Mt. Kephart, NC/TN (7-23-12)
Mt. Kephart, located smack dab in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the 21st highest of the 40 Southern 6'ers, and would be #12 on my list. Completely wooded at the top, the peak by itself isn't really a great stand-alone hiking destination. What gets most people to the summit is the precipitous cliff known as the Jump Off located on its northern ridge. In fact, it's quite likely that most people visiting Kephart don't even realize they've completed a Southern 6'er!
The hike out to the peak isn't long or hard and it sits along the main cattle trail out to the hugely popular Charlie's Bunion so I had no illusions of solitude going into this hike. I would be spending the bulk of my hike along the Appalachian Trail, getting an early start from Newfound Gap to beat the afternoon storms and the crowds. From Newfound Gap it's about 3 miles out to Mt. Kephart and the Jump Off. Charlie's Bunion, which shouldn't be missed despite the crowds sits another 1.5 miles farther down the A.T. I was treated to just about every type of summertime weather the Smokies could throw at me on this hike so I had to make a few itenerary changes on the fly but I still managed to succeed in visiting all the spots I set out to, even if I didn't get the clear blue skies I was hoping for. If anything it made for a much more memorable hike than it otherwise might have been!
Hike Length: 9.0 miles Hike Duration: 6:00
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 5,048' Max. Elevation: 6,217'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,975' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 220'