Hike 1285 7/21/04. I find that the drive from Florida to Mt. LeConte to be extra long during July and August. All of the folks here in Florida either couldn’t go because of work or they just didn’t want to travel 1600 miles in the July heat. My daughter Peggy, in Chapel Hill wanted to join me but those plans fell through also. The long range weather forecast showed that July the 21st and 22nd were supposed to be rain free. As the time grew closer the chance for thunderstorms kept increasing from 0% to 30%.
My friend Tillroe Smith, from Moody, Alabama, invited me to spend the night at his camper in Cherokee, NC. Tillroe is such a great host that I could not pass that invitation up. I made this my usual two day trip. I spent the night of the 7/19/04 at the Ramada Inn in Waterboro, SC. As usual they gave me a superbly located room on the ground floor at the coupon price. After a good night’s rest and partaking of their hot breakfast, I headed Toward Cherokee, NC. I stopped at a fruit stand and bought some great peaches and locally grown apples. I stopped at a Shoney’s east of Asheville and had their buffet lunch before visiting Wal*marts and completing the drive to Tillroe’s camper in Cherokee. I arrived at about 2:00 p.m.
A small black and white kitten had adopted Tillroe and followed him around like a puppy although Tillroe was not very keen on it’s attention. He thinks that the kitten belongs to the folks in the next camper but they left about a week ago. The friendly, well fed, kitten was trying very hard to be adopted but Tillroe wasn’t buying that. We had a great visit and Tillroe did not want to go out and eat. He invited me to share his food which I did.
Tillroe gave me the Plaza Suite, which is an add-on to his camper. It has a private bath. He took the other added on bedroom at the far end of his camper. It does not have a shower but otherwise well equipped. Neither of us had an alarm clock but I have to get up often enough that I had no concern about oversleeping. I had posted notices on my web site that I would leave the Alum Cave Bluff trailhead as close to 6:45 a.m. as I could make it. I awoke about 5:45 a.m., did the bathroom chores, dressed and took the long hike across Tillroe’s long porch to the other added on bedroom and woke him up. I made my coffee while he showered. I had bought some breakfast rolls the day before and ate them while I drank my coffee. When Tillroe finished dressing, he whipped up some scrambled eggs and sausage in the microwave and we had an egg and sausage Tillroe McSandwich. As we departed, I took a couple of pictures of the Hibiscus flowers that Tillroe is growing. He had red ones and white ones.
Tillroe drove his truck to the Oconaluftee parking lot and rode to the trailhead with me. We arrived at the trailhead at about 6:40 a.m., put on our packs and took off for the lodge at 6:45 a.m.. It was clear and 52 degrees. As we began our hike, I started noticing a number of recent improvements in the trail. The trail Maintenance Crew had been at work. I also noticed that the Rosebay rhodendrons were in bloom but I decided to wait to photograph them until we returned in the afternoon when there would be better lighting.
We took a short break on the bench at Arch Rock. At the top of the arch, Tillroe pointed a major improvement in the trail. Rocks had been chiseled out and steps made through a difficult spot and a safety cable had been installed. Thanks maintenance folks.
We noticed that several dead trees had been removed along with the large root systems. This made the passage much easier for old folks. We took another short break at Inspiration Point. I paused across from the Eye of the Needle to take another photo of Little Duck Hawk Ridge. As the Alum Cave Bluff came into view, More work was obvious. They had put a hand rail along the edge of the trail, mainly to keep hikers from damaging the loose dirt around the approach to the bluff. A new sign marked the trail. Lots of earth was moved to define where hikers were supposed to walk. My only complaint is that the new trail location makes it more difficult to get to the nice rocks that I normally rest on. A very small price to pay for progress.
We stopped for a break anyway before continuing toward Gracie’s Pulpit. I paused to take a picture from the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge. More trail improvements were noted along the way. We stopped for a snack break at Gracie’s Pulpit. As we resumed our hike, Tillroe pointed out Paul’s Face and remarked that we had a long way to go before reaching that point. Which was true but we were half way to the lodge. I always enjoy the next 0.3 miles because the trail actually loses about a hundred feet of elevation before reaching the saddle. It is pay back time on the return trip though.
The maintenance crew had extended the log steps to get rid of an ever increasing long down step at the bottom end. Great job guys! Before reaching Shirley’s Rock we met the all- time champion hiker to Mt. LeConte, Ron Valentine. He had left the trailhead at 6:00 a.m. and reached the lodge at 8:20 a.m.. Wish that I could do it that fast again. After Tillroe and I chatted with Ron for a long while, I noted that Ron had new specks (can’t safely call them glasses anymore) and how clear the lenses were. The joke was on me. He had dropped them and the lenses had fallen out. I don’t know how many trips Ron has made but this was another one.
We were overtaken and passed by a young man from Belgium, named Ward. He asked if I was supposed to meet someone at the trailhead. I thought perhaps my friend Bryan Shackelford was there. His mother had just died from an automobile accident and told folks that he was going to hike with me today but he was not there when we left. A short time later we met a couple that had done some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. At Lu’s Pulpit we met Bob McLean from Knoxville with his grandson Ben Richardson, a tall young man from Huntsville, AL, sporting an Alabama Basketball Tee Shirt. Wish that he would go to Auburn! We then met two couples from the Knoxville, Seymour area. The guy from Seymour, TN said that he accessed my web site frequently. Seems that I am the only one that carries the link to the current weather in the GSMNP. The link changed on June 30't and others apparently have not noticed. I went ten days with an updated link before sending out an SOS to my two sons for HELP! Son Bill found the new link. Thanks Bill. We met another three overnight guests a short time later
The view across to Clingmans Dome was very hazy because of all the ozone and other pollutants in the air. The grass at Grassy Slide was in bloom as were a few flowers. As we moved on up the trail, we met a young lady from Lynchburg, VA and a young guy from York, SC. I remembered Betty Jane Barnett as we climbed the Stairways to Heaven, named in her honor. As I looked down from Margaret’s Place, I remembered this great lady (Margaret Stevenson). I called her on July 17, 2004 to wish her a happy 92nd birthday.
The lodge was sunny and nice. Dave Pitt was working away on the new woodshed. I filled my CamelBak with fresh water and went into the lodge to sign the register. Tillroe used up the last space but put up a new sheet for me to sign. We then retired to the rocking chairs on the porch to eat our lunches. After finishing our lunch we headed down the steps to the water spigot, where I refilled my supply. Tim Line, the Lodge manager and part owner arrived. We visited for a while and headed toward the rest rooms. We met Tom Grubbs from Boaz Alabama. He took a picture of Tillroe and me. He had missed us at the trailhead and lost ground all the way up. As we hit the trail, we met a guy on the little bridge.
I tried another shot of the grass at Grassy Slide but I just could not capture the sees pods glistening tin the sunlight. I get an "E" for effort but not much more. We met lots of folks on our trip down. I paused at the top of the new improved log steps to appreciate the hard work done by the trail crew. Thanks again fellows! The view across from Gracie’s Pulpit to Cliff top showed how far that we had descended. After a short nosh break we headed on down toward the bluff. I always appreciate the view from above Little Duck Hawk Ridge. There were lots of folks enjoying a break at the bluff. Groups were sitting all around. I met a couple and their young son that once lived in Port St. Lucie, Fl. About five miles from Jensen Beach. I paused to take still another shot of the Eye of the Needle.
My intention of taking pictures of the Rosebay Rhododendrons did not pan out too well. In brighter light, they were well past their peak although I did see some worth looking at below the first foot log on Styx Branch. As we passed through the once horrible rocks, approaching Arch Rock, I again appreciated the work done by the trail Crew.
We reached the trailhead at 2:15 p.m. to give us a 7:30 total time, including about 45 minutes at the lodge. I remembered Gerry Strech, in the loss of his father, during the past week and hoped that he and Diana will join us again in the near future to hike this great trail. I stopped at Newfound Gap to refill my water tank before returning to Oconuluftee to drop Tillroe off at his car. I hope that Tillroe takes as good care of the black and white kitten as he did me.
P.S. I found out later from the Friends of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Summer 2004 Newsletter that the Knoxville, TN Rotary Club provided a grant for the major part of the Alum Cave Bluff improvements. My thanks go to the Knoxville, TN Rotary Club, the Friends and most of all to the maintenance workers that did the grueling work. When I was a lad, I belonged to the Lions Club in Decatur Alabama/ I was told that the Kiwanis Club Ran the town, the Rotary Club owned it and the Lions Club enjoyed it. By the way, Tillroe Smith shared my thanks to those responsible for these improvements. Tillroe also found the neat kitten a home.
The Friends of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park are holding their major fund raising drive at this time. Their 10th Annual Friends across the mountains Telethon is being held on Thursday August 12, 2004. If you have not already done so, please send in a contribution for their great work in the park. I did!