Sunday, February 14, 2010

Majesty Of An Endless Winter In The HKL


Heading 45 air miles southwest of the peak of its remnant massif of highcountry, in Lee County, Va., is a remote and little known jewel hidden amid the extended northwestern mountain flank of the High Knob Landform ( HKL ).


White Branch Waterfalls
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend & photographer Harold Jerrell, who had knee surgery to repair a severly damaged meniscus in November 2009, took a chance and made the precipitous climb up into rugged White Branch Gorge of Cumberland Mountain during February 13.

Harold knew he was taking a risk, and may should not have tried this adventure, but had been wanting to hike to the waterfalls in winter. So with cell phone in hand, to check in with his wife, he took off knowing that, "good photographs often come from harsh conditions."

White Branch Waterfalls - Feb 13, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

White Branch is a headwater tributary of the Martin Creek watershed of the Powell River.

It rises just northeast of McLin Notch, amid an elevated hollow embedded within the southeastern slopes of Cumberland Mountain of the HKL.

Looking East From Cumberland Gap
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

White Branch locally adjoins a contiguous 35,000+ acre tract of wildly majestic, rugged, cliff-laden forests extending into the backcountry of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park ( NHP ).

Included among this large track of unbroken forest is the 1,591 acre Martins Fork Wildlife Management and State Natural Area, in Harlan County, Ky., situated upon majestic Martins Fork of the Cumberland River.

[ Martins Fork of the Cumberland River not to be confused with Martin Creek of the Powell River ].

White Branch Creek of Cumberland Mtn of HKL
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

The crest of Cumberland Mountain in this area is therefore part of the Tennessee Valley Divide, with all water draining from the Kentucky side flowing into the Upper Cumberland River Basin, while all water draining from the Virginia side of the mountain, including White Branch, flows into the Upper Tennessee River Basin.

Ruggedly Bold Crest of Cumberland Mountain
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

The High Knob Landform is the largest, singular mountain landform in the southern Appalachians to contribute water to both the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins.

Central Stoneroller ( Campostoma anomalum )
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

These are the most aquatically diverse river basins on the entire North American continent. 

Striped Shiners ( Luxilus chrysocephalus )
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Deep penetration of light rays into the magical, frozen domain of White Branch Falls, allows backscattering to generate gorgeous hues of blueness amid this highly purified water. 

White Branch Blueness - February 13, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

It is very important that water quality remain high within creeks draining the great High Knob Landform and Upper Tennessee River Basin, to sustain its vast richness & rarity of limited range species ( both above & below ground )!

Crystal Clear Water - White Branch Gorge
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Reference The High Knob Landform 
for more information:


Colorful Display - Lessons From Nature
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Weathering of rugged rock outcrops adds additional color to this simply wondrous setting, as varied minerals leach outward to become frozen in icicles during marvelous moments in time.

ICE Traces Pathways of Water & Life
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Tracing the pathways of water, ice reveals the typically unseen connection between weathering earth and all living things as its frozen moments in time highlight the vital distribution of sustaining minerals, upon which all life depends! 

Rime Ice Formed From Waterfall Spray
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Amid sub-freezing air the misty spray of White Branch Falls creates a special form of rime ice, coating rocks & vegetation within pristine whiteness.

Frozen Monkey Face - February 13, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

At times amid this magical world of ice the impossible becomes possible, and extraordinary, unexplainable creations arise like this incredible Monkey Face found and captured by the great eye of Harold Jerrell. 

Now that's a WOW!

 I think everyone will agree that Harold's
trip was a gift to us all.


Majesty of Endless Winter Continues!

High Knob Highcountry Above Powell Valley - Feb 15
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Snow got deeper, and the rugged highcountry more distinct, as the latest winter storm spread a contrasting array of conditions across the great High Knob Landform during February 15.

Little Stone Mountain Gap
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Although nothing by this winter's standard, the 2-3" of morning accumulation from Norton & Wise southwest across the High Knob Massif added new decoration and contrast to the mountain landscape. 

[ A low-level SSE-S air flow initially caused some light rain to fall upon the floor of Powell Valley, which shows up in brown above, as air downsloped off the adjacent highcountry.  A shift to strong SW air flow then worked to enhance morning snowfall as air flowed upward through the High Knob Landform ].

Wallen Ridge & Little Stone Mountain Arm of HKL
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Such was the case across Lee County where valleys lying next to the Cumberland-Stone Mountain arm of the High Knob Landform ( HKL ) had all snow, in contrast to valleys adjacent to the southeast flank of the HKL ( Powell Mountain & Newman Ridge ) where downslope warming on SSE-S flow yielded little accumulation ( like occurred in Powell Valley of Wise County leeward of the massif ).

Cumberland Gap NHP Visitor Center - Feb 15
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Partial clearing amid a dry slot of air allowed blue skies and sunshine to penetrate into lower elevations of Lee County during the afternoon.

Cannon At Cumberland Gap NHP
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

This created some beautiful settings amid the majestic mountain landscape of legendary Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Old Weathered Shed - Cumberland Gap NHP
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Shorter intervals of sunshine within the highlands of southern Dickenson County, added fury to the day as strong and gusty winds created blowing snow.

Blowing Snow Across Mountain Pasture - Feb 15
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner noted...
"The morning snow and wind cross
the high pasture, holding to the tree trunks."

Blowing Snow & Clouds Appear To Meet
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Ragged clouds and blowing snow appear to merge, when looking upward toward the high ridge tops above.

[ Downsloping SW-S winds leeward of the High Knob Landform greatly reduced morning snowfall across most of northern Wise and Dickenson counties, with accumulations of 1" or less being common even up into portions of the Tennessee Valley Divide ].

Tennessee Valley Divide - Long Ridge
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner describes the above scene...
"A light snow fell and was blown by the southwestern wind. After the sun came out, we noticed snow blown from the ridge tops but still remained in sheltered areas. The ridge where the road can be seen marks the divide between the Tennessee River and the Ohio River systems. The red tank on the left is the result of a new gas well being established, and the snow covered area in the right background is a reclaimed strip mine."

[ The Cumberland-Stone Mountain arm of the HKL, as noted above, also marks the Tennessee Valley Divide, which otherwise runs adjacent to the High Knob Landform and its remnant massif of highcountry ].

Rodney Parsons showed what conditions were like on the ground, up in Cumberland Mountain, as the new winter storm dropped its first wave of fresh powder.

Rugged Terrain In Cumberland Mountain of HKL
Photograph by Rodney Parsons - © All Rights Reserved.

Although this has been a LONG winter, fresh powder always makes the mountain landscape look majestic!

Cumberland Mountain - East of Cumberland Gap
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Amid the High Knob highcountry, it was another mostly cloudy day with continued flurries and snow showers.  In fact, most every day during February has featured wintry precipitation, with the notable exception of part of Valentine's Day.

Deep Snowpack - Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif - Feb 14
Photograph by Steve Blankenbecler - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Steve Blankenbecler, of VA-KY Communications, reported that snow depths were more than 2 feet deep on northern slopes of the massif ( with variable depths across the wind blown crest of Eagle Knob ).

Deep Snowpack - Northern Slopes Benges Basin - Feb 15
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Roddy Addington documented the deep snow depths with photographs taken during the afternoon of February 15.

Deep Snowpack - North Slope of High Knob Peak
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Snow plastered to tree trunks by strong winds, is only one aspect of the incredible winter domain resting above the deep snowpack.

Snow Plastering By Horizontal Winds - High Knob
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

ICE has coated trees in many places within upper elevations of the High Knob Massif ever since the February 5-6 ice storm.

To view impacts of the February 5-6 storm reference:


Ice Coated Trees - Northern Slopes - High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The February 9-11 winter storm followed the ice storm with 14-18" of new snow and riming across upper elevations, above 3200 feet of the massif, to partially hide the ice accumulations. 

Icicles Are Widespread On Trees - High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Roddy noted...
"The trees had ice straws every where,
and they were popping every where.
Very cold!"

Winter "Ice Straws" On Trees - High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Ice straws are RIME coated icicles, which initially formed during ice storm conditions on February 5-6 as a thick layer of ice coated trees.  Elongating over time, as typical icicles do, they became covered with rime to mask their transparency ( i.e., making them appear white rather than clear ).

[ Merely another incredible aspect of this extraordinary highcountry domain that is the sprawling remnant massif of the High Knob Landform ].

Ice Straws On Leeward Side - Feb 15
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Darlene Fields measured 16.0" of new snowfall as of 9 AM February 18, 2010 in High Chaparral of High Knob ( with more at higher elevations in the massif, such as below ).

February 15, 2010
DEEP Snow in High Knob Highcountry
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Roddy Addington took this photo of his truck just after this latest winter storm started 
( with 3-4" of new ).  Since the time of this picture, 15-16" of additional snowfall has occurred ( as of 9 AM February 18 ). 

Late PM of February 17, 2010
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif 
Image by Steve Blankenbecler - © All Rights Reserved.

[ The top of the chain link fence above is 8 feet tall.  The middle bar marks the 5 foot level.  The snow depth is between 2 and 3 feet ].

Joe & Darlene Fields measured 21" of snow depth on their back deck at 9 AM February 17, with 24" measured in other places ( of course, not counting much larger drifts in the area ).

[ The Fields residence has a southern exposure ].

High Chaparral of High Knob - 2 Feet of Snow Depth
Photograph by Darlene Fields - © All Rights Reserved.

A chain link fence around the Fields home was even able to hold a significant amount of depth 
( with drifts visible in the distance ).

High Chaparral High Knob Massif - Elevation: 3300 feet
Photograph by Darlene Fields - © All Rights Reserved.

As snow continued to fall through February 17 it became a beautiful wonderland amid the lofty highcountry!

February 17, 2010
Winter Wonderland - High Chaparral of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Darlene Fields - © All Rights Reserved.

Snow depths on northern slopes of the High Knob Massif, above 3300 feet elevation, reached into the 30" to 40" range ( knee to waist deep ) during February 17-18, to match or exceed depths achieved during the great Mega-Dump storm of December 18-19, 2009.

Lost Creek of High Knob Massif - Feb 16
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

This latest winter storm has pushed 2009-10 snowfall totals into the 100" to 150" range within upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, with 105" in High Chaparral and approximately 140"        on Eagle Knob. 

Ice-Rime Capped Morris Butte - February 8, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My friends Otis & Nancy Ward of the lovely Robinson Knob community have measured 19.37" in their NWS rain gage since December 1 to show how significant winter precipitation has been in the High Knob highcountry ( that with at least 1.50" of missing moisture in just the Mega-Dump event, given the 4"-diameter rain gage could not hold but a portion of that deep fall ).

[ The above suggesting that more than 21.00" of total precipitation have accumulated within upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, above 3000 feet, since the beginning of Meteorological Winter ].


Dazzling Contrast
In Storm's Wake

February 19, 2010
Snow Laden High Knob Massif Above Powell Valley
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

One of the most incredible things I love so much about the great High Knob Landform, and it's remnant massif of highcountry, is the unreal climatic contrasts it often generates ( which I strive to relay to you on this website ).

Rime & Snow Capped - February 19, 2010
Awesome Majesty Must Be Appreciated
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Photographer Roddy Addington captured this stunning contrast, which all must realize and truly appreciate, as the floor of Powell Valley quickly lost its sparse covering of snow into afternoon hours of February 19 ( this as 2 to 3 feet of total snow depth remained far above amid the highcountry ).

[ The High Knob Landform is thus unique in its ability to generate snow shadows both leeward of itself, across surrounding regions, and internally within itself amid depths of Powell Valley ].

February 19, 2010
Grindstone Ridge Dome of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Only through realization & appreciation for what the High Knob Landform is, and represents, will we ever become complete as residents, care takers, and viewers of this most grand Appalachian landscape. 

February 19, 2010
Remnant Highcountry Mass of the High Knob Landform
Glory Of Dawn - Grindstone Dome of High Knob Massif 
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

From great subterranean depths ( very far beneath its surface ) to the highest peaks visible, this is a UNIQUE landform possessing world-class attributes ( the views are not bad either! ).

Reference the beginning of this website for a 
basic overview of these many attributes:


Look for more information on them,
and other aspects, in coming months.


No comments:

Post a Comment