I once considered asking Allison to marry me here, like I once contemplated Mt. LeConte. Ultimately, I opted to actually get married in the Smokies instead, and things worked out nicely.

I now have run out of fingers with which to count the magnificent sunrises and sunsets I have seen on my hike thus far. The sunset tonight from this tower was perhaps the most vibrant and intense that I have ever seen yet. A fire in the valley below set smoke into the air, turning the globe of the sun a striking deep red. It set behind a low cloud just above the horizon, and instead of just going down, it disappeared into a small linear slit that slowly grew shorter from both ends until it was just a dot before vanishing. I shall never tire of watching these grand light displays of nature from a mountain top.

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The wind sounds strong outside the tower, but I am entirely enclosed inside. I spotted the first mouse of my trip in this tower. Since I am alone here, I am his only victim. I have hung my food bag from a metal rafter in the ceiling and attempted to plug his mouse hole, but they are clever, annoying creatures and I fear I may have to endure his company throughout the night. Nevertheless, I am so excited to be in this tower and make this experience another memorable highlight of my thru hike. I’ll be eagerly awaiting sunrise in the morning. Until then, goodnight from White Rocks, and farewell to my Great Smokies.


Responses

  1. The Tricorner guinea hen must not have made it through the tough winter. Well, at least it had a spell of “ruling the roost”!


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