Monday, December 31, 2012

Mountain Snow!

Since it rarely snows here in Charlotte anymore, I like to head for the mountains of North Carolina if I can find the time. It does still snow in our high country, but some years not even very much there. Last year was a notoriously lousy one for snowfall in the Carolina mountains. I only got one chance to hike in the snow in the mountains during the past winter.

When Carole and I realized that the mountains were getting hit with a major snowstorm (high elevations only) we decided to head up that way since we both had Sunday off. We got up very early, went and had breakfast at a Waffle House, and then hit the road for the big mountains.

You can say what you like about the mountains of the South. We don't have a lot of what amount to impressive vertical scenery here, but there is some of it that stacks up favorably with the big sky country of the west. The higher ridges of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are genuinely impressive. There is enough elevation, in fact, to create disparate climatic zones between the bases of these mountains and the summits. We do have some honest-to-gosh mountains here.

One of the easiest to access monster peaks for us are the Grandfather Mountain/Roan Mountain systems. Both of these mountains qualify as genuine massif. They stand apart from the ridges around them, and they dominate the skyline for quite some distance. Winter weather hits these ridges with some fierce conditions, and we were hoping for the best as we headed toward them.

When we passed Grandather/Tanawha, we were rewarded with a view of a mountain socked in with heavy snow and rime ice. We weren't headed for the top of that one, but we realized in short order that we would be seeing some decent snowfall when we got to the Roan highlands. How much snow, we weren't sure.

Passing across the NC/TN border, we headed for Roan Mountain State Park. We noticed a couple of herds of whitetail deer, but when we stopped to take their photo they got spooked and headed off at some speed. I reckon they're still skittish from hunting season. From there, we headed up the incline of 19E for Carver's Gap where we would stop and have lunch and then hop out to take photos and do some hiking.

We were stunned by the beauty of Winter's harsh gift when we pulled in to the parking  area at Carver's Gap. All of the trees were coated in snow and rime ice. The place was ablaze in ivory. The sky was cobalt blue, the temperature in the mid-teens, the wind racing around us, the sun glaring down. There were other people in the Gap also. Some were just there to snap some photos, but others were there with kids to go sledding, to hike, to backpack, and to cross-country ski. It was a grad day for all of this.

After our packed lunch, we got out and played in the snow. It was far deeper than I would have guess. When we ventured into the forest to hike we encountered thigh-deep snow with drifts five to six feet in height! Carole and I took pictures and then it was time for me to hike to the summit of Round Bald where I hoped to take in the views from more than 5,800 feet.

Tanawha, also known as Grandfather Mountain.

The Grandfather massif.

Rime ice and sunshine.
 On the summit. Raging wind and tremendous cold.

On the summit. COLD!!! COLD, I SAY!

Icy panorama on the Appalachian Trail.

When we hit the forest, we found DEEP snow!

Beauty everywhere we looked.


Waves of mountains.

Spruce transformed into sculptures of rime ice.

Hiking down from Round Bald.


Mark said...

Wow, looks like an incredible road/hiking trip. I miss those Carolina balds. Never saw rime ice like that when I used to live there...

James Robert Smith said...

It was a heck of a storm. We waded through very deep snow in the forests. The snow on the highest ridges had been largely scoured off, leaving a thick coat of solid ice. The rime ice was dense on just about every exposed surface.

Kirk G said...

"Round Bald"...isn't that overkill?

James Robert Smith said...

I just report 'em. I don't came up with the names.

Next up on my bag-list is a mountains called Big Butt. Right next to it is a peak called Little Butt.

Kent Tankersley said...

Great photos! Nice you see you can get to some real winter weather once in a while.

James Robert Smith said...

Once in a while. They had a big snowstorm in the NC two nights ago. Up to ten inches of new snow in some areas. I may drive up to see it again.