They Don’t Call ‘Em Smoky for Nothin’ | Our Mt. LeConte Hike

I climbed a mountain today.  No, this is not an allegory.

This week, one of my co-workers was kind enough to show me some of his hiking pictures from the Smokies.  His love  for the history and beauty of this area was apparent.  That, combined with an amazing weather forecast and good feelings from our last hike, had me itching for another hike.

Jordan and I went with a couple friends toward the Smokies without any real hike picked out.  We were looking for something maybe around 6 miles or so, but we were also considering the Alum Caves Trail, though it’s only four miles round trip.  We stopped by the visitor center to ask for any nearby hike suggestions to up our mileage for the day just a little bit.  A park employee suggested the Chimney Tops trail, but we hiked the Chimney Tops not too long ago and were looking for something we hadn’t done yet.  She then suggested just continuing on Alum Cave Trail all the way up to the summit of Mt. LeConte.

Mt. LeConte is the third highest peak in the park, and the sixth highest east of the Mississippi (of course, you and I both realize that being the sixth highest east of the Mississippi isn’t necessarily saying much).  Still, I’d been wanting to hike LeConte, but since the trip is just over 10 miles round trip, I thought I would save it for a day when I was more prepared (mentally and physically) or split the trip by camping at the top.  But….plans change.  I was hesitant, knowing that I’d never hiked 10 miles in one day before, but being the only girl of the group, I felt like I should give it a shot without voicing too much concern.  We decided to see how far we could go and turn around whenever we deemed it necessary.

So off we were.  When we started, the fog was quite thick and dramatic.

We walked along the river for maybe about a mile or so.  As we parted from the river, we crossed under Arch Rock.

The fog hung around even as we reach Alum “Cave,” our initial destination.  Alum Cave is actually a rock formation that provides shelter, not actually a cave by definition.  And you know, I’m not really picky, so I’ll take a really cool rock formation too.

We stopped for a granola/water break.  I also claimed to be stopping “to ponder life,” which was partially true.  You can’t help but feel small and very mortal while resting under a rock formation of this size.

As I said, we continued on past the “cave” toward the summit.  The view from the bluffs was initially fruitless, since the fog robbed us of the views.  But as we marched toward the top, the mists began to clear and we were finding amazing views along the way.

The path was pretty rocky, but seemed well-maintained.  When the drops off the side of the path were sheer, there were cables available to grab a hold of.

The higher we climbed, the better the view.  These mountains were actually smoky.

Eventually, we reached the lodge area at the top of Mt. LeConte.  It took us about 2h45m.  Decent, I thought.  Considering my nerves about the trip.

For a (too high) price, you can sleep overnight in a small, rustic cabin at the top of the mountain.  Or….you can refill your water bottles and use the picnic tables to play cards (while letting the sun dry the sweat from your shirt :S).

I know, I look rough, but I did just hike five miles uphill, so cut me some slack.

Once we had enough of the cards, and our trail mix supplies had dwindled, we headed over to a viewpoint.  It was breathtaking.  Truly.  Sometimes I start to take GSMNP for granted, but this spot reminded me of the beauty of the park.

My buff (the purple headband thing) has been getting so much use lately.  I love it so much though.  It’s great for moisture-wicking (read “keeping the sweat from getting into my eyes and making any leftover mascara run”) as well as sun protection.  No matter how hard I try, I can never get sunscreen in my hairline or keep my part from burning without it.  It needs a good wash after today though.  Eew.

Our descent took just under 2 hours and obviously provided much less of a cardiovascular challenge.  Since the fog had partially lifted, we were able to see the rock formation more clearly on the way down.  Water dripped from the top, and we stood grabbing for drops for a bit.

We reached the end, I cleaned the mud off of my calves, and we voted on where to grab some grub.  Any guesses?  We headed back to Taste of India, where the wait staff now referred to us as “regulars.”  There’s really nothing better than frequent water refills, garlic naan, and twenty hearty, tasty vegetarian meal options after a long hike.

Last week, Ramsey Cascades was my favorite hike in the Smokies.  Today, it is Mt. LeConte.  The ten miles didn’t seem so long when distracted by the views provided by the decent-sized mountain.  Any good hike should remind you of how amazing, curious, and big our planet (and its maker) is.  While I loved this hike, I look forward to trying to find another to top it.

Ramsay Cascades Hike | GSMNP

We were granted amazing weather again today.  And we had an urge to take advantage of it.

Jordan and I, along with his friend from work, headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I really should start keeping a list of the hikes we have done there, as well as the time of year they are done.  Hmmm…think I’ll start that tonight.

Today, we knocked off the Ramsay Cascades Trail.  The trailhead is located near Gatlinburg, TN, so the ride there wasn’t too long.  The Ramsay Cascades waterfall is the largest in the Smokies, at about 100 feet.  Obviously, not a sheer drop, thus the “cascades” in the name.  From the trailhead, hikers must travel four miles (making for 8 miles round trip), gaining just under 2400 ft in elevation, to reach the waterfall.  The first mile and a half of the trail are pretty easy, and then the trail becomes a bit more moderate, with some (wet) rock scrambling.

Since the area has seen plenty of rain and/or snow in the past week, the trail was quite muddy, and even washed out in one place (though it was relatively easy to find a way around this short patch).  Due to the moisture, moss and rhododendron abound, making for a good amount of green to please my eye.

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to trees and their root systems.  Not only the science of them, but the aesthetic appeal of them as well.

And since our hike at Congaree National Park, I’ve been on the lookout for big trees.  And this was a big one.  Naturally, I wanted a pic by it.

Anyone out there in the blogosphere know where the biggest tree in the GSMNP is?

The majority of the trail winds alongside the river, creating for some great shots and neat bridges.  Jordan and I have been having fun playing around with our shutter speeds on the Nikon.  Maybe we ought to take a nature photography class.  Could be fun.

 

After four miles to the top (which took us about 2 hours, 20 minutes with a few stops for photos and quick water breaks), we found only a few other hikers at the fall.  

They were nice enough to snap a group photo for us (always offer to take a group photo for others first if you don’t want to feel guilty about asking :)).

The water roared loudly, and the breeze at this spot combined with the mist of the waterfall made for some chills.  But we were lucky enough to enjoy the view by ourselves for maybe fifteen minutes before we decided to head back.  We took some more photos and refueled on granola bars and trail mix.

Almost looks a little fake with that glow, huh?

A bit of refueling/shivering going on here:

The four miles back to the bottom went much quicker, taking a little over an hour and a half.  We noticed that some other hikers had some fun with the snow on their way up.

Jordan had a couple ankle rolls about halfway down, but toughed it out to the bottom.   He had lunch/supper on his mind, keeping him motivated to continue without any complaining.

After 8 miles, you feel that you earn a lunch buffet, right?  And we hit up our new favorite Pigeon Forge restaurant, Taste of India.  Remember all that food I got there last time?  Last time we stopped we missed the lunch buffet, but were there in time for it this go round.  There’s nothing like an Indian lunch buffet when you’re looking vegetarian options to fill up on.

The evening has been filled with naps, Jordan employing the R.I.C.E. method for his ankle, and me doing a bit of reading.  I’ll be sure to update you on the good things I’m reading soon!