Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snow hike in the Smokies

I was thrilled when Kenny and I got home last night and I heard the message on the answering machine. It was from our friends Terri and Rod wanting to know if we wanted to go hiking in the Smokies to see the snow. We had stayed in the lower elevations yesterday, so we had only seen "big" snow from a distance. Kenny couldn't go today, so I went with them. I was glad Chris, Amanda, and Belinda had gone to Newfound Gap on Friday, it was packed with people up there today! Many people with large vehicles parked sideways in 2 spaces, so that didn't help find a place to park. Newfound Gap is on the Tennessee / North Carolina line. Here is a photo of Terri next to the half-buried sign. There had been 2 feet of snow up there, not counting the huge mounds that were piled up from the snow plows earlier in the week.

We stayed there long enough to get some pictures and then we headed down the mountain to the Alum Bluff trail. This is a very popular trail that leads to Mt. Leconte. We didn't plan to hike to the top since there is 3 feet of snow up there! We were so glad we all had Yak Trax on our boots. These rubber and coiled wire devices slip over the soles of the boots and help with traction on snow and ice. I was wearing Kenny's, so they were too big. One of them kept slipping over the toe of my boot. Rod finally tied it on the bottom with parachute cord, that did the trick. As we were hiking along the lower part of the trail, I noticed thousands of tiny black specks in the snow. Suddenly some of them started moving! I finally realized they were Snow Fleas (right) Hypogastrura spp., a type of springtail that can survive on the surface of the snow. I sure picked a lousy time to not take my macro lens! :( I took some photos with my regular lens, but the critters are hard to see! Click on the photo to enlarge it, they may be a bit easier to look at.

The trail was so pretty with the snow, a nice change of pace for us. I enjoyed seeing the shapes and patterns. Here are some shadows of Yellow Birch trees in the snow. I decided to convert them to black and white.

Our biggest challenge came when we reached the Arch Rock. Here, Rod is crossing the bridge in front of the arch. It is always a tricky place to hike because of the steep slate rock steps, but today it had ice.

We saw some large icicles along the trail. Terri took this photo of me next to one. By the time we had lunch and then got to Alum Bluff, the sun had warmed the rocks and overhanging icicles to the point that they were crashing down. We decided not to risk getting impaled by a 3-foot long spear of ice and turned around before getting below the cliff. So, even though we came short of our goal, we really enjoyed our 5-mile hike today!

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