January 17, 2014

Polar Vortex Creates Winter Wonderland

Why would anyone go hiking in the January 2014 polar vortex?  It seemed a once-in-a-lifetime chance since it hasn't been this cold in the southeastern United States for 20 years. It was also an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful winter wonderland in the Grundy Forest State Natural Area near Tracy City, Tennessee with elevations high enough to receive a beautiful dusting of snow.

It also helped there were 16 other hikers who were willing to brave the frigid cold temperatures, so misery enjoys company, right?  Actually it wasn't miserable at all if you're dressed for the temperature.  In case you're wondering what I wore, here we go from head to toe: Patagonia toboggan or beanie, ear muffs (LL Bean has some good ones), scarf to wrap around my neck and face (if necessary), UniQlo Heattech turtleneck (first layer), North Face crew neck base layer (second layer), Omni-Heat Reflective Columbia jacket, LL Bean Baxter State gloves, Cuddle Duds leggings, Champion sweat pants, two pairs of socks (SmartWool crew socks and SmartWool hiking socks), and Keen hiking boots.

The Grundy Forest State Natural Area is about an hour's drive (48 miles) north of Chattanooga. It is part of the South Cumberland Recreation area which is a group of ten separate park areas managed as a single park.  Totaling over 16,000 acres, the units are located throughout a 100-square-mile region within Grundy, Sequatchie, Franklin, and Marion counties.   Here is more information.

It was a slow paced, 3.6-mile hike which included the Grundy Forest Day Loop, Sycamore Falls, and the Dog Hole Trail. Here is a map and description of these trails.

Even in the snow, the first mile was very easy terrain since it traverses the flat plateau top.

At 1.3 miles, a bridge will take you across Little Fiery Gizzard Creek.

Crossing the bridge takes you to the the main Fiery Gizzard Trail, Sycamore Falls, and the Dog Hole Trail.

Little Fiery Gizzard Creek

The Little and Big Fiery Gizzard Creeks merge and cut a cascade which is known as the Black Canyon because of the organic stain on the rocks. 

More of the Black Canyon
Sycamore Falls 

(Photograph courtesy of John Rowland)
Because of the millions of rocks, the Fiery Gizzard Trail is one of the most rugged and difficult trails in Tennessee.

There are several legends surrounding the Fiery Gizzard name.  One legend includes Davy Crockett and a turkey gizzard.  I'll let you be the judge based on the various legends discussed here.

Blue Hole Falls 

After venturing off on the Fiery Gizzard Trail to Sycamore Falls and the Dog Hole Trail, it was back to the Grundy Forest Day Loop with the final stunning scenery of the day at Blue Hole Falls.  

Before the next winter wonderland hike, I plan to purchase Anti-Slip Ice Snow Crampon Cleats and Silicone Rubber Shoe Covers (pictured below) so I can "Keep On Hiking." 


  1. Freezing weather creates many photo ops.

    1. Yes it does, Don! Thank you for reading my blog.

  2. That's a great hike any time of the year. But especially in a little snow with the expected abundance of icicles associated with that kind of cold weather, it becomes a truly magical place! And you got some great pictures yourself!

    1. Thank you John for leading this hike. It was a special day and Papa Ron's was great too. Looking forward to Gregory Bald!!