Interesting weather on Breakneck Ridge May 16, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Meteorology, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Big Pool, Breakneck Ridge, Hyatt Ridge, McGee Springs, Raven Fork, Three Forks
I woke up this morning to cool, clear, radiant skies. By 12:30 today, I was walking through sleet.
I didn’t know the weather would get so fantastically complicated. The forecast called for clouds to develop later in the day and for possible showers overnight into tomorrow. To me, it looked like a great day for a hike.
I decided to take the Breakneck Ridge manway from Hyatt Ridge down to Three Forks, the place where the Left, Middle, and Right Forks of Raven Fork join and form the famous Big Pool. When I got down to the pool, I’d decide whether to retrace my steps or follow Right Fork around to a tributary that leads up to McGee Springs.
As it turned out, I made it about a third of the way on the manway before I decided to turn around because of the weather.
The temperature was 43 degrees at the Beech Gap trailhead on Straight Fork Road. Chilly! But the sun shone brightly and everything looked fresh and green.
Only a half hour passed before clouds dotted the sky. I’ve been trying to do a better job of understanding weather, and I said to myself, “Looks like those puffy convection clouds that form on clear spring days. It’s not a front coming in.”
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It was neither (a) convection nor (b) a front coming in but (c) an upper-level disturbance associated with a short-wave trough (according to the “Scientific Forecaster Discussion” on my weather website).
Cold, gusty winds hit me when I reached Hyatt Ridge. I’d guess it was in the upper 30s. I turned north on the trail and before long came to the eastern terminus of the manway. There are three ways you can find it: pay attention to the shape of the ridge, look for a landmark sugar maple, or find the piece of pink surveyor’s tape.
I didn’t need the tape to find the start of the manway, but it became helpful as I went along, especially since I’d never been on Breakneck Ridge before. I’m not crazy about surveyor’s tape, and I’ve been known to take it down in certain places, but this manway seems like the kind of place where tape is useful and appropriate. It helped that the pieces of tape were short and unobtrusive, unlike the long streamers you see sometimes.
I found three vintages of tape: a faded pink, a newer pink, and a blue. In places the manway was close to invisible.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of hog damage at the eastern end of the manway. I spotted a pair of the critters. They gave me a loud snort and trotted away.
The sky was getting quite dark.
A shower came through. It lasted about five minutes. But at that point I decided to turn around. The weather had changed so quickly that I figured anything could happen—including a hypothermia-inducing downpour. Reluctantly I retraced my steps.
Even with the fluctuating skies, I enjoyed being up in the enchanted forest above 5000′ in a very wild part of the Smokies, full of moss and gnarly old spruce and all kinds of thriving green plants.
Light showers came and went, as if individual clouds were spattering moisture and moving on. I got back to the Hyatt Ridge trail, walked down to the Beech Gap trail, and heard a strange seething noise unlike rain. It was sleet pattering down on the leafed-out trees.
At lower elevations, it turned back to intermittent rain. When I got back home, I learned that LeConte received a dusting of snow.
It was a beautiful day, even though it didn’t turn out the way I expected. I’ll be back to continue my exploration of Breakneck Ridge.