Last weekend we hiked to the two summits of Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We couldn't have asked for better weather as we made the 2,763 feet of elevation gain on our way to the summit. Humidity was down and temps were nice for the season. The trail begins easy along Alum Cave Creek which offers several mountain creek photo-ops.
At about the mid-point of the trail we came to Alum Cave where we stopped for a quick snack and enjoyed the view.
After a short stop at the cave, we continued on as the trail became more strenuous, but the views became more spectacular. We made great time to LeConte Lodge, reaching it in only about 3.5 hours. We stopped at the lodge for lunch on the picnic tables before the final easy hikes out to the two summits (High Top at 6,593 ft and Cliff Tops 6,555 ft). We finished our lunch just as the storm clouds rolled in. The good weather for the day was over, but the adventure continued.
We visited both summits in between torrential downpours.
Cliff tops first:
Followed by the very interesting High Top summit which is at a different elevation each time you visit it. Each hiker adds a stone to the pile in hopes of some day making LeConte the tallest mountain in the the Appalachians (Currently Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina, elevation 6,684 feet).
As we finished up at High Top, the thunder decided to roll in, so we took cover in the nearby overnight shelter. We waited out the worst of the storm hoping to keep our feet and bodies as dry as possible. This turned out to be a futile act, but we were still enjoying ourselves. The trail had become a full on flowing river thanks to the deluge. The hike down was quick and wet. Trickling springs crossing the trail on the way up were transformed into waterfalls requiring balance and care to cross. By the time we reached Alum Cave again, the rain had let up, but had left an enormous and beautiful waterfall over the cliff above.
We took a rest once again to marvel at the bluff and take our rain coats off.
The rest of the hike down was quick and easy.
Overall the hike had become a tremendous adventure and we wouldn't have had it any other way. Alum Cave Trail is a signature trail in the Smokies and should not be overlooked by those hiking in the park. However, plan accordingly. It is a strenuous hike and the weather change at the summit can be rapid and without warning. Carry warm clothes even in the summer (The temperature during the storm dropped into the 50s). Most of all though, enjoy.
These photos and more can be seen at www.matthewosbornephotography.com/leconte. Thanks for reading!