Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Climb to the top of Mt. LeConte

I know this entry is a little late but I have been trying to find time to write it since I made the climb back on June 8th and 9th of this year. At present this adventure ranks as one of the best if not the best that I have had. I have done several hikes in the Smokey Mountains from the Chimney Tops to Spruce Falls but this by far was the most challenging and most gratifying of them all.

Rainbow Falls Trail

Mt. LeConte is the third highest mountain in the Smokey Mountain Range, but if you measure from its base to summit it is the highest mountain in the eastern United States at 5301 feet(1). On this hike we chose to go up via the Rainbow Falls trial and after spending the night in the back country shelter we would head back down the Bullhead trail. This worked out perfectly as the two together forms a loop trail and we could end up back at the car.

When we started out on the Rainbow Falls trail the sun was out and the temperature was perfect. The trail is steep the average elevation gain for the Rainbow trail is 579 feet per mile(1). A lot of people were out on the trial but it did not feel overly crowed at this point because it was fairly wide. For the most part a creek ran alongside the trail all the way up to the falls. Rainbow Falls is one of the tallest in the park but the volume of water is not too strong. It is a misty falls that creates almost a silk effect as the water rolls off.

Rainbow Falls

Once past the falls the trail remains fairly steep, but becomes narrower and the brush starts to close in. In some spots one can even feel a little claustrophobic as the brush really closes in around you. This is also where people start to thin out and you feel more secluded. During our ascent from here we only ran into one other person before we reached the LeConte Inn. By this time my knee was on fire and I could already since how sore I was going to be in the morning.

We made our way to the back country shelter that is really nothing more than a wood lean two where they have and upper and lower row wood platforms to lay your sleeping bag on. It is pretty amazing how the scenery changes as you go up. At the top of Mt. LeConte it is very much old forest with beautiful fir trees and spruces. We were able to get some pictures at one of the few clearings and then it started to rain. Just made it to the shelter before it really started coming down, and it didn't stop all night.

Cliff Top View

The next morning it was still raining fortunately it slowed up enough that it was possible to get our picture at the summit of the mountain before packing up and heading out. After filling up with water at the lodge we heading back down the mountain via the Bullhead Trail. This was the first time on a trail in the Smokey Mountain National Park that I didn’t see a single sole. It was Greg and I the whole way down.

Mt. LeConte Summit

There was a continuous rain for half of the decent. It rained so much that at some points the trail seemed like a small creek with water coming up over my boots. Like the last trail it was pretty steep with an average elevation gain of 555 feet per mile(1) which is still hard even though you are going down. One of the highlights on this trail is the long, almost tunnel like, run of rhododendron along the path. Another is two huge rock overhangs that would provide a nice shelter if some nasty weather rolled in. We were also lucking enough to see a small deer on the trail that let us get so close we could almost touch it before it ran off.

The scenery on this hike is amazing and the accomplishment of the challenge gratifying. Though this hike was a difficult one it has been one of my best adventures. I would do it again in a heartbeat and recommend it to anyone. I do have to say you will need to be in fairly good shape due to the length and elevation of the trip.