Mt. Leconte, TN - Post-PhD Leaf Peepin'
by Stretch » Sun Oct 21, 2012 11:28 pm
Date walked: 13/10/2012
Time taken: 10.3
Distance: 26 km
Ascent: 900m5 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
This summer I purchased a book which people refer to as the "little brown book". It's basically a guide book to all 900 miles of trails in the Smokies. Similar to munro bagging, folks here in the southern US try to challenge themselves by walking every trail in the park in order to join the "900 Club". So I've basically swapped my obsession for munro summits, for hiking trails in the beautiful Smokies.
Last weekend I headed to the national park with Jessica to climb Mt Leconte. We decided to hike this popular destination for our 3rd date - none of this dinner and movie biz for us! At 6593ft, this is the 3rd highest mountain in TN. Interestingly though, from its immediate base to its summit, it is the tallest mountain in the eastern US. Right now, the fall leaves are in peak color so we figured the whole area would be busy with leaf peepers, basically tourists who come from all around to see the seasons change. I admit, although I'm a local, I was all about leaf peepin and I really wanted to see the reds, golds, oranges, and greens painted on the trees in the mountains.
The parking lot was full of people, as was the initial 2 miles of a section of the Appalachian Trail where our walk started. Most people opted to walk to easier view points at the 2.7 mile junction, but we headed along the Boulevard Trail which takes you an additional 5.3 miles to the summit of Mt Leconte and the Mt Leconte Lodge which was built in the 1920s. You can stay in a small cozy cabin on top of the mountain for about $121.00 (75 pounds) per night and this includes dinner and breakfast in the dining room.
There are 5 basic routes to Mt Leconte, I had walked 2 of these in the past. The Boulevard Trail is the longest and in some ways, the most difficult due to its length and the many ups and downs along the ridge. You start high around 5500ft and only have to get to 6593ft, but to do this 16 mile trip you have to make several drops and climbs which end up being about 3000ft of total ascent.
I've walked longer routes in Scotland, but this was to be the longest route I've done here in my home state, and the longest of the 4 hikes I've done this year. Jessica has done a fair bit of hiking here too, but nothing this extensive. Nothing like a good challenge on a date though right? We got started around 9:30 and joined the other leaf peepers up the Appalachian Trail for 2.7 miles. This was fairly easy going, but the fog had not lifted and we really didn't see much. After we turned off onto the Boulevard Trail the sun started burning off the fog and the views opened up nicely. There was a slight breeze to keep the temps down and the weather was fantastic the rest of the day.
Up and down along the ridge we went. It becomes pretty narrow in places, but with trees all around you don't really notice the drops. There is a small stretch of trail where a landslide occured several years back and a chain has been put in place to help some with their confidence, but it's really not needed if you're sure-footed. After this point, we made the final climb to the summit. It took 4.5 hours to get there. At the top, there are several good areas to get extensive views. The first is Myrtle Point - it is a popular spot for photographers looking for that perfect sunset/sunrise pic. We stopped there first and soaked in the views. Then we headed to the summit cairn which is actually surrounded by trees. On my previous 2 trips up I failed to swing by the summit, so I made sure to claim the mountain on this trip. Jessica and I then went to the very busy lodge. All of the other leaf peepers who had climbed the mountain from the easier routes had converged at the lodge. We took a break in the dining room which had unlimited coffee, hot chocolate, or lemonade for 3$.
From the lodge we went to the Cliff Tops - another view point just a short distance from the cabins. The haze was pretty bad here, but still, you could see across to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in TN. Then we started the long walk back toward the parking area. It's an easy stroll for about half of the 5.3 miles back to the Appalachian Trail. But, after a long day, the re-ascent sections on the 2nd half definitely start to wear you out. It was on this section where we started to slow down. It seemed like it was taking forever to get back to the easy downhill part of our route that followed the App Trail and we were falling behind in terms of when we expected to make it back to my truck.
It was after 6pm when we got to the App Trail and we had 2.7 miles to go as the sun began to set. Jessica was worn out by this stage having not done a walk of this length before. As we slowed down, the sun sank behind the mountains and we had to walk the last mile and a half basically in the dark. It was a very clear night and I have bat vision so I let her use the head torch and we carefully made our way back to the parking area. After 10 1/2 hours we reached the truck and rejoiced. We were both pooped, but felt a great sense of accomplishment nonetheless. Due to the total darkness at the parking area and the clear sky we could see rings of the Milky Way - stunning!
Overall, this was a great trip, even with our tiredness later on. The colors of the trees were impressive, especially at the mid levels of the surrounding mountains. The crowds shrank on our trail and we had a nice peaceful climb to the lodge. Unlimited lemonade was a great reward for reaching the top! It felt nice to be able to get out of my office, away from the books, away from the PhD, and it was equally nice to share this day with someone who enjoys hiking as much as I do. We are hoping to get back out this coming weekend and do an easier walk just to enjoy the fall conditions again.
Until next time, enjoy this little slice of home!
by trekker53 » Mon Oct 22, 2012 2:19 am
Its good to see a hike from somewhere different. Those autumn colours look very appealing. I hope you haven't worn out Jessica yet but it was a bit different from the usual dates that people do. Good luck with your PhD.
by garyhortop » Mon Oct 22, 2012 9:58 am
by ChrisW » Mon Oct 22, 2012 3:57 pm
As a Yorkshireman I applaud your economic dating plan by making your date hike 8 miles for a 3$ unlimited coffee offer though offering American folks unlimited coffee for a mere 3$ is almost a sure fire way to go out of business
Some of those shots really remind me of the Ozarks too, all in all I am now missing the US almost as much as I miss my own home, maybe I'll take a drive south of the border to get my fix (and to escape the snow this week as I know there will be many more weeks of snow to come )
Overall, what a great way to spend your third date, and with such a beautiful girl too....I hope you and Jessica have many more dates and hike many more miles together....maybe a 900 club partnership
by gammy leg walker » Mon Oct 22, 2012 7:52 pm
by Stretch » Mon Oct 22, 2012 11:33 pm
by Bod » Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:04 pm
by Johnny Corbett » Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:49 am
Are you thinking how good it would be to be rocking on one with a bottle of whisky by your side? That would be some walk to Maine, have many done it?Bod wrote:Nice one Stretch, I enjoyed that very much. Cracking shot of the rocking chairs
by mountainstar » Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:29 pm
Stretch wrote:Thanks all. Jessica and I are already anticipating the next walk toward the 900 mile club, although I think we'll chose a shorter route this go around.
I think I may be getting that confused with the mile high club!
Welcome back big man
PS...looks a cracker (and the walk as well!)
by Stretch » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:26 pm
Johnny - More and more people are doing the entire Appalachian Trail each year. It runs from north Georgia to Maine and takes the better part of a summer.
Pretty remarkable that someone just did the whole stretch in 46 days!
by Jock McJock » Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:16 pm
by Lenore » Fri Oct 26, 2012 6:57 pm
by jonny616 » Sat Oct 27, 2012 11:53 am
by Graeme D » Thu Nov 08, 2012 10:49 pm
Walkhighlands community forum is advert free
Can you help support Walkhighlands and the online community by donating by direct debit?