Saturday, February 5, 2011
Rainbow Falls Trailhead to Grotto Falls in the Snow!
Last Sunday, my husband and I were determined to enjoy the gorgeous nearly 60 degree weather on that late January day. This winter has been brutal, so a rare day of beautiful weather just couldn't be ignored. We headed to the Great Smoky Mountains unsure of where we would end up, except that we knew we wanted to go in Great Outpost after our hike to continue our quest for gear for out AT trip. There is so much we still don't know about what exactly we need to purchase.
Anyway, we were going up to do Abrams Falls, but decided to try to hike closer to Gatlinburg so we could shop at the end of the day. We hadn't hiked in awhile, so we thought we'd just do the little 2.9 mile Grotto Falls trail that we could extend on past the falls for a bit if we were up to it. However, after stopping at the Sugarlands Nature Center, we discovered that the Roaring Forks Nature Trail (which is the access road to the hike) was closed for the winter. A ranger told me we could still do the falls, but it would be a 6 mile hike leaving from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking lot. We decided we could do 6 miles in the time we had before Great Outpost would close, so off we went.
Upon arriving at the trailhead and getting our packs on, we headed up the trail about .1 mile until we came to the sign for the Trillium Gap Trail which takes you to Grotto Falls. However, our ranger had misled us slightly: the signpost read 3.7 miles to Grotto Falls which would mean a 7.5 mile hike round trip. We deliberated but finally decided to hike for a time period whether we made the falls or not, allowing us enough time to spend at least an hour at the Outpost. So, off we went, but we hiked at a pretty quick clip! We started off in layers of long sleeves, but quickly shed down to just a single lightweight layer of short sleeves, the weather was so nice. I really liked this trail. It was a nice mixture of ups and downs, creek crossings, and beautiful wooded views. We kept thinking we would see some deer, the landscape was perfect for it, but I guess they heard us coming long before we got to them. As we ascended, the weather began to change slightly with the air cooling considerably. Within a couple miles of the falls, the ground became snow-covered and closer to the falls, there were some treacherous spots where fairly deep snow covered the trail. One creek crossing was more like ice skating, and I was somewhat concerned that the thick ice covering the creek would break under our weight, but it held and we crossed ok. Our hiking sticks were a blessing on this trip due to the unsure footing in the snow and ice.
The falls was absolutely beautiful surrounded with snow drifts and hanging icicles! It was well worth the quick pace and straining of winter-rusty muscles. Bunk and I were pretty proud of pushing ourselves through a 7.5 mile hike in 3 hours and 15 minutes in all kinds of terrain and obstacles. I feel really good about our ability to hike 10 miles or so a day this summer on the AT. Granted, we weren't carrying packs with much weight today, so that will increase the challenge, but with training between now and June/July, I think we will be ready.