West End, GSMNP    Michael Davie
   Mar 20, 2004 17:59 PST 
Hello all-
About two weeks ago Jess Riddle and I started out on a camping trip in the West end of GRSMNP. For the most part the remoteness and inaccessibility of this part of the park has made it less explored, so it made sense to try and camp in closer to cover more ground. The first day we met at Abram's Creek and hiked into Scott Gap at dusk. Scott Gap is at a five-way intersection, where Rabbit Creek trail and Hannah Mountain trail cross each other, and a small trail leads down to the campsite. There are nice old tuliptrees and white pines right around the gap. 

The next day we went a short way down Hannah Mountain trail,then crossed from Scott Gap Branch over a ridge on Pine Mountain into an unnamed tributary of Abram's Creek. The upper part of this cove was nicely open and largely devoid of rhododendron, most of the understory was paw-paw, tiny silverbells, a few hollies and stewartia. Some beautiful tuliptrees dominated the upper part of the cove, nothing huge, but very very nice. Down the cove we found a nice shagbark hickory. We crossed over a ridge near the bottom of the cove to the next tributary west, and travelled up it. Jess adds: The lower parts of the drainages on pine mountain supported a corridor of rhododendron with a hemlock dominated canopy. That's right. For the most part the trees there were nice, but actually a bit smaller. We went up to the top, again over the ridges of the very appropriately named Pine Mountain. The crest of the ridges are in most places all pine overstory- pitch, Virginia, shortleaf, and white. I don't think we saw Table mountain there, but it almost certainly was somewhere around. We went back down Hannah Mountain trail along the big flats near Abrams. My feet were killing me from wearing boots not fully broken in, so I went back up to camp while Jess went up along Rabbit Creek and Scott Gap Branch.

With the forecast of heavy rain, we hiked out that night and the next day went to the Park library. The next day we went back on to Hannah Mountain trail and set up camp at Flint Gap. That afternoon we went around Mill Branch, a small tributary off of Abram's. There were some nice older white pines in the cove, but again, not very big or tall.

The next day took us meandering down Bear Den Branch, full of big flats and nice trees, again, nothing very big. We went down to the big flats on Panther Creek, hoping to see something, but it had been hammered thoroughly, all we saw were young poles.  When we got back up, Jess decided to scout and see if Hannah Branch, which we had though might be great, would be worth all the effort the next day. While I rested my burning feet, he found after going down as far as Polecat Branch that for the most part, it really wasn't. He says that it looked alot like Bear Den Branch, but the lower flats had been farmed. When he got back we decided to pack up and hike out that night and check out someplace around Cades Cove the next day.

With more heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, we decide to not venture out too far, and went up Arbutus Branch, the first tributary north off of Abrams west of Cades Cove. It was full of rhododendron, mountain laurel, hollies, hemlocks and white pine mostly.

Here are the numbers:

Species Height Cbh Location Comment
Beech, American ~122.1' NA Bear Den Branch
Hemlock, Eastern 134.9' NA Arbutus Branch
Hemlock, Eastern ~163.8' NA Scott Gap Branch May have been measured before
Hemlock, Eastern NA 13'8.5" Hannah Branch Looked short, young
Hickory, Pignut ~134' 9'5.5" Bear Den Branch
Hickory, Shagbark 149.5' 7'6" Unnamed tributary of Abrams Cr., New eastern record?
Holly, American 83.6'+ NA Scott Gap Branch Height above rhododendron
Oak, Black ~121' 9'7.5" Sugarland Branch
Oak, Chestnut ~105' 13'4" Hannah Branch Near trail
Oak, Scarlet ~121.4' 7'6" Hannah Branch
Oak, White NA 12'2" Bear Den Branch Broken Top
Oak, White ~122' 9'9" Hannah Branch
Pine, Eastern White ~122' 13'4" Bear Den Branch Dead, broken top
Pine, Eastern White 137.3' NA Arbutus Branch
Pine, Eastern White ~142.5' 9'11.5" Bear Den Branch
Pine, Eastern White 144.4' NA Arbutus Branch
Pine, Eastern White 149.9' NA Arbutus Branch
Pine, Eastern White 155.6' NA Arbutus Branch
Pine, Eastern White 169.5' NA Arbutus Branch Didn't look that much taller than the others
Pine, Table Mountain ~91' 5'1.5" Hannah Branch Near Trail
Sassafras ~86' 7'2" Near Husky Gap Trailhead, beside roadway
Sassafras ~105' 4'5" Sugarland Branch
Sycamore ~133.5' 6'2" Near Husky Gap Trailhead, in old field
Sycamore ~137.2' 9'1.5" Little River Beside road
Sycamore ~137.3' 7'2" Little River Beside road
Tuliptree NA 14'5" Hannah Mountain
Tuliptree 152.1' NA Unnamed tributary of Abrams Cr.
Tuliptree 159.6' NA Unnamed tributary of Abrams Cr.
Tuliptree 160.1' 13'5" Unnamed tributary of Abrams Cr

Jess stopped off on the way out of the park and checked out some places by the road out, like Sugarland Branch. He says: The lower part of Sugarland Branch is fairly typical old farmland with an abundance of tuliptrees and numerous clumps of sassafras. The trees measured were at the base of a small ridge that was not farmed. I did not see the upper flats.

It seems wrong to have so few numbers from so much looking, but we really found very little of significance. Overall, with a few exceptions, we saw some really beautiful old forests with kinda big, not very tall trees. A couple of interesting things we noticed: most of the largest girth white pines were dead, and on the slopes above the coves. The understory of that part of the park has more young hemlock regeneration over a huge area than anywhere else I've seen. Even in places with very few or no overstory hemlocks. Every single place we saw had adelgid, also.

Michael Davie

Re: West End   dbhg-@comcast.net
  Mar 21, 2004 04:11 PST 


   That's quite a trip report. Our hats off to you and Jess for the extended effort the two of you made. Do you know how much rainfall the area you were in gets? Is the underlying geology different from Cataloochee and Greenbrier and other areas where the giant trees grow? While most of the numbers fall a little short of what we've come to expect from the Smokies, they still cause the rest of us to salivate.

Re: West End   Michael Davie
  Mar 23, 2004 19:02 PST 

As far as rainfall, it seems to be a lower rainfall area than many other areas of the park, which does often correspond to elevation. There are more fire scarred trees, even down into the coves some places, and the species distribution seems to indicate it as well. From
what I can tell from the general map that I have, the geology where we were
consists mostly of Cades sandstone and Shields formation. Cataloochee and
Greenbrier mostly have other sandstones similar to Cades, I think. Jess and
I saw alot of quartz conglomerates, which apparently are of the Shields formation. I just got the cd from the park, I'm going to see what it's got...