We used to be huge hikers - backpacking the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons in our 20's and 30's, neither one of us had been doing much hiking since. Except for that lil' trek down into the Grand Canyon last year, that is. This trip was planned out last year - as our destination is Mount LeConte Lodge - a small resort on the top of the second tallest mountain in the Great Smokeys. Second tallest by only 12 feet, too. Mt. LeConte is a pretty popular destination for overnight hikers. Booked up a year in advance for specific dates, and if you're willing to take just any ol' date, you still have to reserve 6 months in advance.
I was fortunate to call last April and ask what was open in October (Fall colors) and was surprised to find my birthday still open... turning 50 on top of Mt. LeConte sounded exciting. So here we were, cold and damp, 8:00am at 6,000 feet on a cloudy October morning, with am 8 mile uphill climb for a lumbering old guy like me... hope Kim didn't see the gleam of sweat already forming on my forehead from the exertion of puttin on the daypack!
5 miles up the Appalachian Trail, we veared off onto the Boulevard Trail for the final 3 mile ascent to the peak. It wasn't until about the 6.5 mile mark did I sreally start to feel the knees talking to me, but with only 3 rest stops on the way, we hit the peak at 2pm. We added the obligatory rock or three on the pile forming at the peak - a half-assed attempt at making Mt. LeCont THE tallest mountain in the park - only 5 more feet to go based on the 7 foot tall pile already in place - and we stumbled into camp in time for hot chocolate and cookies.
The lil' summer-job worker from Norway showed us to our cabin - a three-bedroom cabin with one common living room. We got our choice of rooms and took the biggest one of course. Throughout the rest of the afternoon - between naps - we watched and spoke with other couples coming into camp in various stages of exhaustion. I was surprised to find most of the couples older than we were, with only a few kids present.
At 6:00 pm sharp - the dinner bell rang. There was little time lost getting to the tables - we had the one which was serving wine of course. Corn Bread Muffins, Mashed Potatoes, Pot Roast and Gravy, Apple Sauce, and Green Beans. Damned finest meal we ever ate it seemed. Kim arranged in advance for a large chocolate cake complete with one candle on it (good girl!) and after admitting my age, and accepting congrats from all these older folks (hehehe) we ate the cake, shared it with the other tables and headed off to the back porch to watch the sunset... which was gorgeous. Kim and I came up here back in 1989 and had a similar evening - clouds and mist parting just at sunset allowing for a spectacular view of the valley and the city lights of Gatlinburg below. We had our own rockers on our front porch and complete with several blankets, braved the 40 degree chill for several hours.
We retired to our small cabin - complete with kerosene lamps and double blankets, and slept like babies. The next morning - after another equally as great breakfast of sausages and eggs and pancakes and biscuits and gravy ... by the way - did I mention all the supplies for this mountaintop retreat need to come up by Llamma? ... we gathered our stuff for the walk back down. Our uphill climb was 8 miles, and would have had to backtrack that to get to our car, but we met some people from Tennessee at Dinner who agreed to give us a ride back to our car from the shorter trail's trailhead, where their car was parked. So a very steep 5 mile descent with some company made for a much enjoyable return trip.
Kim, dressed the part for the cold chill of morning, dutifully posed as I tried to keep up - knees definately feeling the burn going downhill. We stopped at Alum Cave half way down for snacks and to catch our breath... but it was obvious our choice of downhill trails was far better - the October colors were spectacular - although the overcast sky didn't help the pictures much.
Not a motorcycle in sight the entire trip - but a great way to start the second half of my life... if you ever want a beautiful hike in the mountains of the Great Smoky's. lemme know - I'll help ya get in touch with these people at Mt. LeConte.
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