Hiking in snow

Icy road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Driving on roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be perilous after a snowfall. These are photos I took on a different trip to the Smokies for winter hiking.

I had planned to be writing a blog post today for the Friends of the Smokies blog about the March Classic Hike of the Smokies.

But the hike was postponed until later in March due to inclement weather – with US Highway 441/Newfound Gap Road closed due to snow and ice and with other roads and the trails being hazardous.

The photos I’ve seen on Twitter of the snow in the Smokies reminded me of hiking I’ve done in the snow and, in particular, a snowy day hike on the Alum Cave Trail. That hike was more than 20 years ago, but I think of it fondly and with a smile.

At the time, I was living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and enjoyed being close enough to hike on weekends in the park.

The snowy day hike I’m remembering was on a week day – a “snow day” for the Oak, Ridge Schools. I was teaching at Oak Ridge High School, and my teaching buddy Naida Finane and I decided to use the snow day as an opportunity to hike in the Smokies. Naida and I both taught high school English. She was the literary magazine adviser, and I was the newspaper and yearbook adviser. We had no shortage of papers and articles to review.

But the snow was beautiful and the paper grading would always be there, we agreed,  so we decided to drive to the Smokies to hike. Of course, we were having a school “snow day” because of hazardous driving conditions, but we set forth. I can’t remember if Naida drove because she had a four-wheel-drive car or she had more driving bravado. We took my snow shovel – just in case.

icicles in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Icicles that formed along a hillside in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We arrived at the Alum Cave Trail parking lot and found the cars of quite a few other hikers.

I remember how inspiring and tranquil it was to be on the trail. All was so quiet and still – unlike that same trail at other times of the year when you’d hear birds chirping, the creek rushing, and might pass dozens of other hikers.

Others had been on the trail before us, as we found the snow on the trail packed down with booted footprints. But we had the trail to ourselves. We didn’t see any other hikers.

Surrounding the trail were the trees and rhododendron bushes covered with smooth snow, like icing on a cake. We talked occasionally about how beautiful the scene was but mainly we hiked quietly. We were in tune with the quietness of Nature. I’d say we were in the mindfulness provided by the snow-covered forest — although mindfulness wasn’t a common term 20 years ago.

About a mile into the hike, we heard a shouted curse. A few minutes later, we heard another.

Naida and I said we couldn’t believe that hikers were yelling curses in such a beautiful and tranquil setting. And as we continued hiking, we heard more cursing.

Then a few minutes later, we knew why.

We reached a rocky section of the trail near Arch Rock. This is a section of the trail that is very slippery when it rains and that back then had a slanted angle (that was before the Trails Forever crew’s restoration work of the trail leveled that section).

Suddenly, Naida slipped on ice. She fell hard on the rocky trail – and she cursed, loudly.

“Now we understand all the cursing we’ve heard,” she said. I helped her get up — without loosing my own footing — and we briefly discussed the many other hikers we’d heard previously who had lost their footing on the icy trail.

Fortunately, Naida didn’t have any broken bones or sprains. We continued on but cautiously, scanning the trail for sections where ice could be below the soft snow. I don’t think we hiked as far as we had planned, but the hike we had together has stayed with me.

We arrived at school the next day not having caught up on our grading as other teachers had. But we had a great story to share of our hiking in the snow on a snow day. And we had that inner peace you can have from spending a day in nature. I wouldn’t have remembered the day if I had spent it grading papers, but I do remember it because Naida and I went hiking in the snow.

[Naida passed away six years ago. Those of us who knew Naida miss her. I know if she were reading this post she’d tell me that we should have gone hiking more often.] 

2 comments

  1. Nadia would have gladly gone hiking more often, and she would have relished this post. You described her bravado well and included your own understatement in response which I loved. The descriptions of the snowy scenes make me yearn to go up there again. Kay

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    1. Kay – I appreciate hearing your response, including that Naida would have enjoyed the post. So value the hiking that you and I have done over the years — West Prong Trail, Hen Wallow Falls, Little River Trail and more! – Julie

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