Rarely can one go hiking and hike to a destination in winter but return in spring. No, I'm not talking about the technicalities of when the calendar says the season has changed, but rather a snowfall so beautiful, so magical, and yet so fleeting, that if it weren't for the pictures I probably would assume the whole experience was just a pleasant dream.
Hiking in the Smokies is never a guarantee, and in fact, I was not sure on this trip if we would be able to access our preferred trailhead. Upon discovering the road open we were all excited. When I found undisturbed snow on the trail, I was ecstatic. Being the first person through the woods after a fresh snowfall is something I would like to do more often, especially on popular hikes where you will rarely find the trail completely devoid of strangers.
Our goal on this day was Ramsey Cascade. On the previous trip, my friend had a near death experience that could have been a lot worse than it really was. This time we were hoping for less wind and a safe journey. The trail ascends through the forest, never far from the nearby Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River. At times you can see the stream while at others the trail is high on the hillside above the gorge and the water below is camouflaged behind layers of Smoky Mountain forest.
Before leaving our van, I happened to glance in the side door window and saw a reflection of the magical wintry forest around me.
Heading on up the trail brought deepening snow yet never too much for pleasant hiking. The sun started rising above the steep ridges and at times peeked through the trees, the snow sparkling as the sun's rays touched it for the first time.
We made good time and even stopped long enough to find the exact same log that hit my friend last April. We jokingly took a couple of pictures, recalled how thankful we should be, and continued on our way.
Moving higher through the forest, we found the banks of streams cloaked under the new snowfall. Further up the stream, the sun was now striking the canopy and its blinding light added a bit of mystery to our pictures.
Finally, we reached our destination. Cold air was still rushing down the gorge and we quickly started to feel the chill. Standing around after a brisk hike in cold air makes everything seem colder than it really is. Accordingly we began the return trek much sooner than we would during warmer seasons.
Moving back down the mountain was interesting. The snow was now in full melting mode, both falling off the trees (and usually down the back of my neck) and vanishing from the surface of the forest floor. By the time we made it back down the Middle Prong proper, only a dusting remained on the shady side of the stream.
Everyone made it back in good time and even better spirits. We were amazed at our good fortune to hike in such a beautiful place at just the right time!