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|Wally and Sharon Houston's Mt LeConte hike number one 5/16/06|
|When Sharon and I decided to take this hike last September
2005, we really had to think, are we ready and can we. We had gotten in touch with Ed Wright for some trail info and
encouragement. He really helped in that department. Well after months of training the answer was YES. So here we are at the trailhead at 8:30 am on May 16, 2006, packed and ready for bear. Temperature was in
the 40’s and very foggy. We
crossed the bridge and there is a pile of bear dung. Earlier and I had decided
you should have a trail name when you hike so I gave Sharon the name of “Short
Step”. I was going to use the
first thing I saw on the trail hoping for something like flying eagle or running
fox but I sure was not expecting to have to use the name “Bear
Pile”. Oh well.
Our friends David and Jackie Quackenbush had taken this hike late in 2005 and Sharon had decided it was something she would like to do. So off we go. Starting through the forest deeper into the park we noticed signs of volunteer work on the trail to help drain away the water as it flowed down the mountain. Thank you volunteers for your time to preserve this treasure. As we approached the first footbridge we ran into Henry Neel. Henry was an Iraq veteran as well as the winter caretaker of the lodge coming down for a day off. After spending a little time talking to Henry we pressed on to the next footbridge where we started our next ascent up the trail. What a beautiful day this was even though the clouds and fog had set in for the day.
After walking for a while we came upon the third footbridge and then our ascent into Arch Rock. We met up with a group that was traveling up the trail with one of the park rangers and we passed each other several times. Finally they over took us for the last time and we would not see them again until the top. Word was coming down from other hikers descending that there was snow the night before so we were looking forward to another surprise later on. We were not disappointed. There were traces of snow along the trail at the top. Imagine, snow in May.
After leaving Arch Rock and crossing over the fourth and final footbridge we hiked for quite a while just enjoy our time together. We had made up our minds at the start, we are in no hurry, and we took our time and stopped when we wanted, rest and snacking along the way. We had our map knowing where sights and views were but we could not see most of them because of fog. When we approached Inspiration Point we were able to see the Eye of the Needle. What Ed Wright had mentioned us, was to look and shoot the Eye on camera from there. What we noticed while taking a photo of the Eye of the Needle, was there was another eye over to the left. Has no one ever mentioned this one? After leaving Inspiration Point and heading towards Alum Cave Bluff, we started hearing the Peregrine Falcons. We were told this was the place to start looking and listening for them. Well, we were not disappointed. We saw and heard them. Picture taking of them was impossible except by accident, which you will see in a photo later on. We met a young couple at the bluff and swapped cameras where they shot us and we shot them sitting on the rock chair.
After resting and snacking at the bluff for a little while we began the second half of the trail. This is where the climb really begins. We met one couple as we approached the Saddle, where they said “you get to go down for a little while now”. Well that is fine but in a saddle after going down you must go back up. That thought at the time was not comforting. I am not sure where the footlog was along the way but I sure am glad someone came up with this idea. That would have really been quite a climb without it. As you can see this was quite a breathtaking sight when you came upon the steps you had to climb here next to this sheer rock.
After quite awhile on the trail we approached Trout Branch and then shortly after that we finally ran into Ed Wright, Tom Grubbs and Tillroe Smith. Would love to have stopped to chat longer but we were on a mission and the trip was getting shorter. One of the fellows noticed my hiking stick and said that my father was not kidding when he said “walk softly and carry a big stick”. I believe that was right below Cliff Top where we saw them. It was great to finally meet Ed. As we finally arrived at the Lodge we could hardly see any buildings. One of the workers hollered out “come on down”. Now that will make you feel right at home. We met Anna and she took us up to the lodge office where we could sign in and then she took us over to our lodge. There we were able to relax, clean up and take a nap in our room. Rustic as it was it was very comfortable. After quite a nap we awakened and returned to the lodge office to find that the place was now full. Many people had been coming up behind us. As you can see in the common area people need to rest after that hike up. Having never met these people sitting around the heater, we found out later they were our lodge mates. Rob & Sherry Kaniper, Sharon & I, John & Mary Rita Brossart and Jerry & Elaine Fuell. It’s amazing how God puts you together with the right people at the right time. Of all the groups of people that were up there we were all placed in the same lodge together. The other groups were larger, some family and friends. We as strangers were all similar in ages so we all were very compatible for our stay. Dinner was served at 6 pm and don’t be late. We all met to enjoy a feast fit for a king and then I surprised Sharon with an anniversary cake that the crew had made for us. Everyone go to enjoy the wonderful chocolate/chocolate cake from scratch.
After dinner we were still hoping that the fog would lift and we could go out to Cliff Top to see the sunset. Sure enough there was break and everyone headed for the top. We were out on the ledge to get this sunset photo. I don’t even want to tell you what it look like down below us. Rob and Sherry wanted their photo taken as well, so Sharon took one of me taking one of them. After a very cold (33 degrees) sunset we decided we better get out of there before we got caught out there in the dark. Whenever you are some place like this without power it is quite dark at night. So the best thing to do is head back to the lodge. Our lodge mates and we sat around for quite awhile talking late into the night while sitting around the heater and the glow of the two oil lanterns. We did step out on the porch of the lodge and took a photo of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, TN. That night was a great night of sleep after a very long and tiring yet enjoyable day. The next morning we were awakened by the smell of Breakfast. It was then that we took our special photo. May 17th was our 31st wedding anniversary.
We had breakfast, packed our things and enjoyed a little time around the place before we departed for the trek down. Snapped one photo of the collection of cabins and then we departed down the trail where we saw snow the afternoon before. It was a much more beautiful day coming down than before. We were able to see views of the valleys around us and vistas that we had not seen earlier. As we were coming down I just wanted to show you some of the areas where there are cables for you to hold on to for your safety. They were quite helpful in several places. One of the most impressive climbs with the cables was Betty Jane’s Stairway to Heaven. As you can see the cables help. This place on the trail really will catch your attention. After walking awhile we were looking for Bust @ss Rock. When all of a sudden I think Sharon found it. She hit her knee on it and had to show you. With the knee trouble that Sharon has had over the years, she should not have even been on this hike. But through the training she has been doing over the past two years with walking and tremendous weight loss she has conquered the mountain. That is why we kind of held our breath for a minute or two after her altercation with The Rock. We came upon several great views of the ridges and Duck Hawk Ridge as well.
After leaving Alum Cave Bluff we rounded the corner towards Inspiration Point and spotted these Sand Myrtles in full bloom, so Sharon had to enjoy them. The next photo is the one I had mentioned earlier about the Peregrine Falcons. I was taking this photo of Dolly Parton Peaks and after getting home noticed down in the lower left there is one of the Peregrine Falcons in flight. Now that was a treasure. We continued on and met a couple coming up, passed along our trail map and told them to take their time and enjoy the rest of the trip. If you click on the trail map link on Ed’s website you can print out a rather nice map. As we made our final descent into the lower portions of the trail we kept crossing paths with a young couple that had only gone to the bluffs and were returning to the parking lot. We traded cameras at the Arch Rock and took photos of each other as we descended down through it. This young fellow kept commenting on how hungry he was. His greatest mission for the morning was getting back to the car to go eat. It’s amazing how you burn up the calories when hiking. Just before crossing over footbridge number one a couple asked how far to the Bluffs. We said about 1 ½ hours. I thought he was going to pass out right there. I guess he would not have made it to the top. Only the determined and strong of heart make it to the Top of the World.
Our trip up took us 5 hours and 9 minutes. The trip down took 4 hours and 8 minutes. It’s amazing the muscles you use going down are different then the ones used going up. This was a trip we will never forget and highly recommend it to anyone with the will and stamina to take on the mountain. We will do it again someday and probably take the Boulevard Trail down. Hey, we even got a T Shirt. Thanks Ed, for letting us share our adventure on your web page.
Wally & Sharon Houston
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