We don't have any more weather or trail-related news to supersede what I reported this morning to give you an early glimpse. It's still beautifully sunny up at the lodge, and the temperature has risen from 9 to 22 degrees. I don't expect we'll leap too far above that today, but it's nice not to have snow driven into your face.
Also, we don't mean in any way to disparage any of the hikers who've found themselves in trouble. Almost always, they are friendly, appreciative people (as was the case last night). In fact, last night's group made a wise decision to bring good gear. I believe it saved at least one of their lives. We post the accounts to let you know that difficulty can happen even to skilled hikers on LeConte.
Most of the year LeConte is a fairly forgiving mountain, tolerating bravado without extracting too much payment. However, winter is a different story. It reminds me of trying to pick a horse to move cattle for the first time when I wrangled in Hawaii. I had my eye on one, a strong grey horse. My boss told me, "A horse has to know it's working for you. Some horses you can cowboy. But that horse, he will cowboy back." LeConte in the winter will "cowboy back."
Difficulty this time of year can kill you (and us). It's a big weight for me to ask my crew to put their lives on the line and hike out into the darkness for four hours in 12-degree temperatures in 22 inches of snow on an unbroken trail with hidden edges and no rangers available until morning for a rescue. We'd all like to make it home and celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, too.
On a lighter note, we're trying to upload some LeConte Lodge video clips to ABC's World News Tonight for use on their national broadcast this evening. The technology is iffy, and we're keeping our fingers crossed. Snow photos from yesterday were picked up across the country, turning Brad and Jeanie into mountain celebrities. Happy trails.
UPDATE -- 9:15 a.m.: Good morning to all of you. It's a beautiful morning on Mt. LeConte, but deadly cold and windy. This is Nathan again, and I'll try to give you an update on LeConte Lodge operations. After consultation with the Park Service and its road crews, it appears LeConte Lodge will reopen today with Rainbow Falls as the ONLY available trail to the lodge.
Park officials hope to have Cherokee Orchard Road open by 9 a.m., providing access to Rainbow and Bullhead Trails. After four hours on the trail, we returned last night at 2:30 a.m. from a night rescue to prevent a fatality on Bullhead Trail. Do not use any other trail than Rainbow Falls Trail. Keep in mind that if you're going to attempt the hike up it will be one of the most difficult days of the season. We have howling winds with a current temperature of 9 degrees, pushing our wind chill well below 0. Saturday's high was 17 degrees. We ended up with a storm snow total of 22 inches. The forecast is improving, but expect cold conditions and difficult trails for a while.
The road crew expects to open U.S. Highway 441 this afternoon, but it will be too late to use to access Alum Cave Bluff or Boulevard Trails and reach the lodge safely. Under no circumstance today should anyone use any other trail to LeConte Lodge other than Rainbow Falls Trail.
Note that since we switched to Standard Time last night, it will be getting darker even earlier than you're used to. Sunset tonight will be at 5:39 p.m. If you are an excellent hiker, have good winter gear (including ice traction devices) and accept the risk of what can easily happen on the trail in these conditions (including death), then begin hiking up Rainbow Falls Trail as soon as possible. Park service officials also want to warn people about the danger of fallen hazards from the forest canopy, especially as the wind is blowing up in the higher elevations.
We've had two consecutive nights that we've headed off a potentially fatal situation in these brutal conditions. Both of these folks are alive and being cared for at the lodge, but my heroic crew is worn out. If you have any questions at all about your ability, please come back to see us another day. I'll try to provide another update later as the work schedule allows. Happy trails.