Clouds, rain and thunderstorms.
That wasn’t the weather I would have requested for hiking, but that was the weather we had for hiking Alum Cave Trail to Mt. Le Conte to spend the night at LeConte Lodge.
And when hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, rain always is a possibility, especially in the afternoon and in the late spring or summer.
This 5.5-mile Alum Cave Trail is the shortest of the five trails to Mt. Le Conte and, in my opinion, the most scenic, with Alum Cave Bluff and numerous overviews of mountain ridges. Hiking in late May also would mean the possibility of mountain laurel and rhododendron in bloom.
Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Smokies and because of the high use was selected for renovation by the Trails Forever crew, the special trail restoration crew funded by the Friends of the Smokies. (I wrote a post about the Alum Cave Trail restoration for the Friends of the Smokies blog.)
Even on a rainy day, the parking areas were filled, and cars were parked on the sides of road at the trailhead.
A challenge of hiking in the rain is trying to select clothing to stay dry – at least somewhat dry – but not get overheated, which can result in being wet from sweating rather than the rain.
As someone who has been hiking since I hiked as a child with my parents and my Girl Scout troop, I’ve assembled a collection of clothing and gear (and experience), over the years, to help me be prepared.
- Gore-Tex rainjacket with a built-in hood and with ventilation zippers in the underneath of the sleeves (referred to as “pit zips”) that can let me open those for cooling.
- Ball cap to wear under the jacket’s hood to keep the rain off my face.
Gaiters that attach to my hiking boots that cover the tops of my boots and my socks. The gaiters prevent rain from soaking my socks, which would then make the inside of my boots wet.
- Rain pants that work well on a cool rainy day. I wore the rain pants on the hike down from Mt. Le Conte because it was a colder day, with temperatures starting in the low 40’s.
- Shorts and shirts that can wick away moisture and dry quickly. Cotton is not a good choice for hiking clothes.
Pack cover on the pack and a dry-bag inside the pack with all my gear that I wanted to stay dry, like a change of clothes.
- OtterBox waterproof case for my iPhone to let me take photos while hiking without the concern of damaging my phone.
- Hiking sticks that assist in crossing creeks and provide stability for slippery sections of the trail.
A plus and minus of hiking on rainy days is that the hiking time often is shorter than on a non-rainy day, as I don’t spend as much time stopping to take photos, rest or eat.
Halfway to Mt. Le Conte is Alum Cave Bluff, with an overhang that provides a dry location for lunch and taking a break.
Most of the hikers turned back to the parking lot at Arch Rock or Alum Cave Bluff. But we kept hiking, as we had overnight reservations at LeConte Lodge at the top of Mt. Le Conte.
Some hikers were doing the roundtrip hike that day. As they passed us hiking back down the trail, some looked triumphant in having made it to the top. A few others looked like they were going to be struggling to make it to the car.
The rain continued throughout our hike but at times wasn’t noticable due to the tree coverage.
The mountain laurel and rhododendron were in bloom and were beautiful. Also in bloom were the bluets and one painted trillium.
Sometimes the only view was a few yards ahead on the trail, as we were hiking almost in a cloud. Other times, we could see the valleys and ridges of the mountains.
Having the hiked the trail many times before, we knew that we were almost there when we walked through a grove of fir and spruce, smelling like a Christmas tree lot.
Once we arrived at LeConte Lodge, we could view the rain from the porch on our cabin and enjoy hot chocolate as we talked about the hike and the unique opportunity of staying atop Mt. Le Conte. (More on staying at LeConte Lodge in an upcoming post.)