Time for one of the special treats of the year – hiking to Mt. Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
After finding a parking space in the Alum Cave trailhead parking lot (which can be a challenge, as Alum Cave is a popular trail), we double-knot our hiking boots, adjust our hiking sticks, put on our packs and set out.
After about half a mile, the sound of traffic is replaced by the sound of the stream that runs alongside the trail and the calls of birds. The hike includes Arch Rock and Alum Cave Bluff, which are popular hiking destinations for day hikers.
Only a few sections of the trail are exposed. Otherwise, the hike is in the trees and sometimes, at higher elevations, in the clouds.
Hiking to Mt. Le Conte takes about half a day with stops to take photos of flowers and views.
We arrive at LeConte Lodge just before a later afternoon thunderstorm and sip hot chocolate to celebrate our safe arrival.
The evening includes dinner in the dining hall and swapping stories with our table companions about their hike to Mt. Le Conte and other hiking experiences.
Rain and thick clouds discouraged us from making the hike to Cliff Tops to view the sunset. But the rain stopped, and we we were able to enjoy this orange and blue sunset from the porch of the lodge.
Because LeConte Lodge has no electricity, nightime is a different experience.
After-dark activities include playing board games by the light of kerosene lanterns on the tables in the lodge or using headlamps to read. Most everyone turned in for the night by 9:30. When the sky was clear, the sky was filled with constellations and the Milky Way was visible.
The next morning we prepare for the hike down with a big breakfast and our last cups of hot chocolate. Thunderstorms are expected in early afternoon, so everyone is eager to get on the trail to avoid hiking in the rain.
But we aren’t eager to leave.
We enjoy the last views from the lodge porch, knowing that we would enjoy sitting in the rockers watching the ever-changing view based on the weather. We know that we could hike to Cliff Tops again to take in the view of ridge after ridge of mountains — or sit in the clouds and listen to the wind and the birds.
But we should start hiking. We double-knot our hiking boots, adjust our hiking sticks, put on our packs and begin the return hike.
We enjoy the coolness in the shade of the trees and the clear views we have of mountain ridges. At one break in the trees, we can look up and see Mt. Le Conte, high above us and be impressed by the view and at our hiking.