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.