Friday, May 8, 2015

Day 22: ‘Tis a Winter Wonderland!

March 29: I spent the morning packing up—again—and writing some more blog posts. At 9:00, I had arranged to be picked up by Hales Angel, a letterboxer who lived in Gatlinburg and offered to drive me back to the trail. I intended to mail my laptop ahead to myself on the trail using a flat-rate box that was in the front office of the hotel, but when I went to the front office I learned it was closed on Sundays. Doah! What kind of hotel closes its front office on Sundays?! And being Sunday, the post office itself was closed as well. So at the last minute, I asked Hales Angel to mail my laptop ahead for me.

With that last detail settled, Hales Angel and her husband arrived to pick me up and whisk me back to the trail. It was a clear but cold morning, and in the distance, I could still see white on the mountaintops outside of town. This bode well for getting plenty of photos with snow on the trail!
As we drove higher in the mountains, we saw the first sprinklings of snow and ice which grew more pronounced as we continued higher. I was pretty excited about this! I’m sure most hikers weren’t happy, but the dead-looking trees had long since bored me. Just the idea of seeing something new was exciting, even if it was white and cold. =)
At Newfound Gap, we took some photos, and then I headed back onto the trail which was now covered with snow and ice. The snow wasn’t so bad—just a few inches deep in most places, but the ice was tricky since it was slippery! I could have made good use of my microspikes early in the morning when the snow was still frozen, but I didn’t once regret having left them at home. Carrying them for a month to use them on a single morning wasn’t worth it.  But if there was one day they would have been useful, this was it.
Hales Angel drops me back at Newfound Gap—this time, there’s a lot more snow around! (It’s not on the ground in the parking lot which was cleared of it, but you can see piles of it in the background along the edge of the road.) Many thanks to the Hales for the ride back to the trail! =)

The views all day were spectacular. The skies were clear and sunny, and scenic overlooks along the trail were relatively common. It was definitely very cold—without a doubt, my coldest day on the trail so far. I didn’t wear any special clothes while I was hiking—just hiking kept me plenty warm. But at the end of the day, after hiking 15.6 miles to the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, I definitely put on all my warm woolies for the night! Long underwear, check! Fleece jacket, check! Thick socks, check! Warm gloves, check! I was prepared for a snowstorm or two before spring and summer would  finally claw their way onto the trail.

Temperatures were expected to drop into the 20s overnight. Not as cold as the night before by all accounts, but still well below freezing! I had not planned to hit the very highest points on the Appalachian Trail just as the coldest weather to hit the trail arrived, but such is my luck! =) Between the clothes I wore and my 20-degree bag, I stayed comfortably warm without any trouble. Thinking back, I remembered a few nights I was in misery with cold during my first thru-hike and it never got this cold. Yeah, I’m definitely more prepared for cold weather now than I was back then!

See that? Katahdin, Maine—just another 1,972.0 miles away! I’m practically done with this trail already! =)

Snow! Snow! Everywhere is snow! The Appalachian Trail is still clearly marked from the many people who’ve trampled it down already.

And giant icicles! I don’t get to see icicles very often where I live, so they are always exciting when I do get to see them. =)

There were even sheets of icicles along the trail! Be careful of your step, though. It’s easy to slip on this stuff! (And I did slip many times!)

A couple of day hikers who had previously thru-hiked the AT a couple of years earlier. (In fact, that was how they originally met—during their thru-hike!)

Icicles hanging from the trees.

The Icewater Spring Shelter seemed aptly named this time when I passed by it early in the afternoon. (As an aside, this is the only shelter in the Smokies that actually looks like it had not been remodeled since my first thru-hike. But it was always larger and more fancy than the others were.)

The views were spectacular all day long, and everything in the higher elevations had that nice touch of white snow. =)

More views from Charlies Bunion.

Holy giant icicles! What amazes me most, perhaps, is knowing that these formed in just the two days I had been off the trail in Gatlinburg. Before then, there was absolutely no snow or ice anywhere to be found.

A touch of snow in the distant mountaintops.

The smoke on the horizon puzzled me. How could there be a wildfire when it’s so cold and wet out? Then I thought, controlled burn! I’d bet money that that is a controlled burn on the horizon. When is a better time to do a controlled burn but when it’s cold and it’s recently snowed/rained?!

I imagined a happy hiker wrote this message in the snow. Actually, I know it for a fact—I wrote the message! Ha! =)

Lonestar knocks lightly on some of the icicles to check how solid they are. (Yep, they’re solid!)

Late in the day, when temperatures started to warm, the snow turned kind of slushy and left slushy tracks for us to follow through the snow. At least it’s not as slippery as ice, but it was more wet!

The Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, my home for the night.


Wise Old Owl said...

Absolutely beautiful! The thought of hiking on ice leaves me cold, though.

Honey Bear Clan said...

Those thick icicles look like what I had hanging off my roof all winter. But the fact that they formed in two days is really impressive. I agree with Wise Old Owl; not good at cold weather. I would have frozen overnight, even with the woolies. More power to you!

Unknown said...

My favorite way to experience snow and ice.. through pictures =) lol

-only dreaming

Unknown said...

So glad to see Hales Angel. It's been several years since we were at a letterboxing event together. She's a dear lady. Glad you got your snow Ryan!

Lynn lau said...

Were there tarps to block out the wind at icewater spring shelter? I'm staying there next week an was wondering if a tent will be useful at all for wind protection. Thank you!

Ryan said...

I have no idea if there are tarps to block out the wind at the shelter.... I was there a year and a half ago! When I was there in March of last year, they were there.