Mount LeConte via Alum Cave (10-21-14)
There are very few hikes in the Southern Appalachians that you will hear me speak of with as much excitement and enthusiasm as the Alum Cave route up the 3rd highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains, Mount LeConte. If you know me or the route at all, you may find this a bit surprising. Literally hundreds of people pack onto this 5-mile pack on busy weekends making solitude a pipe dream in all but the coldest weather. In addition there is a rustic hotel (more like a collection of cabins) atop the mountain, the historic LeConte Lodge. These two factors would normally be the kiss of death for my enjoyment of pretty much any hike but LeConte serves up such an amazing platter of visual and natural eye candy that I could care less. Nary a quarter mile passes on this route without a cascade, a cave, a cliff, a view, or the spectacular forest in general demading your attention and awe. This is one of, if not THE preimier hikes in the Smokies, if not the whole Southern Appalachian Range. If you haven't done it, GO!...you won't be disappointed.
Mount LeConte itself is an imposing peak. At 6,593-feet it is only barely surpassed in height, in the National Park, by nearby Clingmas Dome (6,644') and the remote Mt. Guyot (6,621'). In prominence however (the vertical distance from the elevation at a mountains' base to its summit), Mount LeConte is the clear king. Anyone driving into the town of Gatlinburg, which lies beneath its northern face, cannot help but be awed at the mountain which rises a steep, unbroken vertical mile from the valley below. Thought the Alum Cave Trail doesn't subject the climber to quite that much vertical, this hike still isn't for the novice. It's steep in places, gaining nearly 3,000-vertical feet, and crosses some rather exposed cliff faces that those with an aversion to exposed heights probably won't enjoy. Then there's the length of the hike...nearly 14-miles round trip...you definately have to have a well-oiled pair of legs to make the journey without hating yourself by the end. Inexplicably, I hadn't hiked this trail that I love so much in over nine years so I was more than a little excited to get the chance on this day. I picked a date a bit too late to fully enjoy the fall colors but I couldn't argue with the crisp hiker-friendly temps this time of the year offered.
The hike provided all the scenery and excitement I hoped it would, as you'll find out if you journey along with me through this album. Strap on your best arm-chair hiking boots, follow along, and ENJOY!...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.629539, -83.451458
Trailhead Temp: 45'F Summit Temp: 36'F
Hike Length: 13.6 miles Hike Duration: 5:45
Min. Elevation: 3,800' Max Elevation: 6,593'
Total Vertical: 3,150' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 463'
Trails Used (blaze color): Alum Cave (unblazed), Boulevard (unblazed), Rainbow Falls (unblazed)