Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Appalachian Trail snow hike

We thought last week was our deepest snow hike, but this week's hike was even deeper. We drove up to Newfound Gap (which was crowded due to Spring Break) and headed out along the Appalachian Trail toward Clingman's Dome. There had been minimal foot traffic along the trail so it was tough going.

Though the sun was out and temps were in the 40s, there was still over 30 inches of snow on the ground.... difficult to gauge the depth. We indulged in some snowball rolling along the way.

The trail runs parallel to Clingman's Dome road, here we're below it looking up at a retaining wall... a couple people had climbed up or down. From this point on, we were following the tracks of one person wearing snowshoes. The going was much tougher, post-hole hiking.
As you can see, it was particularly deep in some places. With the day pack on, I'm about 50 lbs under the other one, who was really sinking in. Much whining ensued. Snowball hurling commenced.


Some nice views along this stretch of the trail, the photos don't do justice at all to the feeling of being along the ridgeline in the cold, crisp air.

We stop for a breather, he's lagging behind.... out of snowball range. My aim sucks anyway.

There's a fenced area with metal ramp designed to keep wild hogs from damaging the plants/trees in the 'exclosure'. Snow completely topped the fence in some places.

We reached Indian Gap, only 1.7 miles from Newfound Gap but the snow made it feel like about 4.

Behind me is the Indian Gap parking lot. Clingman's Dome Road is closed to vehicles for the season as usual, but this season it's also closed to foot and bike traffic as they're trying to work on it... which is why it is being kept clear of snow. We wandered a bit further on the road to rest and stretch our legs, as it was Sunday and roadwork unlikely. We've hiked the road several times in past.

Backtracked onto the Appalachian Trail. Along the way we passed several groups that all looked like Spring Breakers. First were 4 boys that looked to be headed up to Mt. Collins Shelter. They were sinking in deep and huffing along. About 3/4 of the way back we passed 2 sets of dayhikers and a couple of backpackers headed to the shelter. It was about 4:30pm and they had nearly 5 miles ahead of them, with very deep snow. I cynically wondered if anybody had a camping permit.

So we made it back to Newfound Gap, which was still busy. There were a few crows hanging out as usual, they got really close to me as somebody had dropped bread by the cars.

Along Hwy 441 below Newfound Gap heading to Gatlinburg, still a lot of snow and ice but the road was nicely cleared.

Sign almost buried.
Warm temps and rain moving in the next few days will significantly impact the remaining snow. It may be the last for this season. I sure "enjoyed the hell out of it", as the other one says. :-)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Major snow at Newfound Gap

On March 1st we drove up to Newfound Gap, which is near the top of the Smokies and is at the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

It's been a long, cold winter and the snow had piled up to 36 inches at the Gap. That's the most we've hiked in.... and it was a lot of work, but so beautiful.

We worked our way along the old road (which runs parallel below current road into NC) and went out about 1.5 miles. The going was made tough for several reasons: firstly, there had been little-to-no foot traffic ahead of us to compress the snow into a trail.

Secondly, it was unpredictable... impossible to determine the depth, and conditions varied often. Sunnier areas were beginning to soften and you'd sink in up to a foot deep, colder pockets were frozen solid and like walking on concrete.
Thirdly, many trees have fallen in the last year (it's quite messy on the 'unnamed' trails that don't get cleared) and when they're buried under snow that can get dangerous and result in damaging falls. The other one has taken a couple nasty slides off the edge of buried logs in the last month.

Everything was coated with snow in some places. I've never seen real trees like the fake flocked Christmas trees, it was a pretty and magical sight.
Our legs got tired and we turned back, and it was still rougher going..... uphill now and rising temp was softening the upper layer of snow crust, making us sink a bit deeper.
We rested a while at the Gap enjoying the view, then crossed over the road to the Appalachian Trail. The snow was really deep and some amazing ice formations were found, as the wind comes whipping across the Gap and down this side of the trail.

This is new ice formed sideways on an old icicle. Pretty cool!

Back in the parking lot, out of my snow pants and boots and backpack... and as always, I still don't want to leave :-)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010