Brian suggested that we either hike or ride the motorcycle to spend the day before our anniversary together. He just wanted us to be able to spend all day together–no cell phones, no tv, no distractions. I was game for anything.
So, we decided that it would be neat if we hiked Mt. Leconte since it is such a BIG hike! Of course, day hiking was adventurous to say the least, but it is definitely one you can do as a day hike. If you are in great shape, you can do it much easier! 🙂
Now, the day before this I ran my first ever 5K. No, I didn’t break any land speed records, but I had a great time and actually felt really good the next morning when I woke up around 6:30. So, we got up and got ready to hit the trail!
After fueling up the car and fueling up our bodies we made the drive to Alum Cave Bluff’s trail head. This is a VERY popular place and hike. I think even more so now that Chimney Tops Trail is closed due to landslides and fallen trees. We parked pretty easily, donned our backpacks (technically Brian had a back pack, all I had was a Camelbak and my camera) and headed off.
We began hiking around 9:30 – which is kind of a late start if you are going to day hike it, but it can be done. We were very excited when we started and hiked very well for a while. We knew the first place we would come to was Arch Rock which is about 1.5 miles into the 5.5 mi one-way hike. The trail up to that point is what I would consider easy-moderate depending on your hiking abilities. I typically upgrade whatever the websites or books say a trail is by putting it between what they say and the next level. I feel like they are speaking to very experienced and very in shape hikers. 🙂
Here is Arch Rock
It is a huge rock with a path cut through it. The stairs are very steep, as you can see.
This is a beautiful spot and at 1.5 miles in it is a great hike! You could hike here and have lunch and then hike back to the trail head. OR, you could keep going!
The hike from here gets a little more difficult with more roots, rocks and such on the trail and the elevation is continuing up, but at a manageable pace. There are plenty of places to take a rest if you need to and the views as you go up are plenty! There are little nooks where you can walk to the creek or look over the side and see the mountains.
1 more mile from Arch rock is Alum Cave Bluffs. Like I said, the hike gets a little more difficult, but this is also a beautiful place to hike to and have a picnic. It will take you a little longer to walk that mile, but you can do it! Here are a couple pictures of the Bluffs.
It’s pretty much the side of the mountain! It is steep to climb up (as you can tell by the angle), but once you’ve gotten there it’s really nice.
Now, for the fun part! We know several people who have hiked to Mt. Leconte, people who hike it all the time and really enjoy it. We thought this would be a neat accomplishment we could make for our 20th Anniversary! How neat would it to be able to tell people that you hiked to the highest point in Tennessee. We have hiked a lot and I consider us to be in decent shape. Yes, we could still lose a few pounds, but we still felt like we could do this! We knew it would take all day and all day it did!
Now, from Alum Cave Bluffs, things drastically change! Almost ALL of the trail is narrow, covered by roots, rocks or snow and it is steep in a lot of places. You don’t think about these obstacles as much on the way up because they are much easier to navigate going up. But, when you are coming down you wonder in a few places how that’s going to turn out! HA HA!
Here are some examples of the steepness and some of the things we had to climb to get to the top!
So, all the while going up we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I was still pretty excited and VERY determined to make it! Brian, not so much! I think if I hadn’t kept going he would have been happy to just turn around at the Bluffs. (I can honestly say–the next day I wish we had! LOL!)
But, the reason we trudged over the obstacles and through the snow — with NO hiking sticks (we forgot them) and no snow cleats (we didn’t own any) — was because we wanted to accomplish something that some people never do.
As we continued to climb the mountain (& rest what seemed like a million times) we ran into people who started their climb in the dark to reach the bluffs by sunrise. Oh that sounded awesome – I just couldn’t imagine hiking it in the dark! We even ran into a lady who was just chatting in passing until we realized we knew her from our children’s elementary school. That gave us a much needed break to catch up a little, but it also made us feel VERY out of shape to realize this woman was a regular hiker of Mt. Leconte!
So, we trudged on! And eventually after all the craziness of about 5 stretches of snow & ice that took way too much time, we reached the sign that said Mt. Leconte Lodge! We were SO happy! We went to the dining room which is a very popular picture spot because they always have the date and elevation on the sign. So we had our picture made here to prove that the day before our 20th Anniversary we climbed Mt. Everest—I mean Mt. Leconte!!!
Oh we’re all smiles here and look like we jogged up the mountain, but the funny part happened next!
We knew we had read that we needed to climb to Cliff Tops to see the summit and have the best views of the mountains, so we started that section. We only had to hike another .2 miles (2/10 of a mile can’t be that bad, right? WRONG!). The Cliff Tops trail was completely snow/ice covered and it is pretty straight up. We passed a couple of younger guys who told us we were all but there–after proceeding to tell us that they had been told that all day by people going down the mountain, but they were really still far away from their destination. I guessed after reaching the summit that at that point we were halfway, so we had .1 mi to go. HA! It’s pretty funny now, but then it wasn’t really that funny. 🙂
We had purchased a pair of the shoe covers to help in ice. Since we have similar sized feet, we got 1 pair (because we knew there were better made ones out there) and we each wore 1 for our outside foot going down the mountain. It helped a lot getting up this trail, but it was definitely still slick and steep. BUT, oh what a view!
The closest thing I personally can relate this to is Pikes Peak, but I can tell you that I drove up that mountain in a vehicle and the Rocky’s are beautiful but I am extremely partial to our Smoky Mountains!
I took a few minutes to soak in the view and then it was time to head back down! There IS light at the end of this tunnel!
The trip down didn’t take as long, but it was definitely still a rough trek. After you have climbed the steep terrain you must also go down the steep terrain. That is hard on your knees and feet. Like I said, we took fewer breaks coming down because it isn’t as exerting as climbing, so it took less time. When we got to the Bluffs we were happy to have a short rest, but ready to hit the trail again. We knew we were halfway there, so we wanted to keep going!
When we finally made it to Arch Rock, we knew we were on our way. Although both of our knees were killing us, we weren’t going to stop! We rested for a very short time and while I was rubbing my knee a man who only had 1 leg hopped across the foot bridge and used his hand crutches to walk down the trail. Now, I know he didn’t climb the mountain, but the man hiked 1.5 miles on 1 leg and hand crutches! Boy, did that light a fire under me! Who was I to complain?!
Brian & I had decided we would go to dinner, but once that last 1.5 miles was done, we were so tired and sore it wasn’t funny! We decided that we just wanted to go home! 🙂 But, when we sat down in the car we high fived each other and were so thrilled that we had done it.
Now, don’t ask me about the next few days! After the 5K and the hike my calves were tight as banjo strings!!! So, be prepared!
Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Will we do it again anytime soon? Probably not!
Now, while we were hiking I had this thought. Hiking this mountain for our 20th Anniversary was SO fitting to me!
To me this hike was very symbolic of a marriage. When we started we were so excited and happy. The height or difficulty of the mountain made no difference because no one was going to tell us we couldn’t do it.
As we reached bumps in the road or rocks on the path early in the hike, we easily overcame those obstacles and still proceeded undeterred.
The higher we climbed the more obstacles we faced and the harder it became to overcome them, but we continued to press on.
We took small breaks along the way to stop and enjoy the view. We needed that little bit of time to gain strength to keep going and to reflect on how far we had come.
Even though there were times we felt like turning around and heading back, we didn’t stop! We continued to push forward and never gave up!
When we got to the top, the view was SO worth it! That’s why it’s so important to not give up during the hard spots–you could miss the best & most beautiful times of your life!
Coming down the mountain was easier, so we had a little more time enjoy the scenery. And the obstacles that we came across going down, well we had already overcome them once, so a second time was easier. We knew how best to approach them.
And the sense of accomplishment when we reached the car, even as tired as we were from the strain, length and time it took to hike this trail was enough to make us feel like we could overcome anything. AND it didn’t make us feel like we never wanted to hike again. 🙂
So, I hope you have enjoyed my funny take on our day! Really, we did enjoy it–even if it has taken a week for the soreness to go away. Just don’t ask Brian if he wants to go again anytime soon!