a nasty blowdown on the alum cave trail and some ice formations.
It's still quite snowy atop the mountain. The high yesterday reached 29 degrees. The low was 16 degrees. It was 28 degrees and foggy at 7am observation. The mountain received no new precipitation and the sun yesterday melted off some snow, leaving us with about 6 inches up top. The roads to Rainbow and Alum are back open, thanks to the trusty Park Service road crews. You can monitor the road status through the Park Service's twitter feed
great sky along alum cave trail.
However, the trails are in some rough shape. The only one I would confidently recommend is Rainbow Falls. There are no significant blowdowns and the snow is manageable (less than ankle deep) until you reach the Rocky Spur overlook. I haven't heard any reports from Bullhead, but that was littered with blowdowns earlier this winter and I'm sure that is still the case. Alum is a beast of a hike right now. It typically takes me around 2 hours, but yesterday's hike up was a 3.5 hour affair. There's one crazy blowdown between the Cave Bluffs and the first log staircase that took me 10 minutes to get thru and scraped me up a bit. Once you reach the double stair, the snow is between ankle deep and shin deep. There were knee deep drifts along some of the ledges. Be sure to use caution and realize this hike may take you twice as long as it typically does.
That being said, the challenge of Alum after descending Rainbow in the morning was fulfilling. I was treated to some 'great sky' along the upper ledges, watching the sunset from an overlook with a view of Clingman's Dome. Bounding through knee deep drifts with shorts and short gaiters is always a joy. It brought me back to my first experience in the Smokies, on my 2010 thru-hike with my comrade First Man. Our wicked fast 5 hour descent to Mt. Collins shelter from Clingman's Dome was the definition of type II fun. It was so exasperating at the time, but now it stands in elite company with Ktaadn as some of my most vivid memories of the trail. All these seemingly insurmountable challenges percolate within us and become treasured memories as the time passes, polished with an increasingly finer hue, our shining pearls in oyster skulls.