View Full Version : Dangerous on smokies AT in Jan/Feb?
I just finished a mini-section hike from Cosby to Newfound Gap in the Smokies, and am planning to do Newfound Gap to Fontana later this month. I'd like to do it when snow is in the forecast, since I live in south Louisiana and rarely see snow.
But a couple natives of the area warned me about hiking the Smokies A.T. during snowstorms in January or February. These are very experienced hikers, and they told me you can find yourself stranded when it snows during that part of the year. For example, they've been on the A.T. when the snow has caused the rhododendruns to collapse over the trail under the deep snow, making it impossible to proceed. And of course, temps can go below zero up high and I only have a 20 degree bag and liner.
Anyone have experience hiking the Smokies section of the A.T. in the winter, particularly during strong snowstorms? And if so, how did you fare?
I have snowshoed through there in deep snow in early February. It was beautiful. I would not have liked the Rhododendrons to have collapsed however. That could make it very very hard to move. Bring extra food and maps that show bail out points.
I don't recall any Rho tunnels on that section, could be a problem tho.
HOWEVER: there are quite a few 4 foot wide ridges, especially at the start of the section. Yes, they are 4 foot wide, with 500' + drops to each side. During a summer hike, the shelters are very close together, during the winter the distances may be an issue. Some of the water sources are very small, might freeze over, so take extra fuel for melting snow. Let the rangers know your plans down to the last detail, then let them know that you made it out safely.
Let the rangers know your plans down to the last detail, then let them know that you made it out safely, include planned "bail out points" & contacts at home.
Perhaps a "space blanket" would be a good gear addition. Seems that a 20 degree bag is somewhat skimpy for that time of year, especially up that high.
That said: as Blue Jay said "Bring extra food and maps that show bail out points." and have fun! I wish I could go with you. The views that time of year must be spectacular, I have seen them early spring (with some snow still on the ground) and: WOW! Be safe, have fun, tell us all about it when you get back.
Don"t trust the Rangers with the info...tell a responsible friend or relative ...give your quarter (or cell phone LOL) to someone who REALLY cares.
Some good info here.
To address one piece of (what I think is) mis-information, The section with long exposed areas is actually north of Newfound Gap. There is a little of this just south of Charlies Bunion, but a good portion of the next few miles is this way - very spectacular, but also potentially dangerously exposed.
Rangers used to stop cars entering the Smokies during the winter and ask occupants how they were equipped. One of the quesions they asked was, "You are prepared for nighttime temperatures of -20*F, correct?" If the occupant so much as slipped a hint of awe at the number, they sent them back to Gatlinburg to properly outfit.
Moral of this story: Temps in the Smokies drop well WELL below Zero in the winter time, especially on the Ridge (read: AT).
The Smokies are not Southern mountains - their ecosystem is more akin to Vermont. I Highly suggest that you carry maps, adequate insulation, plenty of extra food and fuel, and be prepared to wait it out if and when conditions force you to do so. There aren't really any bail-outs to roads on the AT, but at least you can bail to lower elevations where snow levels should be lower. You can always enclose a shelter front with your tent flies and start a fire (finding wood and drying it out may be troublesome, though).
In short, a winter hike in the Smokies can be great fun if you're prepared. But it's no place to mess around and get caught with your pants down. Hike at your own risk - and have a great time if you go!
Go over to trailjournals.com and checkout Bono's, Rocket's or others that started early and going through the Smokies in Jan/Feb. Lots of great information and ideas that might help you out.
Janurary 2-5th of 2003, we had a 20F (some geek had a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer) night with snow and hard blowing winds at Ice Water. The next night at Peaks was colder, but no wind or snow.
It was 55F down in the valley the day we left and the day we came back.
There are a few exposed places between Fontana and Newfound Gap where a slip would be bad. North of the Thunderhead and a few stretches in the Silar Bald-Double Springs area (the Narrows) come to mind. I haven't been in a really bad snow storm in the Smokys, so can't comment on that. I'm heading out to the Cosby area for some winter romping in a few weeks and am hoping for no snow at all, so perhaps we should coordinate and go on different weekends.