Day Hike Notes, Smokies – Mount Le Conte

Mount Le Conte; LeConte Lodge; Alum Cave Trail

On the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Le Conte

The day was an object lesson in treating weather information with skepticism. We camped on the North Carolina side of the mountains. It rained overnight. When I poked my head out of my tent in the morning, it looked like it would rain some more. A campground host said, with noticeable glee, that the forecast was for rain, period. Katie and I wondered over breakfast if we wanted to climb Mount Le Conte in rain.

When I read the Cherokee forecast for myself, it looked less bleak. There might be breaks in the rain; it might even not arrive. Then, as we drove towards the Tennessee side, the clouds seemed to rise and brighten. By the time we reached the trailhead, it didn’t look like rain at all; and, as far as I remember, not a drop fell all day.

What a pity it would have been if we had believed that schadenfreude-ish campground host and skipped Mount Le Conte. At 6,593 feet, it is the third highest peak in the national park, and just 100 feet short of the highest point east of the Mississippi. Its summit turned out to be misted in today, but atmospheric even so; and the views on the way up were stunning.

DATE: Sunday, May 18th.
START & FINISH: Alum Cave trailhead on Newfound Gap Road.
ROUTE: Alum Cave Trail, up and down; plus some summit wandering.
DISTANCE: Something more than 10 miles.
TIME: 6.5 hrs, including lingering at LeConte Lodge.
TERRAIN: 2,750-foot elevation gain on mostly good trail.
MAPS: Not essential, but Trails Illustrated #229.
WEATHER: Mostly overcast; misty above 6,400 ft.
WILDLIFE: Nothing charismatic.
PHOTOS: Album here.
BREAKFAST: Leftover beans & rice at Smokemont campground; oatmeal at trailhead.
LUNCH: Trail food on a table at LeConte Lodge.
– Stunning views down to cloud and mountain.
– Lunch with the LeConte Lodge llamas nearby.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: Layers essential again; wooly hat and gloves at 6,593 feet!
COMPANY: Plenty, without being too much.

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