our first visit to great smoky mountains was pretty low key. it was before we did a lot of hiking and the kids were a lot younger and it was winter so a lot of stuff was closed. so, when we decided to go back for our first excursion in the rv since settling back in north carolina, we knew we had to find a perfect hike for our current family skillset.
derek found the alum cave trail, which is about 2.3 miles out and back and 1000 feet of elevation change, which is a good amount for hazel, and probably about the max we could talk isaac into doing. but, i knew anna and i could do more, so derek offered to take the other two back to the car and pick up anna and i after we continued another 2.7 miles or so (and 2000 more feet of elevation change) to the peak of mount le conte. anna wasn’t 100% sold on it, so we decided to make a gametime decision….
we got started without derek, who ran back to the car to grab flip flops for isaac, just in case his shoe laces malfunctioned (they were highly suspect). the scenery reminded us a bit of the pacific northwest crossed with maine. it was very ferny and damp and so so green, but with lots of evergreens (which smelled amazing).
eventually, derek caught up with us, thanks to our many stops for photos and shoelace adjustments.
oh. and our quest for cool mushrooms. there was such a crazy variety in a rainbow of colors. my favorite is the last pic, but they were all fun. and it kept the kids distracted as we made the climb to the top.
the trail was full of bridges, which is always a lidkid fave.
these slightly more dangerous bridges with one railing were a little more nerve wracking, but it’s not like there was a raging river below us, and all of the kiddos have good sense about these sorts of things at this point.
about 1.4 miles in, we arrived at arch rock, which is a cool hole we got to climb through to continue on our path. it was hard to get good pictures while we were actually in the hole, both because of lighting and it’s pretty much a single file and there were people around and there’s just not a good place to stop until you’re another 30 steps past it. but. here we are, about to enter….
after the arch rock, the trail wasn’t quite as much fun. we started ascending more quickly and there no more creek crossings. but, before we knew it, we began to get amazing views. we stopped at one such location for a little break and some pics.
the final bit of the hike to alum caves was a billionty stairs. i mean. there were a lot. but the kids were champs and knocked them out with no complaint.
and then we were here. at alum cave bluffs or something like that. it’s not really a cave. more an overhang type thing. it’s totally dry and dusty inside, which meant our damp kids became covered in sludgy dirt while running around. we had a snack (lots of candy), took some pics (difficult with lighting), and contemplated a decision about whether or not anna and i would continue on the hike.
after much thought and coordinating logistics with derek due to lack of internet, anna and i decided to do the rest of the hike. we roughly calculated how long we thought we would be (4 more hours or so) and then derek planned to pick us up in the parking lot later in the day. and off we went.
the rest of the hike was a very consistent climb up. we just found ourselves a good pace, some good conversation, and marched along. except for obviously stopping to take lots of pics. 🙂
the trail was full of chippy, sedimentary type rocks, slick from rain, fog, and waterfalls. thankfully, there was quite a bit of cable running alongside these parts for safety and sanity.
there were several spots that were just a bit slightly treacherous, dropping away to unknown distances below. all hikers in our party survived.
as we climbed, more fog rolled in, obscuring our views. we were a little bummed, but continued on….
we finally reached the lodge at the top, but i was able to talk anna into pressing on just a bit further to some cliffs. the views weren’t all that fantastic, thanks to the fog, but it also made the cliffs feel a little more terrifying, because you didn’t know what was out (and down) there. we had a snack. took some pics. and then it began to rain and we hustled out of there.
we quickly made our way to the lodge to take cover. the le conte lodge is a pretty rustic little place, surrounded by cabins for overnight guests who reserve them a year ahead of time, because they were apparently quite popular. the supplies for the cabins and lodge are brought in and out by llamas, which we did not have the good fortune to see.
anyhow. we took advantage of some shelter and i had enough cash on hand to get us some cookies (on top of our peanut butter sandwiches, clif bars, and candy). we rested up, hoped for the fog to clear a little, chatted with some other hikers, hit the worlds nastiest bathroom, and got on our way.
when we realized the fog wasn’t going anywhere and we were going to be pressed for time getting back to the parking lot for our scheduled pickup, we departed. back down down down. this is my favorite pic of the annababy…
as we got below the fog (or was it just a cloud?), the scenery brightened back up. before we knew it, we were already back at alum cave bluffs, where there were considerably fewer people. (ok. it wasn’t before we knew it, we were actually in a bit of pain. going up 3000′ is hard work. going down 3000′ hurts my old lady joints.)
when we arrived at the arch rock (where, again, there were waaaay less people), we knew we were almost home free.
we basically race walked the rest of the way out and got to the parking lot a few minutes late (but our people were loaded with technology, so no one noticed).
we were quite proud of ourselves. it was anna’s longest hike to date, somewhere a little over 10 miles and it was our biggest elevation change. next stop, mount everest!! (just kidding. our next stop is our stupid house).