Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mt. LeConte!!!

Out on the precipice at Cliff Tops, Mount LeConte
One week ago today, I hiked my way to the summit of Mt. Leconte with Laura Watson and Jennifer Miller, two teachers from HVA. We left the school parking lot at 6:30 a.m., arrived at the parking lot of Alum Cave Bluffs at 8:30 and began the hike by about 8:45. What a hike this was!!! We made pretty good time, expecting it to take about 5 hours to reach the top, but we actually made it in four. The hike via Alum Cave Bluffs has many interesting features to view along the way including Arch Rock and the Bluffs themselves. We stopped many times along the way just to take in the breathtaking views from many different vantage points, catching our breath and taking in a little nourishment at the same time. I packed some of the Clif Bars to eat along the way and was quite pleased both at the taste and at the surge of energy they provided. There were also several places where we stopped along the way to look at the wildflowers. Painted trillium were the stars of the show on that day. We also came to one beautiful place where the rocks were covered with several different types of mosses and water was cascading gently down the rock face. It was quite beautiful, but the pictures we took just didn't do it justice.

We reached the summit a mere four hours after we left the parking lot. We were tired, but we were also pretty pumped at the shape we were still in after making that trek! The awesomeness of the views might have had something to do with how great we felt though. The views were spectacular! There was a large river snaking back and forth below us in the valley. I'm assuming it was the Tennessee River, but I'm not sure. We were able to see peak after peak stretching out before us. The weather was perfect and views were unobstructed. While we were up there, the clouds did begin to move in, but by then we were ready to head back down.

I had read that many people stop their journey at Mt. Leconte Lodge, which was a neat little collection of buildings, but I had also read that one should really continue on a little further to one of the observation points. We decided we would hike on up to Cliff Tops and I am SOOOOO glad we did! After only another .2 miles from the main camp, we cleared through a little brush and beheld some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. It was almost as exhilirating a feeling as when I cleared the very top rock at Chimney Tops. I think I would have felt that way if I hadn't already done the Chimney Tops climb a few months ago.

One thing I love about hiking is the people you meet along the way. We ate lunch at a picnic table we shared with a couple who now lives in Knoxville, but is from Montreal. They were preparing to hike through the Pyrenees Mountains beginning in the south of France. They were very nice and shared a little about their travel plans. When we were at Cliff Tops, we share the summit with three nice ladies from Chattanooga. Two of them were also school teachers and they hike LeConte every year. They showed us a great place to take a picture, the one I uploaded to accompany this post. After they got their shots, Jennifer and I each made our way out to that perch and got our pictures taken too. Laura has a fear of heights and didn't go out there, but next time, we'll help her get out there because she's already wishing she had.

After spending a couple hours on the summit, we began the gruelling hike down. This part is much worse than the trek up, partly because the adrenaline rush begins to fade. By the time we reached the parking lot we were three exhausted women! In fact the funniest part of the whole day was when we went to the "comfort station" at the Chimneys picnic area only a few minutes from where we climbed back into the truck. This time, when we tried to get out of the truck, we could barely walk! We were already stove up and sore and laughing so hard we could barely make it to our intended destination! What a great way to spend a day with a couple of friends. Laura, I'm so very glad this was on your "before I turn 60 bucket list" and that we put it on the calendar all those months ago and made it stick!

To view all of my pictures from this incredible trip, click on this link: Mt. LeConte May 7, 2011

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