Trail Miles Completed: 5.0
Trail Miles Hiked: 11.0
30 July 2010
Alum Cave Trail is just one of several routes to the top of Mt. LeConte. I had previously hiked a chunk of this trail, but didn't make it all the way up to the top to finish it off. My friend Tim had informed me earlier this summer that if we didn't get to go hiking together sometime soon then our friendship was over :-) So I talked to Tim at a pool party Wednesday night, looked at my calendar on Thursday and said "What about tomorrow?" Tim said "Sure!" so this morning off we went. We wanted to get an early start, so I set the alarm for 5 am, and was actually up before the alarm went off. Picked Tim up and we left his house around 6:30 am, and got to the trailhead around 7:30 am. (for those of you who know me well, you will realize that this is an amazing feat all by itself).
Alum Cave trail starts out near Newfound Gap Road about 1/2 way up from Sugarlands to Newfound Gap. It's a VERY popular trail for several reasons, and the parking lots are nearly always full to overflowing by early morning. It's the shortest trail to Mt. LeConte, Alum Cave Bluff is an amazing sight in its own right, and there are a lot of great views from this very rocky trail that hugs the side of the mountain.
The weather today was perfect: cool, yet sunny this morning; warming up as the morning wore on, but with great weather and views from the top of LeConte. One of the first interesting places on the trail is Arch Rock which is exactly what it sounds like. The trail goes up a stone stairway under the arch.
Today there was water EVERYWHERE! The trail was wet, the rock faces along the trail were seeping and running with water, and the creeks along the trail were full and loud. It was absolutely beautiful. My previous trip on this trail was in the fall - October I think - and it was very dry, so it was a pleasant surprise to see so much water.
The next attraction is Alum Cave Bluff itself. It's not really a cave - more like a very tall overhanging rock wall. Below is a view of the bluff - that's Tim taking a picture for some friendly folks at the bluff.
There was a constant rain of water coming down from the edge of the bluff - it was so cool to stand at the bottom and look up at the cascade of droplets raining down. The picture below doesn't do it justice unfortunately, but if you look closely you can see some of the water droplets.
From Alum Cave Bluff the trail up the rest of LeConte gets rockier and slicker since it was wet, and in many places there are cables attached to the rock face to give hikers a hand-hold so they don't go sliding several hundred feet down the side of the mountain. There are some AMAZING views down into the valley from here.
Unfortunately, sometime shortly after this last picture my foot slid on a wet rock and I fell down - right on top of the camera that was in my pocket... The camera is now kaput, but luckily I wasn't hurt.
We arrived safely on top of LeConte and stopped at the LeConte Lodge picnic tables for a snack and a drink, and to enjoy the sunshine. After a rest we headed a little further up the trail to see the Mt. LeConte shelter and then took the side trail to Cliff Tops to see the view (which was awesome). From there we headed back down the trail. It was absolutely packed today with folks going down from the LeConte Lodge or heading up to the LeConte Lodge or just taking a beautiful day for a hike. It was great to spend a day in the mountains with my buddy Tim, and I look forward to more hikes with him in the near future.
I think that Alum Cave Trail may rate as one of my all-time favorites in the Smokies thus far. The trail is challenging but beautiful and the many views are well worth the effort. This is the second time this summer I've been up LeConte, and I'm excited about taking a trip up sometime to stay the night.
Til next time, happy hiking!