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GSMNP in winter
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“I'm planning for a backpacking trip into the Smokys in January. Most of my winter camping is in the Midwest, so I'm hoping the Smoky regulars here can help me.
I'll be taking a 0 degree down bag with a bivy sack and Ridgerest and maybe a tarp. Think that's enough shelter?
What about crampons? I don't need them in Illinois but I'm guessing I might in the Smokys. It'd be a great excuse to buy more gear.
I'm taking a synthetic base layer with waterproof/breathable shell and goretex boots and gaiters. I'll have a down jacket and booties for nightfall if I need them. Should I add anything to that?
Cooking and water boiling will be done over a Simmerlite.
“I used instep crampons when I was doing deep winter on the ridge line. Snow can be a problem but most blows off the ridge trails. All those springs that run along the trail freeze and become ice rivers.”
“Sounds fun! I'm certainly no authority on Smokies in the winter but here's my opinions/suggestions. Take 'em or leave 'em.
Crampons - take insteps. You probably won't need the real-deal crampons, but insteps or yak traks will help if it is icy. Plus they're lighter and mor compact.
Where are you camping? If you're at a shelter every night the tarp will be a good idea in case of emergency. If you're at the tent sites some nights, you might want a little more shelter. I'm not saying you WILL want more shelter, I'm saying you MIGHT. It depends on you - how experienced you are with a tarp in the cold - and on the weather forcast - if snow/rain is forcast then you might want something more bombproof in weather that cold. If you are in a tent or shelter you probably will not need the bivy sack.
Finally, I'd take a hard look at daily miles. Be realistic and don't plan too many. First, you're from the midwest and you're not that used to the long, steep ups. Second, the days are veeeery short in Jan, so there'll be less time to hike. Third, it'll be coooold, so you probably will not roll out of your bag until after daylight at least, further shortening time available for hiking.
Finally, if you plan on making a fire I'd take some kind of small firestarter. It's alot easier to get a fire going with one of those when it's cold, damp and/or icy, and you don't want your hands out of your mits for very long.
Have a good hike. Report on how it goes.
Now that I've gotten the serious response out of the way, let the silliness begin...”
“Thanks for the insight.
Do you prefer the 4 or 6 point insteps? I was looking at the Climb High 6 pointers in Campmor or the Charlet Moser Crabs from Altrec.”
“Hey, I had two "finally's" up there. Oh well, guess I had more to say.
And, finally, good bye...”
“Several people here who have extensive winter experience in the Smokies won't be able to post until some time this afternoon.
I can tell you I wish I'd taken crampons with me on several occasions.
How long of a trip are you talking? How many nights? Up high near the ridges or down low?
this will help you gauge the weather there. Sorry, I don't do links.”
“Damnit, wrong addy. Hang on here...
okay, that's better. The other one will just get you a news story.”
“MM - I've lurked long enough to expect the silliness...
I was looking at an 8 mile day (easy to do here) but backed off once I considered the terrain and variable weather. I'm going to dayhike some of the AT, but the backpacking will be on a side trail with no shelters.
I hate the restricted feeling of a tent. Hopefully the bivy will be enough. I'll throw a tent into my Jeep "just in case" I misjudge the weather.
Probably won't build a fire, but I normally bring some firestarter anyway.”
“Tree - thanx.
4 nights, 3 in the backcountry. Only a few miles each way to the sites, then figure to explore beyond that.”
“Instep crampons are a great idea up high or on Alum Cave trail.
The tarp will suck if it's windy but your bivy should negate that to a certain degree. Personally a ridgerest wouldn't give me enough insulation from the ground but keepin mind I'm a thermarest LE kinda guy.
8 is a comfortable day for me. In winter I like to keep it at 6 or so. That way I have plenty of time to get firewood eat and clean up before dark.
Do some reseach and be sure that the trails you do don't have big wet stream crossings. Some of those crossings will be hairy when it's cold.
If you can post what trails you want to do we can give you some specific info if I haven't hiked it I can check my maps and books when I get home.
I'll be in the Smokies on the 27th-3rd maybe I'll see you there.”
“HPM - I'm planning on the Chasteen Creek Trail out of Smokemount. The distances between sites aren't as long as what I was orignally planning. Better a mile too easy than a mile too long I guess. It looks like I'll follow Bradley Fork but not cross it. Of course, NPS maps have been wrong before...
A real Thermarest is on next year's gear list. I have a Gander Mountain version of it, but I prefer the closed-cell stuff in winter.
31st to the 4th for me”
“Hey, I think 8 mile days would be fine. I've been in there a lot and I don't like to plan more than 8 unless it's not much up and down.”
“Chasteen creek is an easy trail and you will not need crampons on any trail in that area. It does have a lot of loose small rock due to heavy horse use. Not a biggie but it does get annoying. The campsite is pretty nice but sloped. The first big flat spot you see is NOT the campsite. That's just an area the horsepackers have beaten down into a mudhole and screwed up. There isn't any wet stream crossings on this one.
Another nice site around there is up Bradley Fork Trail at Cabin Flats (#48 I think) the trail follows an old roadbed so it feels more like a roadwalk but it is nice stroll.”
“In that area 8 miles days are cake.”
“Cabin Flats is #49, off of Bradley fork trail. #48 is on Chasteen creek trail.”
“I'm planning on #48. My pride tells me I can reach a more distant site, but since I don't know the area...
Central Illinois considers a mile in to be "backcountry". Ugh.
I think I'll tell myself crampons are necessary to rationalize buying something most Illini never see.”
“The trail to Cabin Flats is considerably flatter than to #48. They're both a nice walk, although the rocks on Chasteen Creek trail can be hazardous for ankles.”
“Cabin Flats is a great site.
If you don't have it already, get the Trails Illustrated Map of the GSMNP and a really good book to have is the "Hiking Trails of the Smokies". You can get the book from the Park Service Book Store - it's published by the Natural History Association.”
“I figured to pick up that map when I get to the park's headquarters. All I've got right now is the freebie map they sent me. Much better than trying to view it in pdf format online.
I'll look for the book. Thanks for the tip.”
“One warning - on the NPS map, at least the one available for a buck at the ranger stations, the mileage can be a little misleading. The scale is too small and some of the junctions look like they are right on top of each other when they are really a quarter to half mile apart. This can bite your butt if you just happen to build more than a couple of those into your plan. I wound up once with about 1.75 miles extra because of that and it just happened to be what I'd planned as a long day already.”
“I disagree with Roam Around on the map. I personally far prefer the Earthwalk press map it's a tighter scale (more detail) and includes far more place names. Plus the new printing includes the recent trail re-routes. They sell them at the gift shops in the park.”
“I'll have to check that out, haven't looked at it.”
“Matter of fact. Trails Illustrated is my last choice in maps for any location.”
“When you see it I think you will agree with me.”
“The NPS maps had me fouled up in Rocky Mountain NP a few years ago. Distance was off by maybe a half mile and I had to cross a stream that the map had me only following. No big deal as I still got to where I wanted to be, but it taught me to be wary.
I'll look for the Earthwalk map the Saturday before my AT shorthike.”
“Thanks to everyone for the help.”
“I did Alum Bluffs up to LeConte and back, end of January a couple years ago. I used 12 point Grivels, because that's what I had. The ice was hard, over noticable exposure, and it had been polished very slick by lots of freeze/melt cycles and lots of feet.
Insteps would have done the job, but the ten miles was a lot of work as it was. I can't imagine not having points to "launch" off of up near your toes, but everyone else seemed to do ok. They turned around at the Bluffs though, and I finished an hour or so after dark. Next day some guy slid off the trail, tumbled 400' and broke an arm.
Temps were high 20's in the day, base plus one layer of fleece was perfect while hiking. I didn't roll into G'burg till midnight and just got a room instead of camping. As joke I asked for a climbers discount and the guy knocked ten bucks off the room. Hey, who was I to argue?%"launch" off of up near your toes, but everyone else seemed to do ok. They turned around at the Bluffs though, and I finished an hour or so after dark. Next day some guy slid off the trail, tumbled 400' and broke an arm.
Temps were high 20's in the day, base plus one layer of fleece was perfect while hiking. I didn't roll into G'burg till midnight and just got a room instead of camping. As joke I asked for a climbers discount and the guy knocked ten bucks off the room. Hey, who was I to argue?
One surprise. They close the curvy roads if there's any ice at all. Getting an early start is iffy unless you go up in the afternoon and camp out somewhere that night. You can also end up doing some serious detours because of closed/icy roads. Look at the map and plan around that and you should have a good time.”
“weather conditions as of 10:25AM this morning
ASUS64 KMRX 201526
SMOKY MOUNTAIN TEMPERATURES AND PRECIPITATION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MORRISTOWN TN
1025 AM EST MON DEC 20 2004
FOLLOWING IS THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN TEMPERATURE AND PRECIPITATION
INFORMATION, VALID FOR A 24 HOUR PERIOD ENDING AT 7:30 AM.
STATION ELEV HIGH LOW PCPN SNOW DEPTH
SUGARLAND CENTER 1600 33 7 0.10 2
NEWFOUND GAP 5000 23 -5 0.40 14
CADES COVE 1900 33 7 0.20 3
OCONALUFTEE 2040 36 5 0.07 1
MOUNT LECONTE 6400 15 -11 0.35 25”
“WooHoo (channeling Divinity)! My first thread lives again.”
“Ewker... sorry to be a newbie, but what the heck do the numbers mean?
I'm guessing, elevation, hi & low temps? what are the other numbers?”
“I wish that site told how hard the wind was blowing. The wind chill temps would have been way down there.
I keep checking out the forecast since I will be in Cades Cove next Monday for 3-4 days”
“precipitation and last is snow depth
so Mt Leconte is at 6400' elevation, 15° for a high, -11° for a low, .35 precipitation, 20" snow depth”
“That's 25" on snow depth.”
“oops,sorry about that
dayhiker,how would you like to be up there right now”
“Not with my current gear I wouldn't.
I hope to get some winter gear over the coming year. I would like to try a winter Smokies trip at some point.”
“go car camping in the winter. Stay at one of the 2 open campgrounds in the Smokies. Good way to avoid the crowds..I hope”
“I'd actually enjoy doing that. I love the Cades Cove campground. I've been 3x and will go once or twice this summer.”
“I have never stayed in Cades Cove campground before. I am looking forward to it. I noticed it has 3" of snow. I bet it will be all gone by the time I get there next week”
“Probably so. Be sure and do the loop at dawn or dusk. Folks that go in the middle of the day see squat.
The hike to Abrams Falls is nice. I'll bet it's really pretty now with lots of ice. 5 miles roundtrip, I believe. You can get up and back down Gregory Bald in 10-11 miles. It's cold as can be at 5000' though.
The Back Porch in Townsend is a good place to eat on your way out.”
“yeah, that is my plan. I hope there isn't many folks there that week. I want to drive up to Newfound Gap and take the AT to Clingmans dome also.”
“You've probably seen it, but there is a link on the park service website that lists the road closings. The road to Clingmon's is probably closed. That's usually a 2 hr drive maybe. Part of that is traffic that you won't have and then weather. It may equal out. I should add that I haven't driven that whole route consecutively. I've done both parts though.”
“dayhiker, that road is closed. i know some guys who are hiking up the AT to Clingmans Dome with a sled. They plan on riding the sled down the road to Newfound Gap. That sounds like fun to me. Right now it has approx 14" of snow”
“Wow, now that would be fun. That'll be quite a hike too.”
“I did that hike up to Clingmans from Newfound Gap one year in March. Up the trail, down the road. There wasn't any snow then, and lots of folks walking the road up. It's 8 miles each way. It would be a blast on a sled, only one small uphill climb going down from Clingmans. Have fun!”
“a few of us walked newfound gap to drysluice gap, then out richland mtn. and down grassy branch and kephart trails (sounds like a lot but only about 11 miles) on saturday. There was enough snow up high that the icy spots were covered, so crampons weren't necessary but one of us wore them and they were helpful. 441 was icy in spots but passable in the prius. clingman's dome road is closed for the season. there are very few people on the trails right now, especially after the big chill that blew in yesterday. it also brought more snow-temps are only going up into the 40's in town so there'll be plenty of snow and ice left up high during the holiday week ahead.”
“Mt. LeConte is 6593 feet but the weather station is at 6400 feet. It's near the lodge.”
“I was out in Pigeon Forge yesteday and the road home was terrible with black ice.. there is still snow on my deck - when it started snowing in the morning, the flakes were huge!!
I am doing the Lakeshore Trail this weekend!!”
“If I can spend the entire remainder of my career in Knoxville and avoid Pigeon Forge, I will.
Of course I am old enough to remember when it was only a wide spot in the road.”
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