While the Park Service has roads to both trailheads open tonight (as far as I know), the preferred trail Tuesday would still be Rainbow Falls based on the reports I've gathered tonight.
We bumped our guest count up to 28 from two last night. All of the guests hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail. The time period for hiking Rainbow Falls Trail I heard from hikers today ranged from four hours from a gentleman who completed a half triathlon last week to eight hours for a family of four (including children and a grandmother). The trail can be considered fairly well packed, but slush will become more of a factor in creating cold, wet feet Tuesday.
General manager Tim Line (who through hiked the Appalachian Trail in his youth) descended Alum Cave Bluff Trail Monday about midday. His descent was harder than he expected, particularly in the middle third of the trail, and took him double the time of his normal hike. Additionally, crew members Lesley, Rachel and Matt (all fine hikers) climbed Alum Cave Bluff Trail Monday to return to work. They also reported their ascent took double their normal time. In particular, they say that the snow is deep, unpacked and powdery in the flat section between Gracie's Pulpit and the lower set of wooden stairs. There are also some deep drifts below Alum Cave Bluff, some reported to be mid-thigh high.
Based on those first-hand accounts, LeConte Lodge recommends utilizing Rainbow Falls Trail Tuesday (and probably Wednesday). Alum Cave Bluff Trail is passable for strong hikers, but Rainbow Falls makes more sense at this time. Please continue to stay off Bullhead, Boulevard and Trillium Gap Trails for now.
At the lodge, we experienced much higher temperatures than I expected and saw some melting today. That will contribute to more slush and refreeze into ice up nearing the summit. Again, please bring ice traction devices regardless of which trail you use. The temperatures, snow depth and wind are improving, but the slush and ice create different issues underfoot. This will serve as the early High on LeConte update for Tuesday, Nov. 4. Depending on work schedule, I'll try to post some photos during the afternoon. Be careful and happy trails.
Good morning to all of you High on LeConte readers. We're enjoying another stunning (and warmer) morning at LeConte Lodge. Our temperature readings need some explaining. Our official high and low for Sunday was 27 and 9. However, we enjoyed a warming trend overnight, and the 27-degree reading was taken at 6:30 a.m. Monday. The 9-degree reading came from Sunday morning, right after we reported.
Sunday was sunny and beautiful all day. The sunset and this morning's sunrise was subdued, but lovely. We still have 20 inches of snow on the ground. I expect we will begin to see more melting today, as the forecast for Monday and Tuesday calls for warming temperatures and plenty of sun. However, the chance for precipitation ramps up again Wednesday night. We'll be watching that closely to see if the precipitation and temperature match to create more snow.
The Park Service told us this morning that Cherokee Orchard Road is currently open, allowing access to Rainbow Falls Trail. We still advise against using Bullhead, as the snow was so thick and unbroken the other night we had to leave our rescue litter out there because it was slowing down our rescue effort.
As of 7 a.m., U.S. Highway 441 was still closed, according to park officials. They are working on making that safe for travel (I understand there are still icy spots) and will open it when they can. Whatever the situation with the road, keep in mind that it gets dark quite early now that we've switched to Standard Time. Don't begin hiking any trail too late. No one has broken the Boulevard Trail from Newfound Gap. Under no circumstance should any hiker attempt to use the Boulevard Trail to access the lodge until we see some more melting.
We did have two of our 53 expected guests arrive last night about 8:20 p.m. They hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail and it took them seven hours to reach the lodge. They arrived on their own power and were in good spirits. They did say it was a tough hike with plenty of rhododendron to crawl under and occasional snow drifts slowing down their effort. However, on the whole, our guests said our previous departing parties had done a pretty good job of breaking trail and packing down the snow. While the trail will become more packed today and we'll see some melting, keep in mind that the refrozen ice can be more dangerous than snow. I wouldn't dare hike LeConte this week without some sort of ice traction device.
Finally, to close on a lighter note, I'll announce the results of the LeConte Lodge crew jack-o-lantern competition. On Halloween night guests voted for five entrants carved by crew members. The winner was to receive the chance to sleep in through breakfast work on a day of their choosing.
Lesley entered the most prophetic jack-o-lantern, as she carved a snowflake and wrote "Winter is coming" above it. She was spot on to the tune of 22 inches of snow. Pat and Jeanie carved a Tinkerbell jack-o-lantern, radiating points of flashing light. Ruthie carved a friendly ghost with a branching tree. Brad and Nicholette offered up a bear complete with pumpkin ears. I carved a historic scene from LeConte's history: Jack Huff carrying his mom up LeConte on his back in a straight-back chair in 1929. We had a fine assortment of different ideas in the entrants, and everyone had a fun time carving.
In the end, with the entire crew serving as vote counters, the guests voted for my carving of heroic Jack Huff, one of the patron saints of LeConte Lodge, going above and beyond for his beloved mother in her desire to reach the summit of LeConte. Things have been interesting up here, so I haven't been able to able to sleep through breakfast yet.
If you come see us, please use wisdom and prepare. Things will be getting better on the trails, but it's still difficult out there. Happy trails.