Ascent of Anakeesta Ridge on 2019-09-06

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Friday, September 6, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Anakeesta Ridge
    Elevation:5680 ft / 1731 m

Ascent Trip Report

My route up this obscure unranked 5er in the Smokies--albeit one seen by millions--ranks among the most challenging, exciting, and worthy bushwhacks I have ever done. The route I took covers terrain that is difficult to come by in the Southeast--prolonged scrambling up exposed rock slides, insanely steep ridges, and near-knife-edges with dropoffs that could kill you. A good weather forecast, with no recent rain, snow, ice, or mist, is essential. This is forbidding country, and getting off route or making a misstep could be your last mistake. But for those with the experience and know-how, this special place is one you'll never forget.

I will give only a very basic overview of my route; this is a place that deserves to be explored and experienced uniquely by the few who dare venture here. I parked at a pullout along US-441 and headed up a drainage starting from an undisclosed location. After a fun bit of creekbed walking over scattered rocks, I found a brief stretch of exposed slide that I scrambled up. At the top of this, I reentered brush briefly, but could see a larger slide ahead, and followed this up. The scrambling approached class 3 in spots, and the exposure was enough to make me take my time, but it was an absolute joy to ascend! It felt like I was back out west...this slide led up to a rather brushy ridge, which occasionally had segments of climber's trail, but nevertheless was extremely steep, overgrown, and difficult to make progress. This eventually led to the main ridge between Anakeesta Ridge and Knob.

Much of the ridge between the two summits is not much easier...but oh, what views! Mt. Leconte rising in all its glory to the northwest, 441 snaking its way up to Newfound Gap to the S, the gentle bulk of Clingmans Dome in the distance...and nearer by, cliffs and slides and rugged, forbidding country, ridges and steep valleys. The price for this rare view is a steep, brushy, barely-passable ridgeline, especially around the saddle and leading from here up to the Knob. The one-way journey of about a mile will likely take you at least two hours--much slower than I recall the journey to Mingus Mountain taking. Sections are steep and washed out, or briefly traverse onto rock outcroppings with exposure and drop-offs, and at one place, require literally crawling under multiple fallen trees before climbing up through them through a tight squeeze and walking precariously atop them to bypass the obstacle. The ridge is frequently only a few feet wide. The navigational crux is at about 5600' on the SW shoulder of the Knob; here, the natural lie of the ridge and faint climber's trail will take you SE, but if you instead want to head SW toward the Ridge, keep a sharp eye out for the one spot where the slopes are merely very steep, instead of impossibly so, and you may spot the way through the woods that descends steeply toward the saddle. There is a more apparent climber's trail much of the way, but it merely makes the route extremely difficult, rather than near-impossible. In most spots, the route is evident simply because there's no other way to go--all other options are treacherously steep. That said, as one approaches the last few tenths of a mile toward either summit, the terrain eases, the woods open up, and the going is pleasant--you could be on any number of easier, piney, high-elevation trailless peaks in the Smokies. On both summits, you will know when you've arrived.

My own journey on this trying route consumed 5 1/2 hours of bushwhacking before encountering the Boulevard Trail. The remaining 13 miles or so I covered that day, on trail, took about the same amount of time. Thanks to work, I had been running on only 4 hours of sleep, and had started late (around 9:15 AM); I did not finish the journey until sunset. But I will never regret taking advantage of such a perfect, bluebird day to finally experience these mountains in a way the throngs of passing tourists never, ever will.
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