Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Top of Old Smoky, All Covered with Snow

Days of continual, soaking rain had been followed by an evening of snowfall in the Smokies and the surrounding area this past week. The deluge of rain for days had me itching to get out of the house to do something active besides going to the gym. An unexpected vacation day from the snowfall would have been a great day to hike but roads were closed in many sections of the park. However, it did allow us time to plan to hike on Saturday if the roads would just open in time. Sometime on Friday afternoon the road to Cades Cove did open, and we made plans to do a short hike in that area which would allow me to do a small section of Bote Mountain Trail which I had missed and also allow Jennifer the opportunity to do Lead Cove, a trail that she had been unable to do with us the first time.

The temperature was 28 degrees as Jennifer and I got out of the truck at the Cades Cove Picnic Area. The waters of that typically quiet river that runs through the picnic area were raging with run-off from the rains. An inch or so of snow remained on the ground in many spots making this a pretty morning for a hike.

We crossed two bridges as we made our way up Anthony Creek Trail, both of which were iced over like this one making the passing difficult. The foot logs that we crossed at least three more times were even worse, but it seemed that when the footing was the most slippery, there was a supporting rail post right where we needed to place our feet to prevent us from slipping off the log. Most of the time there was a layer of crunchy snow in which our Keen hiking boots could take hold. Passages were slow, but thankfully uneventful.

It felt great to get back out here even though there were only two of us able to hike on this particular Saturday. We actually thought about not hiking with just two, but I am so very glad we did. The scenery as we gained elevation climbing up to the ridge of Bote Mountain became more and more spectacular. The snow deepened and eventually covered not only the hillsides around us, but also the trail itself. The quietude suggested that we were the only people in the world, but footprints on the path below our feet assured us that we were not the only adventure addicts who had traversed this way since the snow had fallen.
It's moments like this, as the sun's rays make the snow-covered branches glisten as if they are coated in icing made of diamond chips, when you realize how inadequate cameras are and why you must get out and see things for yourself. I knew when I took this shot that there would remain only a hint of the beauty that I actually saw--enough to remind me, but not enough to convince anyone else of its magnitude. I guess you'll have to take my word for it.
Not surprisingly, the closer we got to the top of Bote Mountain, the more snow crunched under our feet. Up here, you could definitely see evidence of many other hikers who had come out to experience the mountains under the cover of snow. We chose our footing carefully on this section, paying so much attention to our steps that we totally missed campsite #9 which lies not far off this section of the trail. The only way we knew about it at all was because only a minute or two after we came to the intersection with Bote Mountain Trail we had company. Suddenly up the trail behind us came a group of men who had spent the night at campsite #9 and had seen us walk by on the trail. But we had not seen or heard them. They were headed to Rocky Top to witness the views of the mountains in the snow from that high vantage point, so we parted, going opposite directions on Bote Mountain Trail.
We had intended to rest for a while at the top (that's a pretty steep climb we had just made in the snow), but after lingering for only a few minutes, the chill began to creep in encouraging us to keep moving. I had not been cold on the hike with the exception of the first 1/4 mile or so when I had zipped my jacket up enough to cover my face. But here on the mountaintop the air was crisp and cold. As we moved along Bote Mountain Trail toward Lead Cove, we were afforded beautiful views of the valleys below shrouded in cloud cover. This short stretch of Bote Mountain Trail that was new to me (1.2 miles) was much more pleasant than the other parts of the trail that I had covered. There were fewer rocks to trip up an unsuspecting hiker and nice views on either side to enjoy as you walked.

At this juncture, we left the ridge line of Bote Mountain and began the descent back down Lead Cove Trail to Laurel Creek Road. Again, I found myself not wanting to leave the mountaintops. As the snow cover diminished and the sounds of the traffic on the road and the rushing waters of Laurel Creek reached our ears, we took a moment to be thankful--thankful for our friendship, the time spent in this special place, and the good fortune to live close enough to be able to frequent it with regularity.


  1. I am so loving these frequent reports. Yes, it's sunny and warm here in Florida, but oh, how I mountains. My thoughts on Bote Mountain are quite similar to yours. LOL! But even having done it all, there's still times parts of it have to be repeated in order to do other things. I have quite a snake phobia (which gets to be frustrating at times) and the largest snake I've ever seen in the GSMNP was sunning on a rock near one of those narrow bridges on Anthony Creek Trail. Shiver, shiver.......

    1. I hate snakes too, but we encountered a HUGE timber rattler on Little Bottoms Trail last May or June. I dread hiking in that whole AREA of the Smokies now.