Smokey Mountains, Day 3

On our last full day in the Great Smokey Mountains, we decided to hit up Mount Le Conte. We planned to do Charlie’s Bunion, but Ryan had already hiked it, and the Ranger we talked to recommended this one. As we drove to the trailhead, we passed the result of a forest fire that occurred in 2017 (caused by two high schoolers). It’s tragic to see huge expanses of charred trees, but we were encouraged to see new life too.

Everything in the Smokies is green.

From mosses to wildflowers…

…budding ferns unfurling in the sun…

….to little green arms outstretched…

…everything wants to grow. The forest will come back from the fire.

The hike to Le Conte is a strenuous 10 mile out-and-back. After crossing a few streams, we came across a cave-like structure.

A spiral stone staircase led us up and gave us a bit of vertigo.

The good thing about this hike is that there is immediate payoff. Even before hitting 2 miles, hikers are gifted with magnificent Bob Ross-worthy views.

We made it to Alum Cave, where most visitors stop and turn around.

But not us. We refueled and continued on.

As we stopped to catch our breath about a mile later, a man insinuated that we were brave to do such a hard hike. We laughed, knowing how many miles we’ve logged. 10 miles would be a cake walk.

Spoiler: 10 miles would not be a cakewalk.

It seemed the more we walked up, the more I needed to sit down. My only joy came from this red squirrel who found and munched on a couple of Goldfish crackers (cute status: through the roof).

Look at how happy I was knowing we had to be close to the top!

Spoiler: we weren’t close to the top.

This hike felt like walking up an escalator the wrong way. And I don’t think we were the only ones. We heard a lot of “we’ve GOT to be close” comments from passerby.

With views like this though, a few dozen water breaks are made better.

After it finally leveled out towards the top, we hit a fir forest and our rejoicing olfactory distracted us from our lack of oxygen. It was the most delightful smell, and I was immediately transported to Christmas in New York.

Ryan was a champion of a husband and extremely patient as I shuffled up the rest of the mountain. I took a lot of pictures like this just so I could stop walking. Hike hack!

We made it, and it was sweet. We sat in some rocking chairs on the top of Le Conte and I massaged my gnarled feet. (There is a little cabin/chalet thing up there, hence the rocking chairs).

The down is usually much easier than the up for me, but this down was never-ending. It was as if the hiking gods were mocking me and my last few months of actual training. Maybe I was just having an off day. Who knows?

What I do know if that I let the power of the late great painter, Bob Ross, guide me down. Look at that pretty tree. That is a happy little cascade. Channel that rascal of a cloud.

As we neared the last mile, I could only shuffle my feet over the gravel. I used my pumping arms to propel me, like a majestic bird…dragging its legs on the ground. It was a terrible sight, and I’m glad Ryan was walking behind me to observe it all.

We celebrated as we turned into the parking lot. I didn’t know why that hike was so hard, but I was happy it was over…and even happier that I did it.

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