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Bear Pen Hollow with a bit of snow November 10, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: ,
Tackling a rock outcrop.

Tackling a rock outcrop. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Mt. LeConte got blasted by a snowstorm October 31 to November 1. The official measure of snow depth on the summit was 22 inches. Many of the surrounding areas received much less snow. For instance, where I live in Sylva, NC, just southeast of the Smokies, we only got a dusting.

My hiking buddy Clayton and I had plans to climb LeConte via Bear Pen Hollow on November 9. I studied the long-term forecast and saw there would be a lot of subfreezing temperatures at night time in the period leading up to that. Also, the forecast called for a chance of showers the night before our hike, and rain showers would be snow showers at the higher elevations. That meant the Newfound Gap Road might be closed when we wanted to start our hike.

As it turned out, the weather on Friday eliminated most of the snow. It was warm and rainy all day. I’ve learned that rain gets rid of snow even faster than sunshine. And, as we got closer to the 9th, the forecast changed from chance of showers to zero chance of precipitation. So there would be no problem with the road being closed.

So many times I’ve heard about people underestimating the conditions. In the past week there were three occasions when people got into trouble. The first involved a pair of backpackers aiming for the LeConte shelter the night of the storm who were wearing blue jeans and had no clothing suitable for the weather. The LeConte Lodge crew had to go out and help them. The second was a family going up the Bullhead trail who found themselves struggling through hip-deep drifts. The third was a guy on the Alum Cave Trail who slipped on ice and broke his ankle.

So I said to Clayton, “You have to get Microspikes! The road might be closed! The conditions are going to be messy with thawing and re-freezing!”  Turned out I was wrong on all counts. There was very little snow, it was a beautiful day, and Microspikes weren’t needed. But I’d rather be overprepared than underprepared.

I’ve done Bear Pen Hollow by several different routes, and it’s easiest to head up to the ridge on the right side of the creek. But I led us up to the ridge a little bit too low down. Well, as a result we got to climb a nifty rock outcrop that I’d never been on before (see photo at top).

There were patches of snow on the ground that made it a little bit harder to see the herd path where people had gone before.


Snow on the ridge.

Snow on the ridge.

We got up to an opening on the ridge with views over to Cliff Top.

What a day! You can see every shadow etched out clearly.

What a day! You can see every shadow etched out clearly.

There is one spot on the ridge where you have to do an awkward little jump-down. Well, we bypassed that, not really intentionally. Due to the snow and a blowdown on the ridgecrest, we dropped down just to the right and climbed up along the base of a big block of Anakeesta. By the time we got back up to the crest, we were past that tricky spot. From there it was a short climb to the top of West Point.

As we made that climb, I slipped on a patch of snow and my knee popped out of joint. That had been a big problem for me a couple of years ago, but after physical therapy the issue seemed to be resolved. Well, I still think it’s not going to get in the way of my hiking activities. At least, I hope not.

We’d planned on going down  Big Duck Hawk, but with my knee problem we opted to take Alum  Cave Trail all the way down. But first we went up to the Lodge, and we had great views from the porch in back of the dining hall. It was a good day.

View from the back porch of the dining hall.

View from the back porch of the dining hall.




1. Kent Hackendy - November 10, 2014

Bummer about your knee, Jenny. I’ll send some healing thoughts your way. I hope it’s not too painful. : (

Jenny - November 10, 2014

Thanks, Kent. It’s not painful, just really stiff. It’ll be okay in a few days.

2. Jarrett - November 10, 2014

I love the LeConte area. I’ve only been once and of course it happened to snow on the hike. Anyways great trip report and I hope the knee feels better soon.

Jenny - November 10, 2014

Thank you, Jarrett!

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