Monday, February 25, 2013

Wintertime hiking---my favorite!

I absolutely love hiking in the winter for so many reasons! A little over a week ago, my hiking buddy and I took out on a Saturday morning to get in a short hike, starting a little later than usual because of the questionable weather predicted on Friday night and Saturday morning. We had decided to let the sun get up good and make sure the roads were open before leaving our homes. The hike of choice was Curry Mountain, a nice 3.3 mile trek up to Meigs Mountain Trail which runs from Elkmont to Tremont. This was going to just be an in and out for a round trip of 6.6 miles, only 3.3 of which were going to be new miles for me. Jennifer had already done the trail, so for her it was strictly spending time in the woods and leaving the stresses of the work week behind.

The weather was nice as we left Knoxville, and we were surprised when it started to snow pretty hard as we were making our way through Townsend. We chose to drive up Little River Road so we could stop in at the Sinks to see what damage had been done by vandals earlier the week before. Thankfully, when we got to the Sinks, no sign of damage was evident to us. I suppose park officials had already sand-blasted the graffiti off the rock surfaces which had been tagged by some nincompoop who must have thought it cool to destroy one of the most beautiful places in the world.

As we made our way from the Sinks to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area where we parked our car before heading up to the trailhead, snow peppered around us, beginning to stick to the ground, but not to the road. We debated not hiking, but honestly, not for long. So far, this snow was very different from the conditions on the AT the previous Saturday which turned us around in search of less ice in lower elevations. This snow, light and dry, simply enticed us further as opposed to making the path more difficult. Even as we moved higher up the mountain and the snow began to really cover the trail, it never became treacherous--just gorgeous!

I love wintertime hiking for several important reasons. Most importantly, probably, is utter lack of snakes! I detest snakes with the fervor God intended when He cursed the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And in weather like this I don't even have to worry about them at all. That's always a plus!

Another favorite aspect of wintertime hiking that appeals to me is the lack of other people on the trails. It is rare that we see more than one or two people on any trail we do this time of year. Don't get me wrong; I don't have anything against people in general, but I do love the solitude and quiet that pervades the mountains and trails this time of year. On this hike, we only saw one other hiker--a young man who had hiked out of the campsite he and his wife had set up when it had started to snow the night before. They had hiked down off the mountain not knowing what to expect from the weather. I got the feeling he would have stayed, but instead he carried out his wife's backpack, leaving his own gear on the mountain. That's how we saw him coming down Curry Mountain as we were going up. He'd already been back to the campsite to retrieve his pack and was about half way back down when we were making our way up the trail.

And, then there's the views! In winter, views seem to stretch on forever, unimpeded by the foliage of the deciduous trees in the forest. Surrounding mountaintops covered in snow and oncoming clouds threatening to drop more snow on both you and those mountains make for an exhilarating sight. I do have a healthy respect for the unpredictability of winter in the Smokies, but we always hike prepared for weather conditions that may deteriorate. We are also smart about things, staying on the trail and fairly close to a trailhead when conditions are iffy. But there's no quiet as quiet as these mountains covered in snow which seems to insulate from all sounds even those made by the wildlife. If you stand amid a few inches of snow and hold your breath, it's as close as I've ever been to silence. Literally the only thing you can hear is the beating of your own heart. Now that's silence!

It also seems to me that when the clouds break after or during a winter snow event, the sky is more blue than I've ever seen it on other occasions. I'm sure there's something scientific at work here, but I remain oblivious to those reasons. I just am enamored by the sight. There was one such moment of crystal clear blue sky peeking out amidst snowstorm clouds noted in the photo below:

If you look carefully at the mountains just below the storm clouds you can see that they are literally being dusted with snow as the blue sky breaks out just above them. It was a spectacular sight.

I know as spring approaches, it will hold beauty and excitement of its own. It too, is one of my favorite times to be in the mountains. However, a part of me holds onto these special wintertime hiking days as the rest of the year marches on. To be honest, I suppose whatever season I'm in at the time is one of my favorites--each season holds its own unique advantages and surprises.
I suppose it's ok to adapt a popular bumper sticker here: A bad day in the mountains is better than a good day at work! Not surprisingly, I haven't had many "bad days" in the mountains!

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