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!


surfincjk said...

Hello, I saw the post saying the road to clingman's dome is closed. i've been to the smokies, but never made it to clingman's and was hoping to this weekend. I'm from Illinois and was planning on spending 1-2 daysthis weekend 28th-30th b/c i've been dying to get back there. I've done Mt. Leconte and Devil's Doorway along with a few waterfall trails (abram and laurel during the march of this year and january of last year, 2007). Anyway, just wanted to get your opinion on whether this weekend will be a good time to check out clingmans dome and maybe even mt. leconte again.

thanks in advance for the heads up!!!

smoky scout said...

Hey Chris - I thought you were in Florida!

Smokies Hiker said...

I just can't get away!

I will be heading to Florida late next week when the part i need for my trailer finally comes in.

Of course be back home here in the Smokies within a few weeks.

Imagine willing to put up with the cold weather here in the Smoky Mountains more than going back to my other house in Boca Raton!

I really want to watch and get a few hundred more pictures of the deer rut in Cades Cove and Cataloochee.

surfincjk said...

Hi, I think you may have me confused with another Chris (i'm definitely not in FL). Any thoughts on the comment made by surfincjk (that would be) regarding whether conditions for Clingman's dome will be ok for Fri, Sat, Sun (28,29,30) or is the rode still closed? Also, is the Newfound gap road closed still as well and do you think they'll still be closed this weekend?

Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Smokies Hiker said...

surfincjk, Smokies Scout is referring to me as I am a Chris.

My gut tells me Clingmans Dome Road may not reopen for the season.

It is higher than Newfound Gap Road which is still closed. Current weather shows below freezing temps the rest of the week in higher elevations and the NPS can not use salt to melt snow and ice as it will damage the environment.