Day Two, in Which My Parents Climb Mount LeConte

After a tiring but awesome first day, we (reluctantly) woke up early on Friday and hit Gatlinburg for a pancake breakfast. A simple bowl of cereal can only offer a mountain man (or woman) so much, and we needed sweet potato pancakes and omelets to help us today. We were going to hike to the summit of Mount LeConte.

Mount LeConte is Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s second tallest accessible

 peak, at 6,593ft. The Alum Cave Trail is the best one to take, but at about an 11 mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 2,700ft, it’s no easy feat. Still, I convinced my parents to try it, and we were off.

The first portion of the trail led along a stream bead that offered some excellent views of small cascades and beautiful rays of early morning light piercing through the forest canopy.

The hike up was really tough. Back in the spring, I had made it up and down in under four hours, but I was in a rush to get down before I ran out of daylight. Today, I was carrying over thirty pounds of camera gear and was part of a group.

Despite the challenges, though, the hike was a lot of fun. There were tons of things to see along the way, which led to plenty of opportunities to take breaks.

Coming up through Arch Rock.

A friendly moth that decided to land on my boot.

“Hey, take my picture under these roots!”

I thought it was fascinating that these plants were still growing, despite being ripped up form the ground.

These roots were just creepy and seemed like they were still alive, slowly slithering towards us.

Since the trail starts at around 3,000ft about sea level, it doesn’t take very long before you get some great views. Thankfully, it wasn’t too hazy, so we could see for quite a distance. And my parents really came at the perfect time of autumn to start getting some good color in the trees.

Finally, after about four hours of hiking, we made it to the summit, and boy was it worth it. The view was amazing, and the opportunity to rest and soak in the sights (and sun) was a great after a whole morning of hiking. We stayed up at the top for nearly two hours, ate lunch, laid in the sun, and were there for so long that we got a few stretches when we were the only ones there. It was great, and I was really proud of my parents for making it to the top.

Sure we made it up to the top, but as any day hiker knows, that’s only half the hike! We still had another five or six miles to go, so we eventually packed up and began the long journey back down. It was easier that the hike up, but we were still quite exhausted at the end, exhausted yet still energized from the hike and the amazing views we had earned from the experience.

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After getting back down, we headed up to Clingmans Dome, the tallest peak in the park. We didn’t hike, though, we just drove, and we stayed in the parking lot for sunset and got a great show.

Overall, it was a great day, and my parents accomplished a lot! I knew it wouldn't be hard to get my parents to fall in love with the Smokies, but their excitement and enthusiasm has been infectious and made me appreciate this amazing opportunity even more.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.” 

-John Muir