Weekend update: a revised plan

Here’s the weekend dilemma: you want to get out and experience the snow, but will you be able to get there? And once you get there, can you even get in?

Morrow Mountain in snow (an earlier snow, not this one). Photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks

If your destination is Mount Mitchell State Park, the Shining Rock/Middle Prong wilderness areas, or anywhere else along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the answer to the first question is probably not. The entire Parkway, all 469 miles, is essentially closed, mostly due to snow and ice, in parts because of construction. (For the latest BRP status, go here.)

While this is bad news for trying to get to places such as Mitchell and Shining Rock, it’s great news if you happen to own a pair of cross-country skis. Parts of the Parkway are ideal for touring and there’s plenty of snow on high; read more about those cross-country options and others in the high country, here.

Otherwise, getting there shouldn’t be a big problem — provided another system moving through the state tonight and tomorrow doesn’t exceed expectations. If in doubt, check with the N.C. Department of Transportation for road conditions.

As for the “here,” let’s start with Mount Mitchell. The park is closed, the parkway leading up to it is closed. Which is a shame, because as of 8 this morning the park had about 30 inches of snow on the ground, and an ongoing winter storm warning above 3,500 feet in the area could boost that total.

Hanging Rock State Park in snow (again, not this snow ...) Photo courtesy N.C. State Parks

Several other state parks also remain closed, though their prospects for near-term openings are better. A quick roundup, based on their web sites as of 1:30 this afternoon.

  • Umstead State Park remains closed as staff works “to clear main roads and some parking with the hopes of being open for the weekend. The horse parking and gravel roads will most likely remain closed since they are saturated with melting snow and very muddy.”
  • Eno River State Park reports the Fews Ford Access at 6101 Cole Mill Road is open, but the Cole Mill, Cabelands and Pleasant Green access areas remain closed.
  • Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area remains closed.
  • Crowders Mountain State Park reports that the Sparrow Springs Visitors Center is open, but the lake parking and picnic shelters remain closed as are the Linwood Access and the Boulders Access areas. (And, again, they remind you that “If the gates are closed, it is ILLEGAL to enter the park, even if you park away from the gates. Violators are subject to citation/fine and towing of their vehicle.
  • Hanging Rock State Park is remains closed “due to significant snow and ice accumulations on park roads.” Hanging Rock hopes to reopen Saturday after noon.
  • Pilot Mountain State Park is closed, and the trail marathon/half marathon scheduled for this weekend has been rescheduled for April 12.
  • Stone Mountain State Park remains closed.

A note on exploring national forests. North Carolina’s national forests — Croatan, Nantahala, Pisgah and Uwharrie — are open 24-7. They’re open, but access can be an issue on icy and snow-packed roads. Example: Our three GetHiking! contingents — Charlotte, Triad and Triangle — were scheduled to hike the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area of the Uwharrie National Forest on Sunday. I postponed the hike largely because of the trailheads we were planning to use: one required a quarter-mile drive in on a gravel road, that would likely have snow and ice in spots, likely have slush and mud in others; the other was right off a paved two-lane, but was small and shaded, likely slick. We would have spent more time pushing cars than hiking.

If you do make it onto the trail, two thoughts:

  • Wear sturdy hiking boots with good tread at a minimum. Best case would be to bring a pair of Yaktrax or similar traction enhancement devices that slip on and off easily.

    Slip-on Yaktrax give added grip to your trail footwear.
  • Use trekking poles. Snowy, icy conditions can bring you to a crawl as you tip-toe down the trail. Trekking poles will take some of the fear out of slip-sliding away, getting you nearer your destination more quickly and in one piece.

All that said, and minus any more caveats, get out and enjoy the snow!

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