We saw a few light flurries early this afternoon while loading the llamas. However, the clouds have enveloped us with a light mist floating around at mid-afternoon. The temperature at 3 p.m. is 33 degrees. Thursday's high reached 47, but I don't expect we'll be seeing the mercury rise that high for a few days. The overnight low sank to 23 degrees.
The weather forecast continues to bump up the expected snow accumulation on top of LeConte. It's extraordinarily tough to forecast up here, but we've heard some reports telling us to be prepared for more than a foot of snow. The snow is supposed to begin this evening and continue through Saturday night, followed by bitterly cold temperatures until Monday or Tuesday.
Maybe we don't get any snow at all, but I wouldn't dare think of hiking LeConte this weekend without first-class gear (including some ice traction devices like YakTrax, Microspikes and the like) and some winter hiking experience. Regardless of the snow accumulation, the temperatures during the weekend will be "killing cold" and windy if you're unlucky enough to get injured on the trail. Keep in mind it will take most of the day (and maybe night) to perform a rescue in tough conditions, and there will be no possibility for helicopter airlift or probably even an evacuation by horse.
Also keep in mind that if U.S. Highway 441 is closed between Gatlinburg and Cherokee that hiking the Boulevard Trail or Alum Cave Bluff Trail is ruled out. We'd recommend Rainbow Falls Trail (a 6.5-mile, one-way hike) if 441 is closed, which would keep our hikers on the same trail. Remember that the road to the Trillium Gap trailhead closes Saturday through mid-May. The trail is still open, but you'll have to hike extra mileage from the Rainbow Falls/Bullhead parking lot to access it. To answer a question from yesterday, we have made arrangements with the National Park Service to allow the llamas to resupply LeConte Lodge through the close of this season.
ROAD CLOSURE ADVISORY
Due to the Park Service replacing bridges, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (access road to Grotto Falls/Trillium Gap trail heads) will be closed from the evening of Friday, October 31, 2014 through mid-May 2015. To check on other road closures in the Park, please check NPS website at: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/seasonalroads.htm .
Finally, I heard that Chris gave an excellent eulogy for David Scanlon last night. Allyson's comments on this site regarding David were spot on. He was an excellent ambassador for Mt. LeConte, always so welcoming and friendly to newly-minted day hikers. He always had something kind, interesting and encouraging to say to the mountain's newcomers, old-timers and staff.
You didn't have to visit with David long to realize the depth of his knowledge and love for the Smokies. People he had befriended on the trail or at the lodge would often ask him how many times he had hiked LeConte. I remember one time in August, I think, he replied, "77." I was around to hear that and let the folks know that they needed to add 900 to that total for a truer picture. I don't know exactly how many LeConte hikes David made, but I would guess within two or three trips of 982.
He was a delightful man. He loved coming up to help out with the llamas. He'd always arrive a little before the llama train, pour himself a glass of Tang and visit with any of us lucky enough to have finished our chores. He would help feed the llamas leftover pancakes and biscuits and help us unload the clean sheets and food from the critters if we were short on help. He was also a fascinating man, who had lived an interesting life, including working in Liberia several decades ago. Despite his life experiences, he always took time to learn the stories of each staff member and kept up with us.
David usually hiked up once a week during the LeConte guest season. I remember doing the math early this season and regretting that I wouldn't be on staff next year for his 1,000th hike. However, Nicholette, Ruthie and I talked about them baking a cake for him in 2015 and making a big event of it. He deserved that and with each visit to LeConte Lodge made our days nicer. Happy trails David.