Clear skies have answered my cries, as we are currently sitting pretty under a crystal blue ceiling. The temperature is a mere 15 degrees, with sunshine and light/variable winds. Untouched snow burns bright white this morning, it is yet to see the light of day until now! Hemlocks, red spruces, and many more sit motionless, coated in a thick frosted shell. Looking out over the land, the beautiful towns of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are engulfed in a low-flying cloud sea. There is also another cloud sea bellowing over Oconaluftee Valley! Surrounding mountains have been generously coated with snow and ice, which made the sunrise even more stellar this morning. It seems the snow started to accumulate right around the Alum Cave trailhead, virtually covering the entire mountain. Traveling down the unpaved path, I noticed that snow accumulations varied greatly. At the very top, an astounding 7 inches of snow resides, with drifts over a foot in some spots! Progressing down the mountain, snow depth varied from 5-6 inches here and there, to about 1-3 inches towards the very bottom. Deep drifts make stairs almost invisible in some spots, concealing the entire trail in certain areas. If you plan on making the relentless climb up LeConte today or tomorrow, please be advised. Highway 441, the road that runs through the heart of the Smokies, remains closed at this time. That being said, Alum Cave and the Boulevard are inaccessible. Along the trail, hefty amounts of snow and ice coat the trail, making travel fairly difficult as you climb. Thick sheets of ice are hidden by a layer of snow, so traction can be a huge issue in some areas. In addition, ginormous icicles cover the rock walls along the trail, so stop and admire the Lord's work! Delicate formations grace the side of the trail. Some go unnoticed, while others get demolished! A high volume of rushing water and rapidly declining temperatures resulted in copious amounts of ice formations, so come check them out before the sun claims them!
Looking back on yesterday, the high temperature was a toasty 20 degrees, with a subtle low of 12. In total, we received another inch of snow (plus 0.4" of other precipitation), leaving us with a whopping 7 inches of snow this morning! Throughout the day, snow flurries floated down promptly, with heavy showers on occasion. Delicate flakes complimented rustic cabins as they landed quietly on the roofs. Winds were moderate at best, with sub-zero wind chills early in the morning. Temperatures remained in the mid to upper teens all day, making travel extremely hazardous near the summit. Diving into the evening, a break in the clouds let a sliver of sunshine in for a brief moment, golden rays piercing through the evergreen branches. All in all, it was an honorable way to spend my Saturday!
Looking at the forecast, clear skies and sunshine will narrate the rest of the day, with temperatures hovering around the mid to high 30s at best. Little to no cloud cover is expected, so we could begin to see the snow melt. Climbing temps and rain are on the agenda for tomorrow and Tuesday, so be sure to check the weather before setting out on the trail this week. Those planning on climbing over the next few days, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to complete your hike. Snow and ice are prevalent up top, so traversing our beloved trails will be a bit more tedious...
"As we progressed up the battered pathway that is the Alum Cave trail, the snow become more and more apparent. Bitter cold slipped away, the "hustle and bustle" warmed our innards. Passing a few well-known landmarks, we were closing in, slowly but surely. Stout snow drifts made travel difficult, adding to the existing toll that the strenuous trail already implements. Within the last mile, smiles were exchanged; the longest leg of our journey was behind us (literally). Shuffling through a byproduct of Jack Frost himself, we counted down the remaining steps. One last dreaded staircase, one last switchback, the lodge was nearly in sight. We decided to pause for a brief moment, catching our breath and moseying up some last-minute perseverance. Gazing up at an emotionless sky, thick gray clouds rolled over our heads, nothing out of the ordinary. Tracking the ominous clouds, we saw a large gap in the sky. Patiently, we clung on to the frozen cable, waiting for a glimpse into space. As we predicted, the clouds parted for a moment in time, casually unveiling a full moon! Moon beams blinded us as we drooled over the sheer beauty. She was clear as day; craters easily decipherable, perfectly rounded, glistening adamantly in the night sky. All the pain, all the agony we had endured up to this point instantly slipped away, a truly gratifying moment. Standing on the edge of the cliff, we stared into the eyes of the moon. Illuminating the park with ease, snow-capped mountains appeared beneath us. Shedding an unknown tear from my right eye, I turned my headlamp back on and began muscling up the slope. My home in the high hills awaits, so we must continue..."