Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snow on LeConte

Back in 2005 I did a really neat hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a day hike that started near Gatlinburg and took us to the summit of Mount LeConte (one of the east's highest summits). When we started the hike the temperatures in Gatlinburg were in the high 50s. Slightly overcast. But by the time we reached the top of the mountain (almost a vertical mile higher from where we began the hike) we had walked into dead winter. A seventeen-inch snowfall had covered the mountain in purest white and it was very darned cold.

It remains the only time I have hiked to the top of that mountain in the snow. I had tried once before some years earlier when a late Spring storm of freakish proportions had dropped three feet of snow on the trails. On that trip we gave out of steam from having to slog through the drifts and ended up camping on a ridge in the forest. We never made the mountaintop on that trip.

This is still one of the prettiest winter hikes I have ever done, in March of 2005.

I'd heard of these formations but had never seen them. In fact, this remains the only time I have seen these snowy pinwheels. Snow falls off of tree branches and begins rolling down steep slopes, becoming little wheels of snow. We saw one that was about two feet across.

The trail leading up. One other hiker had blazed the trail for us.

There are not many things prettier than spruce trees heavily laden with newly fallen snow.

Sam Baucom took this shot of me at Myrtle Point, near the summit.

The view that day from Myrtle Point.

I got Sam to take this one of me as we left the top of the mountain to head back down.

This is from a hike when I was barely 21 years old. We were trying to reach the summit but drifts that were just too deep exhausted us and we had to make camp on a ridge as the sun was setting.
This was what it was like at the base of the mountain. No snow, at all. Mount LeConte here is the only peak in the eastern USA that is one mile tall. That is, from the base of the peak to the top of the peak it is over one mile of altitude gain. The bottom is at around 1200 feet, and the summit almost 6600 feet.

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