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 :-)