Monday, February 22, 2010
Not Just Go-Karts and Putt-Putt
There is a running joke that I have with my brother about going hiking anywhere within 100 miles of Gatlinburg, TN and that's that he's just going down to play Putt-Putt, ride Go-Karts and get 3 for 1 deals on Cowboy boots, the kind of thing most Red Necks do in Gatlinburg. I do this because I'm a mean older brother who likes to make my younger brother feel small and unaccomplished so that I can feel better about myself. Well for last weekend's trip we had to drive right through the famous G-burg in route to our planned destination of Black Balsam Knob, North Carolina.
In order to get to our destination and carry out our itinerary it required using a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a road that was questionable due to the 36 inches of snow that some of the higher elevations had gotten recently. There is a number you can call to see if roads in certain areas are open or not and Aaron claims that the recording said the Parkway was open, but when we got down there it was closed and didn't look like anyone had attempted to remove a flake of snow. So we called the local sheriff's office and they confirmed, "don't expect that area to be open for another month"... So we pulled into a parking lot to throw together a new plan. The first night we found what we thought would be a decent little overnight hike down by Fontana lake and up to see some waterfalls and other bull.
My dad about to sneeze mid picture
A little scope: That icicle in the middle is close to 20 ft long
Well, we got to the trail head and it turned out to be much less extreme than we had hoped for, with a school bus full of 3rd graders, a big church group and a couple pushing a baby stroller down the first part of the trail. Aaron was pissed, I just laughed at how pissed he was. To be fair, the most touristy part of the trail was just a waterfall that was 0.2 miles from the parking lot and that's where everyone was heading, except us. We hiked as far away from the Billy Madison Field Trip and found a decent little place to camp while we adjusted our plans. We decided on a trip up Mt. LeConte, one of the highest points east of the Mississippi. We had heard the trail was impassable due to snow drifts, but we figured that might make it more fun.
The best part about camping this time of year is how much sleep you get. You go to bed pretty much when the sun goes down and get up when the sun comes up. This time of year that means near 12 hours of sleep and that is awesome. So we hiked out first thing in the AM and drove an hour to the LeConte trail head. The hike to the top was around 6 miles with three thousand feet of elevation gain. The trail wasn't too hard or technical for most of the first half, but the snow did add a few slippery situations. The real action took place in the last mile or so of the climb. This was the area where it had been impassable earlier in the week.
We weren't the first people to hike to the top since the snow, but it was definitely less traveled once we got higher up. The trail got really narrow and with that much snow you couldn't tell if what you were standing on was actually supported by the mountain, or something that was ready to break loose and send you bouncing down the mountain to your death. Tight. We just tried to step where other had proven to be safe places and we were alright. There were a few situations where we were looking 6 inches to our left and there was a good 200 feet straight down. That added a little spice to all the Go-Karts and Putt-Putting.
We "summited" in just enough time to cook dinner and watch the sunset. Then it was off to hang our packs and food away from the bears and be in bed by 7. The night was damn cold at around 10 degrees for the low, but we all survived. The next morning we went to see the sunrise and started the slippery trip back down to the car. We all had a few little slips on the ice coming down, but nothing too serious. There was one spot where we took turns baseball sliding about 20ft down this slope that was too steep to walk. As we were almost back to the car, we passed a group of German tourist who smelled like Cool Water cologne and they asked "Vas it vorth it?" Oh yes, German's, It was "vorth" it.