WHEN THE WEATHERMAN BLOWS THE FORECAST (AKA OUR EPIC VENTURE TO LONG BRANCH SHELTER)

It is sunny when we leave Atlanta and the forecast is for temperatures in the 50’s in nearby Franklin, N.C. But as we drive the 2 1/2 hours north to the Appalachian Trail we spot a line of clouds and a cold front pushing in from the Northwest.

The Coming Storm

Mobile checks at the Weather Channel has the forecast in constant flux – and deteriorating quickly. The light rain projected to hit in the late afternoon arrives as snow and a winter advisory is issued for North Georgia and Western N.C.

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But we press on and take the Long Branch Trail two miles and 800 feet up to the ridgeline and the Appalachian Trail at Glassmine Gap.

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Fortunately we have heard rumors of a new shelter in this area but the two-story structure is not yet marked on my A.T. map or in my guidebook. In fact, there is very little information on the Internet about the shelter – so we send search parties in both directions and run in to a dayhiker who confirms the location at the headwaters of Long Branch. We continue hiking southbound on the A.T. for about 20 minutes in a driving snow….

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… and there it is, a welcome site and much prefered to tent camping in a snowstorm.

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Thanks to all those hardworking volunteers who built such a great structure. It would have been a long night without it. We have some beverages, gather water & firewood, then settle in for the night. Even the dog is happy to be out of the blizzard.

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And the snow continues in to the night …. and following morning. By daybreak we have 8 1/2 inches of snow on the ground – and it is still falling.

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But it does make for some great pictures – especially when it stops and the sun occasionally breaks through the cloud cover.

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Tom hung like a champ after slipping on some ice and dislocating his shoulder. He got it back in the socket and managed to hike out with a full backpack – but it’s off to the ER when he gets back to Atlanta.

Tom with a bum wing!

And Boone Dawg really enjoyed his first snow hike. The taste of snow had him perplexed for a bit, but he quickly mastered the art of catching a snowball in the air.

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By the time we reach Standing Indian Campground, the storm has moved on and we focus on getting to US 64 via some heavily snow covered roads – in low gear I might add.

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Once we reach US 64, the roads are clear and it’s a dramatically different driving experience. Brett snaps this picture of ice near Winding Stair Gap. Ice climbers were working the walls in the snow storm the previous day, but the skies are now blue and they have moved on.

Icy walls near Winding Stair Gap on US 64

In summary .. a great trip – even if the weatherman did blow the forecast! The storm definitely added to the experience.


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