Virgin Falls & Mt. LeConte with Rudy Azim

Virgin Falls & Mt. LeConte with Rudy Azim

Mt LeConte & Virgin Falls Reprised

Rudy Azim Rawcliffe comes to Tennessee

Virgin Falls, 10 miles; Mt LeConte, 20 miles

February 14, 2016

Wes Chapman

Ice on falls

Ice on Trial to Virgin Falls

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

Big Laurel Falls

20160211_Icy Damocles

Icy Sword of Damocles

Virgin Falls

Virgin Falls

Rudy at sheep cave falls

Rudy at Sheep Cave Falls

worm tracks

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.

Virgin debauches

Resurgent water from tubular springs flows into Virgin Falls


Stairway up to Martha’s Pretty Point

Fine grained shale

Capstone of the Plateau

Martha's Pretty Point

Martha’s Pretty Point

20160211_Martha's View

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.

Road Closed

Rudy Azim preparing for a long walk

Rudy at Lower Falls

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 bridge

Snow covered foot bridge

Snowy Trail to Summit

Snowy trail to the summit

Rudy at the top

Rudy at the LeConte Lodge

Rainbow Falls

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 Shot

Adios from Mt. LeConte


Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

5 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    February 15, 2016

    Good couple of days on the trails. And it is nice to see Rudy sporting yet another unique chapeau…


  2. Avatar
    February 15, 2016

    Glad that Martha has a pretty point and I can’t believe you made poor Rudy walk from town!


  3. Avatar
    February 15, 2016

    Thanks for the pictures.
    I talked to Rudy last week and he promised to send a report on the EPA remediation of the area across the river from us. They are spending a lot of our money every day.
    I enjoyed the items beside the report showing what you are up to.


  4. Avatar
    February 15, 2016

    Rudy is a good man with great headwear who is obviously easily led astray. At least this trip didn’t include a sleepover on Bigelow!
    Great photos.


  5. Avatar
    February 16, 2016

    I want that Taliban hat. Nice pics too.