It is a beautiful morning up top! It's about 22 degrees out right now. The high yesterday was 42 degrees and the low was 23 degrees. The lodge received an inch of snow overnight. The snow is fresh and provides decent traction, but I am sure there are some tricky spots beneath the powder. I would definitely recommend carrying some sort of traction devices, preferably Microspikes. Highway 441 appears to have just opened for the day.
It is always a pleasure and honor to return to my winter home. I've hiked up and down Alum a few times since I returned to the area on Monday. The distinct aroma and trademark scenery of the Smokies was pulling me in all kinds of nostalgic directions. I can't wait to continue to add more grand memories to my already rich memory bank. There is a new adventure to be had every day up here. There is no proper way to capture my excitement, as Ed Abbey said simply, 'Words fail'. I just know how it feels... and it feels sublime.
As all the readers of the blog know by now, the lodge is CLOSED for the season. There are no day hiker services available. No coffee, no hot chocolate, no warming up next to the fire, no overnight stays... just about all you can do is admire the beauty the winter months bring and relish in the joys of your self-sufficiency. The gift of winter hiking lies in the fact that with greater risk comes greater rewards. If you plan to hike in the park this winter, use all the resources available to make it the pleasant experience for yourself and others. Winter hiking can be a transcendent experience when done well - no bugs, fewer bears, no crowds, crisp air, clearer skies, seemingly infinite peace, pure comfort in a remote setting... but it can also be a time for wet boots, endless shivering nights, hands that no longer feel like hands but strange foreign pieces of rubber, frozen jeans and sweatshirts, desperation where outside help is unlikely... so please, for everyone's sake, be safe and stay within your limits. Turn around if you feel uncomfortable. The mountains will be here longer than you will. Be safe out there, folks!