Tuesday, March 19, 2013

While doing the write up for Ramsey Cascades it occurred to me that I had left out my hike to Rainbow Falls a few weeks ago. I had a frustrating time finding a place to hike that day because my first and second options for hiking were closed due to flood damage, but the old saying stands true, the third times the charm. Rainbow Falls trail head is off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and like all trails in the Smokies, immensely popular. I got to the parking lot around noon due to my crisscrossing Gatlinburg and found the parking lot to be full, but I found an overflow parking lot just up the road and the walk back to the trail head stretched my legs before starting up the mountain. Since it wasn't my original choice I knew nothing of elevation gain, distance, or difficulty, I just knew there was a waterfall up there somewhere.
Strolling through the Smokies
First foot bridge and the snow piling up.
Large old pine tree at around the two mile mark.

The weather was nice that day and the sun was starting to light up the trail as I journeyed up the mountain. At about the half mile mark, I started seeing snow along the trail as I was gaining elevation. The climb was constant and the snow started mounting quickly. The trail was also rocky and ice accumulation along the way made for slippery footing. I was having a good time considering how frustrated I had been earlier, and hiking by myself always helps me clear my thoughts and forget about the stresses of life. I eventually came to a switchback that took the trail toward an adjacent ridge and the roar of water, I thought I was getting close to the falls so I hurried toward the sound. As I rounded a bend, I seen a nice footbridge crossing the creek but no waterfall. I took a break here, I had broke a good sweat and I could see down the valley back to the cabins and hotels in Gatlinburg. As I was I resting, a young couple hiked up the trail toward me and also joined me on my break. They were from Maryland and had also had a change in hiking plans that day due to the floods. We continued up the trail and started seeing some huge old pine trees. I asked them to photo me next to one of the biggest and my pace eventually left them out of sight. I measured the snow with my hiking stick and it was at least six inches or more and all the laurel was bowed by it's weight.
Rainbow Falls
Lots of snow and ice around the falls

At over two miles in, I found myself at the second foot bridge and as I wound up the left side of the stream I just crossed I could see Rainbow Falls ahead and another foot bridge crossing just below the falls. The flow was unimpressive but the snow made for some unique photos. The drop of the falls had formed a large blue ice mound at it's base and even though signs warned not to climb on the rocks I continued on for better views and photos. I found a large rock and pushed the snow off so I could take a break. The trail continued on up the mountain and as I would find out later continued on to Mount LeConte.
Deep snow hiking back out.
Second foot bridge on the trail.
muddy trail after losing some elevation
Down the valley toward Gatlinburg.

The hike out was extremely difficult, the snow was slick and several times I almost found myself on my backside. There was a lot of people heading up the trail which was kind of alarming considering it was 3pm and only three hours of daylight was guaranteed. I thought of the other Rainbow Falls in North Carolina and how many waterfalls share the same name that I've hiked to. The most common waterfall name by far is Laurel Falls, I can think of eight waterfalls with that name alone. My legs were tired when I got back to the truck so I pulled up the GPS stats on the hike. It was a 5.6 mile hike with almost 1700ft elevation gain and an average of almost 700ft a mile. If I had continued on to LeConte it was still another four miles and 2200 more feet of elevation! If I had got to the trail head earlier, I probably would have went on to the summit but there's always next time. Enjoy the photos and happy trails!

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