Mount LeConte in the Winter

This past weekend Bryan came up with the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ’s Young Professionals Group. They were having a retreat in Gatlinburg. Of course this meant that a hike was definitely in order. I had suggested that we do a shuttle hike from Elkmont to Treemont. In terms of difficulty its pretty easy, so it would open up the hike to more people. As of Saturday morning, we really hadn’t settled on a hike yet. He had suggested going up Mount LeConte via Rainbow Falls and go down the Bull Head trail. In terms of difficulty, it is a very difficult hike and definitely shouldn’t be attempted by novices. He didn’t know how many people would come and they wouldn’t have transportation, so I took one of the vans.

Well it turns out it was only me, Jon, Bryan, and another guy from Brentwood Hills named Justin. It turns out we didn’t need the van at all, but better safe then sorry. We ended up deciding to the Mount LeConte hike. Bryan had checked in with the ranger to see what conditions were like near the top of LeConte. The Ranger said conditions were clear and that crampons weren’t necessary to get up LeConte. Deep down inside, I knew better. The ranger was right though… I did make it up LeConte without crampons.
Frozen Stream
After meeting up with Bryan and Justin, we end up leaving the hotel just after noon. We got to the trail head around 2:15 and started our trek up Rainbow Falls. (Note to self… never start up LeConte any later the 9:00.) Shortly after starting the trail, it goes along side a creek. As you can, the creek was mostly frozen over. There were lots of really cool places like that along the trail.
Rainbow Falls
After about an hour and half, we arrived at Rainbow Falls. As you can see in the picture above, at the foot of the falls is a huge ice pile. That picture really doesn’t do it justice. If you’ve been to Rainbow Falls and you know how high that rock wall is, you’ll have an idea of how tall that ice was. For those that haven’t been, that ice pile was about 25 feet high. Also, after arriving to Rainbow Falls, Jon knew his back was hurting him and it would probably slow him down from reaching the top, so he went back to the van while the rest of us continued on.
It wasn’t long past Rainbow Falls we started to see snow on the trail. This was my first hunch that perhaps things were gonna get worse and we should all just turn around right now. The snow wasn’t so deep, that it hampered much, but were it is cold enough for the snow to stick, it is also cold enough to freeze over any water that the trail my pass over.
Frozen Trail
There would be almost 10 places where we would encounter ice. In some places, it would be a frozen stream we would have to cross, in other places we would have to go up or down the mountain off trail to get around the ice patch. A number of them didn’t leave much room for error. If you fell, you’d probably drop 80 feet of the mountain. Surprisingly, we only had one person fall and that was on one of the safer ice patches like what is pictured above.

About 4:00 we arrived at the junction of Rainbow Falls and The Bull Head. We knew we didn’t have much time left, so we opted not to climb the remaining 400 feet to the summit and go down The Bull Head. The hope was that since The Bull Head gets more exposure to the sun, so there would be less ice. That just wouldn’t be the case. There just wasn’t a way around the ice on the Bull Head. In a couple of places the only way to cross was to glissade across. Also about this time, my right leg started to cramp up and my camelbak hose had frozen over. Note to self… always clear the water out of the camelback hose when the temperature is below freezing.

About this time, the will to get off the mountain and back to the heated van took over. All of us sucked up any pain we had pushed forward. About 5:40 we arrived at The Pulpit. I was pretty physically and mentally drained when we arrived there. I think we took about a 10 minute break there. I was so exhausted, I didn’t feel like getting pictures around The Pulpit. As it was starting to get dark, we got our lights and pressed on. About 6:45 or so, we arrived back at the van.

The past few days are the sorest I can ever remember a hike leaving me. Sunday, it hurt just to walk around. I still had sore legs on Monday and Tuesday as well. By Wednesday, most of the soreness had gone away and I could run again.

BTW: If you want to know the password for the previous post, just request it via email or instant messenger. I’ve just got it protected because I don’t want search engines to index that post.