Southern snow days are a rarity that I try to make the most out of. This year though, the first snows of the year fell while I was working in Los Angeles, and if there is any place further than the south both literally and figuratively, it’s definitely L.A. Not only was it depressing to have so much pollution that I couldn’t see further than a quarter mile, but my only chance of seeing snow on the ground this year seemed to be slipping away. I came back home in time to see just a few patches of snow hiding in the shade and then have a light dusting of snow a few days later. I just didn’t have enough snow in my system so I decided to head to Linville for a few days to stay at a friend’s cabin with the family.
I’m not sure if my need for snow is because my entire life has been filled with stories of my family living up in Ohio on the Lake, or if it’s because it’s the opposite of my entire existence in South Carolina. All I know is that I dream of spending at least one winter living in the deep woods of northern Maine, working a trap line, tending to a cabin, and exploring a world covered in white…basically every Jack London novel. While it wasn’t as rugged as my imagination would have liked or just down the road from Nowhere, the small cabin we stayed at had just enough room for the Shooks and a great view of Grandfather Mountain which is all we needed.
As I left work Friday night and fought traffic, I realized that Linville is always farther away in my head than in reality. Once I got past the traffic required to get on 321, it was smooth sailing and only took a bit over 2 hours after leaving Rock Hill. Those 2 hours sparked a bit of a “loving discussion” between my wife and I. She has a medical condition known as vehicular narcolepsy so when she pulled out her pillow and stopped talking I assumed she was in one of her usual driving comas. Once in a coma, I turned on the music I downloaded earlier that day (4 albums of Old Crow Medicine Show!) and started driving like I usually do on mountain roads. Apparently, my wife had never fallen asleep and I found this out when she muttered something about my “horrible music” and “awful driving”. I tried to correct her, explaining the subtleties of bluegrass and the benefits to not using brakes when driving mountain roads but she would have none of either. Before any feelings were hurt, we thankfully arrived at the cabin, greeted by my parents and siblings who were excited to show us around the following day since we barely saw anything in the dark.
The next morning, I woke up and finally got a look around without the pitch black of night hiding the landscape. A good 6” of snow was still on the ground and Grandfather Mountain was visible through the front windows covered in ice and snow. The first order of business was to go and find a proper sled, and a trip down the road to Banner Elk’s hardware store got us a large sled at a very fair price. A quick stop at the Mason Jar Café on the way back proved to me that Italian women from New Jersey can do collards as good as any I’ve ever had, and then we were back at the cabin for our main goal of the weekend: some off trail sledding.
I have a long history of off trail sledding; once, on a trip to Snowshoe, I avoided the ski slopes entirely but instead found an extremely steep drainage ditch nearly a quarter mile long. It was the best fun in the world until I strayed too close to the edge on a run and clipped a rock with my hip. After careening down the hill, I had the joy of walking the steep hill up while blood dripped down the inside of my snow pants. I bring this up to highlight the fact that after several vanilla runs down a small hill, I get in the mood for something more adventurous.
Building a proper sledding run in the south depends on a few things. First, you have the quality of the snow; you need several inches of depth of snow that packs well enough that you can get a good track made that will hold up to consecutive sledding runs. Next, you need the heaviest person to go down first and make sure that the snow is compressed on the first run and you won’t skid and divot your track on the return trips. Finally, you need to make sure that when walking back up the hill you do not walk in the track; walk to the side, otherwise you’ll ruin the run since we rarely have more than 3-4” of snow to work with and your boots will quickly go straight to the grass underneath.
After a few runs on some smaller hills, my adventurous siblings decided for all 3 of us to pile into the sled and go down a steep new hill that we hadn’t tried yet. Logic told us that if all of us went at the same time it would pack the snow spectacularly and we’d have a great time. The first part went great, and then we realized we’d reached a point where with a bit of a lean, we could carve down and get a longer run down another section of the hill. We took the turn perfectly, but quickly realized there was a giant tree branch overhanging the trail. We screamed “DOWN!” and all laid back as far as we could and slid under the tree and finally slid to a stop in a small patch of tall weeds. After a minute of catching our breath, we decided that our sledding day was done and went in for dinner, the next day’s activities to be a bit calmer with a hike on the Parkway.
The next day the Shook men decided, since the Parkway was closed and snow was still on the ground (but melting fast since it was now above freezing), that hiking up the mile and a half of snow covered Blue Ridge Parkway from Grandfather Mountain to the Linn Cove Viaduct sounded like a good afternoon. Most of the parkway shuts down to vehicle traffic anytime it snows, but that just means you have a large, well maintained hiking/skiing trail to follow. It’s a great way to take quiet hikes to places that typically have cars flying past and motorcycles rumbling behind.
We parked the car at the locked gate and started hiking uphill when I noticed enormous dog tracks in the snow. I figured someone had decided to take their great dane for a walk and thought nothing of it. It had been cold long enough for giant icicles to have formed on the rocks, and the small waterfalls to have frozen over. A thick blanket of fog gave way to clear skies and beautiful views as we made our way up to the viaduct.
The Linn Cove Viaduct was the final portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed in 1987, and at 10 million dollars was one of the most expensive portions of the entire road. It is a 1247’ segmented concrete bridge that follows the contours of Grandfather Mountain to not damage the mountainside. If you’ve ever picked up a post card of the Blue Ridge Parkway that shows a road snaking around the side of the mountain, it’s probably the Linn Cove Viaduct. And after hiking to it, I can say not only is it an engineering feat but it’s also got some of the best views around.
The biggest surprise though was halfway to the Viaduct we came across what made that enormous paw print. 2 hikers were coming down towards us and I saw they were walking what looked like a miniature polar bear. To the side, I noticed a second, smaller polar bear and then a third. Across the road, what looked like a wolf was coming towards us with what looked like a wolf polar bear hybrid behind him. As the pack of dogs drew near, the hikers yelled that they were friendly so my fears of being eaten alive lessened, and when the miniature polar bear came up and started licking my hand it went away completely. The white ones were Samoyeds, the wolf really was a full blooded timber wolf, and the mutt was a wolf/Samoyed hybrid. Seeing a wolf pack of sorts definitely wasn’t on my list of expectations but was a great bonus.
Snow, great views, dangerous sledding, and wolf packs…I don’t think I could ask for anything more out of a Southern Snow. All of that said, I’m ready for spring like everybody else; my kayak isn’t that great of an iceberg crusher.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.