Note: The original trip plan was to shuttle from Hot Springs to I-40 and do that section including Max Patch, but due to reports of two feet of snow, we decided to do a there and back on the north side of town, which was a thousand feet lower.
I arrived at the public parking area in Hot Springs a little after 9:00am on Saturday morning and Brad Fisher was already waiting in the parking lot. Trevor arrived a few minutes later and we got our gear together and headed out. We started out the chilly morning hiking north on the Appalachian Trail but we quickly warmed up as the trail begin climbing away from the city through a series of switchbacks. We stopped and talked at a couple of the overlooks along this route and enjoyed the vistas of Hot Springs and the surrounding mountains.
We passed two trail maintainers from the Carolina Mountain Club taking a break after clearing out a few blow downs near Tanyard Gap. Even with the recent snow and high winds, the trail was in remarkably good condition, no doubt due in large part to the efforts of volunteers like the ones we passed. Other than the trail maintainers, we had the trail pretty much to ourselves despite the beautiful day.
As we passed Tanyard Gap and started climbing Rich Mountain we started to encounter quite a bit of snow. By the time we got to the fire tower at the top, we were walking through nearly ten inches of powdery snow. The view from the fire tower was absolutely breathtaking as the sky was cloudless and it seemed as if you could see forever. We stopped and snacked a bit around the fire tower soaking up the views and the sun, and then we headed down to Hurricane Gap. The trail from Hurricane Gap to Spring Mountain mostly consists of a pleasant ridge walk and the leafless trees allowed great views of the surrounding mountains.
Since Tanyard Gap we had been following a set of footprints in the snow, which was surprising to me since I imagine that most of the snow had been up there for almost a week. The hiker ahead of us was staying at the shelter and we preferred to tent anyways so we went up the trail a short ways to a nice snowy flat spot to make camp for the night. Trevor had used his SpinnTwinn before but the other two of us were using our shelters for the first time, Brad Fisher had a Tarptent Moment, and I had a Tarptent Contrail as my SpinnShelter is away getting a slight repair. There was nearly ten inches of snow on the ground and underneath were several inches of ice. Even after digging as much snow away with my shoe, I was never able to hit dirt with my stake. I ended up having to burry my stakes in the snow. It wasn’t the ideal conditions for setting a shelter up for the first time, but we managed. After setting up our shelters we went off to get water and started cooking. After some problems with lighters and an esbit tablet, we all finally cooked dinner, talked for a few minutes and then got out of the cold and into the warmth of our sleep systems.
We woke up the next morning to 30* temps and started packing up camp. If I had any doubts about our stakes holding in the snow they faded quickly as we all had to chip our tent stakes out of the frozen snow and ice. That isn’t something us southerners are used to doing. We finally got all of our tent stakes out, got everything packed up, and hit the trail before 9:00am. It was another beautiful sunny day, a perfect day to be in the backcountry. Our footprints in the snow from the day before had frozen over making a few places a bit more slippery than on Saturday, but overall the footing was still decent. Once we started getting close to Hot Springs we encountered a lot of day hikers that were out enjoying the spring like weather. We got back to our cars in Hot Springs around 2:30pm, said our goodbyes and started our journeys home.
Snow on the south side of Rich Mountain
Views from Rich Mountain Fire Tower
Brad Fisher on Rich Mtn Fire Tower
Trevor Wilson on Rich Mtn Fire Tower
Deep Snow Drifts
Spring Mountain Shelter
Trevor's SpinnTwinn in the snow
Brad Fisher's Tarptent Moment in the snow
Brad Rogers' Tarptent Contrail in the snow
North side of Rich Mountain
More snow on the AT north of Hot Springs
View of the French Broad River and Hot Springs - no snow this low
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