Jay blames my constant in-training state. I blame his constant on-the-couch state.Whatever the case, he and I don't make it into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park nearly enough. Monday, in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I had the day off work.
Back on Veterans Day (our last holiday off - not including the big 3) I had made plans with friends to hike 13.3 miles taking a new trail. The Boulevard is the longest of the 5 different ways to make it to the top of Mt. LeConte, and at just under 16 miles puts it just out of day hike reach.
Instead, we decided to play car shuffle - going up the Boulevard trail but down Alum Cave trail would make it a manageable 13.3 miles. However 2 cars would be needed - one car to park down at the Alum trail-head, and another to drive to the Newfound Gap parking lot where the Boulevard trail begins. My hiking buddies decided this would be too time consuming, so that left Jay and I hiking the trail just the two of us. How romantical!
Some might see this as a story of a man who never exercises insisting on hiking a difficult trail, only to get pooped less than two miles in. I, however, choose to see it as the story of a man who shouldn't have been physically able to do the hike, yet somehow* pushed through to find a way.
And by somehow, I mean his wife behind him encouraging him the whole way.
And by encouraging, I mean nagging. Also, there might have been a bit of confusion about "dried plums." Because of this confusion one member of the hiking party may or may not have smelled like a giant sewer drain. The other party may have felt the need to press on, lest he get down wind of said sewer smell.
Unlike some of the more well traveled trails, once we pasted the Charlie's Bunion fork to the right, we didn't see another soul until we reached the top. We only saw one other set of (human) foot prints - and we're not sure they were made the same day.
The snow and ice made for some rough going. The levels varied by elevation and sun exposure. Some parts felt like frolicking through Narnia. Other parts (like the picture above) were a bit scary. Without a ledge or something to hold on to, we had to be very careful about our steps.
We experienced all of the following: blisters, leg cramps, sliding & falling into a tree resulting in a bruised shoulder, over-dressing, under fueling, and general crankiness.
And it was worth every bit of it. Easy for me to say, given that of the above-listed ailments only the last 2 were suffered by me.
Unlike the other trails, Myrtle Point is only 0.2 off the Boulevard trail, and offers some of the best views in the park.
Then we hoofed it the additional 0.7 to LeConte Lodge for a few more pictures and lunch. Unfortunately, they don't put the date up during the winter months when the lodge is closed.
I had high hopes that the hike down would be easier, and in some ways it was.
The Alum Cave trail is practically straight down (or up, depending on which way its traveled), but given the lower elevations we had to hike over a lot of icy patches.
While the shin-high snow in places made the hike up laborious, the way down included sheets of ice beside cliff drop-offs. Alum is a well traveled trail and has wire ropes bolted into the rocks in places. On a few occasions, I just held on tight and let gravity and the ice do all the work.
We had our fair share of obstacles, but Jay and I both agreed our frustration at the end was much like the end of a vacation or the Sunday night blues. The hike was gorgeous and well worth all the trouble, but we were ready to be done!
Next up: Presidents Day!