We ended up with a high-low of 54-27 Monday. However, that 27-degree low actually came on Sunday morning. We enjoyed an inversion, in which a pocket of warmer air enveloped LeConte's summit last night and never got close to freezing. The temperature was about eight degrees warmer at the lodge than it was in Knoxville at 4 a.m. I couldn't believe how warm the conditions were yesterday. I'd have been comfortable shoveling snow with boots, gaiters, shorts and a t-shirt (though I wouldn't suggest you try to hike in that). Today has been much the same, with plenty of sun and a 2:30 p.m. temperature of 52. There is a good chance of precipitation and a temperature drop forecast by Thursday.
As far as trail news goes, conditions continue to improve. I noticed people heeding our advice, beginning their hike earlier and reaching the lodge with plenty of daylight left today. I would still recommend hiking the Rainbow Falls Trail for the next day or two because it has seen the most traffic and is well-packed, except for the growing puddles of slush.
I spoke with a couple of day hikers who ascended using Alum Cave Bluff Trail Tuesday. They described their hike via Alum as "challenging, but doable." There are still some knee-deep areas of barely broken snow, but those areas were described yesterday as thigh deep. One hiker using Alum said the slush and water bothered him more than the snow depth.
I'm certain slush and cold, miserable feet will be an issue during the next couple of days until it all refreezes, which invites other problems. Make sure you bring extra good, comfortable wool socks with you, along with gaiters, ice traction devices and plenty of warm gear plus lots of water (you can get dehydrated quicker than you realize tramping through snow and slush).
The llama train probably won't be attempting Trillium Gap Trail anytime soon. We're looking at the possibility of a helicopter drop to resupply clean sheets and the like later this week. That means we were tasked with stamping out and breaking a trail to our little helicopter pad this afternoon. A quartet (Nathan, Ruthie, Lesley and Brad) shoveled off all the snow from the helicopter pad. There's nothing quite so fulfilling as shoveling a few thousand pounds of snow using a snow shovel with a hole in it. However, it's not like we could drop by our local home improvement store and pick up another one either. Up here, you find a way to make do.
We had an interesting conversation as we were clearing our helipad. It being Election Day and all, we talked about which U.S. president we would most like to have join us at LeConte Lodge as our crew guest. I know we're not voting for president this year. We'd welcome any of the living U.S. presidents, so long as they agreed to hike the mountain and didn't drop in our fancy, groomed helipad in Marine One. You should have to earn LeConte. You can drive to Clingman's Dome if you want to cheat.
Brad and Matt picked Bill Clinton because they figured he'd be fun company. Pat and I chose Theodore Roosevelt. I know if TR came up to see us he wouldn't be afraid of work; he'd be making beds, drying dishes and slinging snow with us. Any person who can cowboy in North Dakota in the winter can take care of himself. Lesley chose Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, but only if they could be up together and argue. Ruthie chose John Adams because he was "obnoxious, disliked but got the most done." Jeanie would invite Dwight Eisenhower because he was president when she was born. Rachel would invite Abraham Lincoln because she has some pointed questions to ask him after watching the movie "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer."
At any rate, we'll return to a more normal once daily High on LeConte schedule because of the improving conditions. If conditions change, we'll try to keep you updated. Happy trails.