Mt LeConte & Virgin Falls Reprised
Rudy Azim Rawcliffe comes to Tennessee
Virgin Falls, 10 miles; Mt LeConte, 20 miles
February 14, 2016
I was joined by my old friend Rudy Azim Rawcliffe for a couple of days hiking in the great state of Tennessee. Rudy is an old rock pounder (geologist) like me, so our first stop was to see the wondrous Karst topography of Virgin Falls, on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
The day was cool and clear, with a light covering of snow. We were all alone – no other cars, people or tracks (other than a couple of deer tracks we crossed during the hike). This is an easy 9-mile hike, with spectacular Karst features – falls coming out of a cave and falling into a bottomless hole, with no other surficial expression. The total vertical drop coming into the falls is around 900 feet, with most of the elevation between the car park and Big Laurel Falls – about 2 miles into the hike.
Big Laurel Falls
Icy Sword of Damocles
Rudy at Sheep Cave Falls
350 million year old worm tracks
We had lunch at Virgin Falls, and climbed up to the cave were the water flow out to the falls. After a quick trip up to Sheep Cave Falls, we headed up to Martha’s Pretty Point – an overlook above the Falls with a spectacular view over the Caney Fork and Scott’s Gulf.
Resurgent water from tubular springs flows into Virgin Falls
Stairway up to Martha’s Pretty Point
Capstone of the Plateau
Martha’s Pretty Point
Author having a rest at Martha’s Pretty Point
We exited Virgin Falls, hoping for continuation of great weather the next day for our climb up LeConte on the Boulevard Trail.
Unfortunately, the Weather Gods did not smile on us, and we awoke in Gatlinburg to a cold snow, with forecast of more to come. Adding insult to injury, we headed up the Hill to the Boulevard Trail, only to find that all roads to the mountain were closed due to snow and ice (very little either from a Maine point-of-view). Faced with no alternative other than retreat, we decided to walk up the Rainbow Falls Trail, starting from town. This extended the day from 14 to 20 miles, and added another 1,500 vertical feet to the climb.
Rudy Azim preparing for a long walk
At the Lower Falls
The weather was cool – about 25 degrees at the base, and about 10 degrees and blowing on the summit. Adding to the challenge of the day, the snow grew deeper with elevation, until we had around a foot of heavy snow with breakable crust near the summit. This made for slow going, and fairly tough trail breaking.
Snow covered foot bridge
Snowy trail to the summit
Rudy at the LeConte Lodge
Rainbow Falls – frozen nearly solid
We had an appointment in the evening to pick up Rudy’s bride at the airport – which added some anxiety to the total undertaking. We came off the summit at a dog trot, and got out just at dark. It was a bit longer day than we had anticipated, but we were untroubled by company – other than one young photographer who was camping on the summit, hoping for some sunrise shots across the fresh snow – I hope that he got them.
Adios from Mt. LeConte