Sunday, November 2, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cove Mountain Trail and Laurel Falls Trail

Just six days ago I hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail up to Mount LeConte on a beautiful 66 degree day. The sun was shining and warm and there were lots of other hikers enjoying the last days of autumn at over 6,500 feet. What a difference just a few days makes. On Halloween a storm and cold front moved over the mountains bringing snow, and lots of it (22 inches on the summit of LeConte). I decided that I wanted to go hiking in the snow.

Instead of switching the time on my clocks, I decided that I would rise at my normal adventuring time of 6 am, even though with the time change, this would mean I actually woke at 5 am. I fed and walked Parker and got my stuff ready for the drive over to the Smokies. Last night I had checked the Smokies Road Report and found that there were not many roads open. My plan was to drive to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. If the Newfound Gap Road was open I would hike a lollipop route off of that road. Since I found the road not open when I had arrived, I decided to instead hike the Cove Mountain Trail up to the summit of Cove Mountain. I would then follow the Laurel Falls Trail down to the Little River Road and walk the road back to my car.

I started off on the nature trail that leads over to Cataract Falls.
trailhead
I crossed over the creek below the falls and headed off on a trial whose sides were lightly dusted with snow.
on the trail
Soon enough I came to a small cascade fed by a little stream.
small cascade
The sun started to burn off the morning fog and the glowing sunlight gave the few remaining leaves on the trees a nice warm look.
colors and snow 2
sun through frosty trees
The Cove Mountain Trail closely follows the park boundary, and so there were a few times when the trail practically wound through people's backyards.
private

As I ascended the snow steadily grew deeper.
snow getting deeper
The yellow sassafras and red maple leaves
leaves on snow
contrasted nicely with the thick, white snow. Every now and then I could catch a view of the surrounding, white-capped mountains through the trees.
mountain thru frost trees
At a short side trail that led into a neighborhood of pricy homes, the snowpack got considerably thicker. So thick, in fact, that I decided to put on my gaiters in an attempt to keep my pants dry. The snow on the branches of the conifers reminded me of being in the mountains out west, but the beauty of the deciduous forest, still clinging to a few leaves, reminded me I was close to home.
forest

The higher I got, the deeper the snow got. It its deepest it had to have been 10 inches.
hiking in deep snow
In certain areas the trees were covered, not by snow, but rime that had frozen to each twig and branch and left the trees looking like they were covered with crystalline sugar.
winter wonderland
Soon the trail paralleled a road.
trail sign
It was a road that I had presumed (correctly) led to the tower on the summit of Cove Mountain. Sure enough I soon found myself at the tower.
Cove mountain Tower
I climbed the tower, but you cannot ascend very high as it is used as an air quality monitoring station. The highest point offered no views of the surrounding mountains like I had hoped it would.

I backtracked a short distance to the intersection with the Laurel Falls Trail
trail junction
and started my descent. I had been pretty lucky on the Cove Mountain Trail. Even though the weight of the snow had weighed down some of the tree and rhododendron branches, it was pretty easy to bypass them. However, the situation on the Laurel Falls Trail was different. It was tough work climbing over, under and around all the snow laden branches and blowdowns. I did see at least one big tree off to the side of the trail,
big tree
but overall the first 3/4 of the trail were unspectacular. I was quite tired when I could hear the first sounds of people hiking to Laurel Falls.

Laurel Falls itself was a zoo. I would later learn that almost all of the park was still closed except for the Little River Road to a point just past Laurel Falls. Everyone who wanted to get out and enjoy the park from Gatlinburg was headed to the same spot! I took a quick photo of the waterfall
Laurel Falls
and headed down to the road on the paved, but slick snow-covered path. There were a few nice views through the trees.
view from Laurel Falls Trail
I reached the road and made my way down walking against traffic. There were a few pulloffs that offered nice views,
distant mountain view (2)
but I was really glad to be back to the car and finished with the dangerous road walk. Even from the parking lot there was a nice view of the high mountains.      
parking lot view

1 comment:

luksky said...

Those pictures are absolutely beautiful!! I have to admit the southern girl in me was shivering looking at them though.