Friday, November 28, 2008

Cades Cove white tail bucks rutting but still low key

It's easy to find deer in Cades Cove - they are all over the place especially at sunrise and sunset. Doe are in groups all over the place but the bucks are with groups of does or solitary now that the rut has started.

While I have only caught far away fast glimpses of male deer sparring with one another, this sight will be more common and easier to find as the rut goes on and becomes more intense.

A white tail deer's best weapon is its hooves not it antlers

During the rut male white tail deer herd harems of does for future mating and fight off other bucks - usually without any injury other than their pride.

Deer can be more aggressive so it's a good idea to keep your distance from the deer even though they appear to be very docile. A white tail deer's best weapon is its hooves not it antlers!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Newfound Gap Road Reopens in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After plenty in sanding and plowing along with strong sunlight, Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reopened.

Drivers are cautioned that there is still snow and and ice on the road which may close again if conditions worsen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road and Old 284 in the GSMNP are closed

Last nights blustery winter weather in the GSMNP closed Newfound Gap road US 441 the roadway connecting the Cherokee North Carolina and the Gatlinburg Tennessee areas of the park, Clingmans Dome road as well as Old 284 in North Carolina connecting Big Creek NC with the Cataloochee Valley just outside Maggie Valley NC.

Expect that even roads that are still open may have patches of ice or snow especially above 3,000 feet.

More snow and rain showers are expected today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hiking the Smoky Mountains national park after a snowfall in late fall and winter

Some of the most magical times to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains national park is just after or during a lights snow in late fall or during the winter.

What is not a good idea is just before or during snow fall to drive up to the upper elevations such as Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome or even to Alum Cave Trailhead as you may find that the roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park will close and you will become trapped forcing you to walk out of the park with no cell service in most cases.

It can even be a mistake to get caught in the Roaring Fork area especially along the Roaring Fork Motor trail. I park at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead or even just outside the park gates and hike my way up to where I need to go.

The best way to enjoy hiking in the snow in the GSMNP is to park at a lower elevation and hike your way up to the snow line or spot you wish to go. I also keep a sleeping bag in my car at all times just in case to stay warm.

Ramsey cascades waterfalls in the winter at Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park

The picture above was taken yesterday at the Ramsey Cascades Waterfall 4 miles up on the hiking trail in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Make sure to dress warm and in layers if you want to hike in the colder months and don't let yourself sweat or overheat too much as this can lead to you becoming chilled and increase your chances of hypothermia.

It is crucial you also wear the correct footwear. Sneakers are a poor choice to hike in the snow and even summer weight boots are not a good idea. I suggest hiking with boots 6 to 8 inches or more with thinsulate to keep your feet warm and gortex to which away the moisture to keep your feet dry.

Gloves area also important as holding hiking poles, cameras, tripods and many other items act as a heat conductor rapidly cooling your hands and your whole body so I hike with 2 pair in the winter. The first pair are very lightweight cotton type work gloves which can be used when your hands are moderately cold and the second pair are waterproof heavy winter gloves.

As far as hats go I pack 2 as well, a lightweight stocking cap and a heavy water resistant winter cap with ear flaps and covering my neck and face. If the hat gets wet from sweat I will reverse the cap or change caps in order to keep myself dry.

I would never think if hiking in snow or ice without 2 hiking poles and putting my hands through the straps. This is a great way to help maintain your balance, test the snow to see if it is on ice and how deep it is, and help slow you down going downhill.

A simple rule of thumb for a beginning or moderate hiker is if you are having problems going uphill, stop. Going downhill will be far worse and more dangerous. Simple stream crossings can also spell disaster when you mix in snow and ice on rocks or wooden logs.

Also remember that slush and even mud can freeze up as the day progresses and it get colder turning what was an easy trip up into a dangerous downhill slide or fall.

Another important tip for being in the Smoky Mountains in late fall, winter and early spring when it is cold is to never sit directly on rocks, logs or the ground. Sitting directly on objects rapidly cools your body down so sit on your backpack, a towel or bring along a small inflatable ring to keep yourself warm and dry. Being cold and wet is no fun and can be dangerous.

It is also important to remember when hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park in the winter that even if weather conditions are ideal, it gets dark real early - before 6:00 pm at times in December and January!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cades Cove Paving Options for 2010 presented by the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Long awaited and far overdue it looks like Cades Cove is finally going to get a total overhaul of the 11 mile long Cades Cove Loop Road in early 2010.

The last time this tremendously popular road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was paved was in 1978 and it has long needed significant repairs for more than 10 years.

First of all this single lane road will not be widened and will continue to have its 11 foot width throughout the entire Cades Cove Loop. There are however discussions to consider to have as many as 12 paved pull offs.

the Cades Cove Loop Road is in such as sad state

The main goal of this paving project is to completely replace the existing roadway since its past the point of repair. In order to do this the contractor must break up the existing road, grind it up, and mix in new concrete creating a new base and then install a new asphalt road surface.

Presently without proper drainage to lead water away from seeping under the road surface, water that does get under the road during the winter is freezing and thawing accelerating the breaking up the roadway.

Besides age and heavy use, the Cades Cove Loop Road is in such as sad state because of this lack of drainage along the roadside which is going to be added during this massive construction project.

national park service proposed 4 options for closing and allowing access to visitors in Cades Cove

What the national park service has proposed in it pubic meeting at the Heritage Center which was attended 2 dozen people, are 4 options for closing and allowing access to visitors in Cades Cove during the road construction process.

Basically the plans range from a complete closure of the Cades Cove Loop Road from April of 2010 to the end of May affecting approximately 250,000 visitors, to closing the road in 2 or more sections which can affect as many as 500,000 visitors and will take far longer.

Beside major traffic hassles and safety issues if the road is closed in sections, it will affect far more visitors and create a far more environmentally detrimental carbon footprint due to longer constriction time and gas used to navigate the tremendous detours that can add as much as 40 miles to this 11 mile auto tour!

If Cades Cove Loop Road is closed in sections, the park service is proposing under some options to send exiting traffic out Parson Branch Road which is an unpaved and dumping drivers onto the dangerous Tail of the Dragon 30 miles out of the way with no facilities, gas or cell phone service.

Extending the Cades Cove construction project with partial closures will also tack on higher costs onto the whole project with increased construction costs, signage costs, more lost business for gateway towns, more lost business to the Cades Cove concessions and a huge cost and manpower issue of traffic management.

The park did a great job working on alternatives and presenting them, but for economic, safety, ecological and negative visitor impact, closing Cades Cove Road and repaving in one shot is the best option.

If Cades Cove Lop Road is closed completely during the repaving project, with the monies saved over the other options the National Park Service may be able to afford paying to have work done 7 days a week and or at night as well which would speed up the whole process.

Snow and winter conditions closed Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Snow and ice on Newfound Gap Road is making driving treacherous so the national park service closed US441 the road connecting the cities of Gatlinburg with Cherokee.

There is presently a winter advisory throughout most of the Smokies with accumulation up to 2 inches or more in the upper elevations and bitter cold temperatures.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cades Cove Deer are starting to rut in the GSMNP

It's that time of the year again for the male deer in the Great Smoky Mountains national park to rut and Cades Cove is the place to see them.

male deer in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Most of the time when you drive around or hike in Cades Cove you can see a few bucks (male deer) carousing around with each other in the company of many Doe (female deer).

Now during rut the males are collecting their harems and sparring with each other which will increase in activity over the next few weeks.

Deer can be dangerous animals if provoked and during the rut male deer are far more aggressive. Contrary to popular belief it is the deer's hoofs that are more dangerous that there antlers.

This is a great time to watch the deer in the GSMNP but bring along binoculars or use a telephoto lens and keep your distance for the deer's safety, your safety and to observe national park regulation in keeping 50 yards away from wildlife.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Newfound Gap Road in the GSMNP is open but Clingmans Dome Road remains closed

The main road running through the Great Smoky Mountains national park (GSMNP) US 441 Newfound Gap Road has reopened allowing passage from Gatlinburg to Cherokee.

It is common for Newfound Gap Road to close often in cold weather due to snow and ice and can remain closed for days.

Clingmans Dome Road is still closed due to snow and ice and will be closed for the winter season December 1st.

Anyone who wishes to go up to Clingmans Dome or to any of the trailheads along the way up to the dome must park at Newfound Gap Parking area. The Newfound Gap Parking area is 7 miles from the Clingmans Dome parking area.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Newfound Gap Road is closed to all traffic from Gatlinburg TN To Cherokee NC

Road conditions in the Great Smoky Mountains national park are still good on all roads except the Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome Road which are both closed due to snow and ice.

Between tonight’s 30% chance of snow and bitter cold weather expected for the balance of the week, even when Newfound Gap road reopens it may keep closing for the next few days.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Newfound Gap Road (US 441) Closed in the GSMNP due to snow and ice.

Last nights light snow in the upper elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains national park was enough to prompt the closing of Newfound Gap Road (US 441).

Since today more snow is expected throughout the day don't count on this major road connecting Gatlinburg Tennessee with Cherokee N Carolina to open today and if it does reopen, it will close by night when it all refreezes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rough weather for drivers and hikers in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Rain, heavy fog and high winds are creating hazards for drivers and hikers in the Smokies this morning with gusts exceeding 45 miles per hour on some ridgelines.

Since we have been getting light rain on and off for the last 48 hours and the ground is wet, the high winds are creating a major blow down hazard and the high wind advisory which expires in a few hours will still be in effect in some isolated areas.

It is advised to stay off of ridge lines as hikers should avoid hiking in areas of high winds as this may pose and extreme danger.

Drivers must also use extreme caution on less traveled roads that may have a large accumulation of fallen wet leaves that may pose a skidding hazard.

Hikers must also use caution on hiking trails with heavy leaf accumulation as leaves may obstruct tripping hazards such has tree roots and protruding rocks and may be floating on water hiding this hazard as well as slippery rocks underneath.

If unsure of footing hikers should be probing the ground with hiking poles or a walking stick.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Local hiker seriously injured in the Great Smoky Mountain national park.

What should have been and beautiful relaxing fall day in the Great Smoky Mountains national park yesterday turned tragic for 25 year old Jeremy Frye of Sevier County on the Grotto Falls Trillium Gap Trail.

Unfortunately Jeremy decided the he should climb up and around on rocks around the Grotto falls which has a large pool and boulders beneath it.

Park visitors are advised that climbing on waterfalls or rocks is dangerous and forbidden because of some many who have been injured or killed engaging in this behavior.

I can't imagine what was going through Jeremy Frye's head and the pain he felt with his head and back injuries he sustained from a more than 30 foot fall waiting what must have been more than an hour and a half to have rangers carry him out the Mile and a half to the Grotto Falls Trailhead and into an ambulance to be shuttled to Gatlinburg City Hall where he was air lifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Drivers, hikers and bikers need to be cautious today in the Smokies

Colorful fall leaves that were washed down on the Smoky Mountains roadways and hiking trails by the much needed rain we just got is creating hazardous conditions for hikers, bikers and drivers who are not cautious.

While were expecting and needed far more rain than what came, we are thankful what we did get even if it knocked down all the fall leaves that are past peak a little early.

With the increased moisture the small creek and streams though still low have been slightly replenished. If you are planning on coming into the Great Smoky Mountains national park, today should be a waterfall day where you can appreciate the slight gain in water flow over any of the many waterfalls and cascades the national park.

Please make sure that if you are hiking you pay special attention to any wet leaves on rocks and on wet trail floors which could be like skating on ice when you least expect it!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cades Cove Loop Road Public Briefing on Paving

The managers at the Great Smoky Mountains national park will be making a 1 hour presentation on the alternative schedules and construction phases to repave the badly worn Cades Cove Loop Road.

The 11 mile Cades Cove Loop is badly in need of repair and has been for years. The national park plans to repave the road in early 2010 and has worked with engineers at the Federal Highway Administration to formulate various construction scenarios and will be presenting at this meeting that advantages and disadvantages of the various scenarios they have narrowed it down to.

Obviously major construction on the Cades Cove Loop will hamper visitor access to the road as well as connecting hiking trails, Parsons Branch Road, Rich Mountain Road, Forge Creek Road, historic buildings and the Cades Cove Visitor center.

Cades Cove Loop Road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park at dusk

The Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson is welcoming any of the public's "questions about the various alternative concepts and the construction methods under study".

Mr. Ditmanson stressed that this meeting is not to address broader planning of the Cades Cove area transportation alternatives or any potential facility changes. According to Mr. Ditmanson these potential changes and issues will discussed at future public meetings.

While the national park hopes to make changes in Cades Cove in the future, who knows how our present national economic crises as well as lower GSMNP visitation will affect funding for future GSMNP projects.

The surface of the Cades Cove Loop road is deplorable as well as some of the pull offs. This road must be paved to avoid further damage to visitor's vehicles and reduce the obvious hazard to the personal safety of hikers and bikers.

Unfortunately the National Parks track record on the last few construction projects in the GSMNP such as on the Spur, along Little River Road at Indian Rock and Sparks Lane have not been completed on time.

Besides the completion delays, the Spur was resurfaced with materials and a process that was inferior to original specs in an effort to rush completion. Hopefully the Spur project was completed at a far lower price than what the superior process and materials would have cost had they waited until the specialized crews and the equipment were available.

Concerned locals as well as businesses that depend on tourism should attend the Cades Cove paving plans presentation that will take place at the Townsend Heritage Center next Thursday the 13th from 5:30 to 6:30 pm.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Peak Fall Color Season is here in the Smokies

The colors in the Smoky Mountains is amazing and is right now at peak for this autumn in both Tennessee and North Carolina and all I have been doing the past week has been chasing the best colors and hiking all around the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

The weather here in the Smoky Mountains has been amazing - even the day of light snow we received in the upper elevations was cold enough for some light accumulation but certainly not uncomfortable and the next day it warmed right up, slowly enough to let the snow linger and fast enough to hike dressed lightly.

I have spent only 3 days in the North Carolina side and the other time herein Tennessee where the fall colors are a bit behind.

colors in the Smoky Mountains is amazing and is right now at peak for this autumn in both Tennessee and North Carolina

So far nothing I have examined other than some spots along Newfound Gap Road on the North Carolina side, the tops of Le Conte and the highest points of the Appalachian Trail are in the final days of fall colors. Due to heavy evergreen growth on the tops of Le Conte and the AT they are wonderful year round - maybe even prettier with some light snow.

Most of the snow is now gone except in the shaded areas in higher elevations in the highest parts of the park. On Friday 2 of the walls along Clingmans Dome Road were shrouded in ice for the sunrise and even though the sun was just spreading its warm glow against the rock walls chunks were already breaking off and crashing to the ground below.

walls along Clingmans Dome Road were shrouded in ice for the sunrise

In regard to wildlife sightings in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, it has been anything other than average for me. Plenty of bear in Roaring Fork but outside of Roaring Fork I only saw 3 in a week. I normally see that many a day this time of year.

Speaking of bear I am amazed that in the Sinks parking area which clearly has active bear warnings posted in 2 places that the garbage was overflowing so that the lids in all three containers would not shut.

I found a large stick and mashed down what I could to get the bear proof lids closed. When I returned from hiking the Meigs Creek Trail it was overflowing again. I tracked down a park employee and had them radio it in.

wildlife sightings in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Shame on the irresponsible persons who did this rather than packing out their garbage as they endangered other visitors as well as the bear. The park service has to watch these trash receptacles more carefully while there are such bear problems in the park - even with the lack of funds they have as this is the 4th garbage incident I have seen and reported in the past week.

Beside the most unbelievable hiking and driving in the Smoky Mountains, I had 2 other outstanding experiences, hiking with Smokies Scout and taking the guided hay ride in Cades Cove on the Sunset run.

Hiking with the Smokies Scout was wonderful and for the fist time in my Smoky Mountains hiking career I actually did a shuttle hike. We rode up Newfound Gap Road during sunrise and stopped to take pictures on an overlook on the North Carolina side and the ice along the side of the road in Clingmans Dome Road.

Our hike took us from Clingmans Dome Road where we were bundled up, hat gloves and the like with snow on the ground and ended up eventually in the Lakeshore area - where I was down to a T shirt.

Our hike which was mostly downhill also took us up and back down the Springhouse Branch Trail. They day and the fall colors were amazing. We went from full blown out peak to dark green and light green areas just waiting to change. Sometime hiking up we went back in season - go figure.

The Cades Cove hay ride I took was far better than I would have ever expected and will go into more detail in another post. The hay ride was on the last day it ran this year, and it was the last time the present concessioner who had run this service for the last 40 plus years took visitor around the Cove as a new concessioner takes over in the spring.

Well I am off to chase more color and I think it will be my routine for the next 2 weeks!