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568 Trillium Gap Trail 2012-01-30

ice along the Trillium Trail

Ice on the Trillium Gap Trail

Over the weekend Amy, Jake (the dog) and I visited our daughter, Rose, in Knoxville for the weekend. Naturally, no visit to Knoxville would be complete without a short drive to the Smokies.

Over the last couple of years we have been slowly completing the trails of Mount LeConte. We had one left and wanted to fill in the blank section on the cloudhiking.com's map. Saturday morning we were up early to visit LeConte via the Trillium Gap Trail. It was the usual, crazy drive though Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg as we traveled to our destination. The commercialism of the area left us numb from tourist overload.

We drove to the Rainbow Falls, Cherokee Orchard, Trailhead to start our adventure. Our plan was to hike from the trailhead for 2.4 miles to the Trillium Trailhead, then take the Trillium Gap Trail up LeConte and down the Rainbow Falls Trail to return to the vehicle. It was going to be a full day of hiking.

At 0745 we started on the hike. A connector trail leaves the Rainbow Falls Trail near the trailhead. On the National Geographic maps, the trail is indicated by a straight line. Well, the trail was definitely not straight. The trail followed the curvy road. At times, the trail was as close as a hundred feet from the road and at other times the road was out of sight from the trail; but it was constantly weaving in and out of the coves. We were early in the day and did not see any cars on the road. The 2.4 mile trail was a quick walk. The trail had few attractions, it was basically just a walk in the woods.

The connector trail joins the Trillium Trail, .2 miles from the Trillium Trailhead. We continued along for 1.4 miles to Grotto Falls. This was our first visit to the falls. The hike from Trillium Trailhead was short and the falls was worth the effort. The trail actually goes behind the falls!


Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls

Continuing to contour around ridges, the trail finally reached Trillium Gap at about 4700 feet elevation. We still had almost two thousand feet still to climb. Leaving the gap, it was amazing how much colder it seemed to be with each step we took toward the summit. Soon we were adding layers of clothes as snow began to appear on the sides of the trail. By the time we reached 5,800 feet we were in the clouds and walking on an icy trail. We had to concentrate on every foot placement.

Finally, we saw a horse hitching area (through the fog), crossed a bridge, and then we were at the Mount LeConte Lodge. Our plan was to hike to the trail's end at the Lodge, then, if we had good weather we would go to Cliff Top or Myrtle Point for lunch and then descend. Unfortunately, we had rotten weather. We found ourselves sitting on our pads outside the two-stall outhouse for our lunch, Subway sandwiches, as we used the human waste collectors as wind blocks.

Though we had donned all of our extra insulating layers, we were still cold. Cold to the bone. Amy did not even finish her sandwich when we decided we needed to start walking again.

We did not go to the summit, we just headed down the Bull Head Trail to the Rainbow Trail Junction, and then headed down hill as quickly as possible. Unfortunately our pace was not very fast because of the ice. We were still very cold, especially our hands. We tried every trick possible to warm our freezing hands, but nothing really worked, but one. The lower in elevation that we hiked, the warmer our hands were. It was that simple. We descended as fast as possible.

Why were we so cold: we had dressed for thirty degree weather and it was colder.

Further down the Rainbow Falls Trail, we met hikers - lots of hikers. Well, we met lots of people, some were hikers and some were just walking on a trail - as they seemed to know little about hiking. I am not trying to be a hiking snob but some of these folks seemed afraid to get their polished boots dirty, while others were wearing dresses!

Just past the falls, we took off our last insulating layers, it was warm once again.

We completed our hike at 1545, eight hours after we started. Over the course of the sixteen mile hike we were constantly adapting to the weather as we changed layers again and again. Overall, it was a good day.

We returned to Knoxville through Townsend and Maryville. We had already had all of Pigeon Forge that we could handle. Soon we were back with Rose and Jake, spending a great evening with them. Rose and her friend, Lindsey, were wonderful hosts. Maybe on our next visit we can do a good hike or adventure together.

Happy Trillium trails.

Trillium Gap Trail notes


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