Mt. Le Conte: Make It A Double

Last winter (early January 2015) I had planned a 27.5 mile hike in the Smoky Mountains with some friends. Our plans fell through, though, when I came down with the flu a couple days before we were planning to leave. So this year my brother and I decided to make it happen over the holiday break.

We left Newburgh at 3:15 am on December 31, 2015. We had agreed that I would make the 6.5 hour drive down while he slept, then he would make the 6.5 hour drive back home while I slept. The entire trip ended up taking 27 hours, and we didn’t have to drop any money on a hotel. Or bring camping gear.

Our route (in brown)

Our route (in brown)

Satellite View

Satellite View

Elevation Profile

We departed from the (very popular) Alum Cave Trailhead. There were a lot more people on the trail than I expected in late December…probably due to the NYE holiday and the nice weather (high around 50 in Gatlinburg and mid- to upper- 30’s at the top of Le Conte). We probably saw 60-80 people on the way up via Alum Cave, compared with 0 people on the way down Bullhead, 4 people on the way back up Trillium Gap, and 2 people going back down Alum Cave later that night.

Starting up the Alum Cave Trail

Starting up the Alum Cave Trail

Dense fog down in the valleys

Dense fog down in the valleys

Trent and I got a chuckle out of one of the guys we passed on the way up – a heavy-set man in his 40’s or 50’s. He must have been offended when we passed him, because he practically ran past us a few seconds later, shot us a dirty look, then power-hiked in front of us for a few minutes before eventually having to pull over to catch his breath.

Standing atop Mt. Le Conte

Standing atop Mt. Le Conte (6,594′)

broskis

Broskis

We made good time descending via Bullhead. The trail was pretty smooth and gradual, and the lack of leaves on the trees made for excellent views of the valleys below.

Descending into the fog

Descending into the fog…

...very thick fog

…very thick fog

The transition into the fog was very sudden, and visibility dropped to just a few feet in some places. We’d end up walking through the fog until after nightfall, including the last 1.5 miles or so of Bullhead, and the initial section of Trillium Gap until we were a little past Grotto Falls.

Brushy Mountain summit

Brushy Mountain summit (4,911′)

It was completely dark by the time we made it to the top of Brushy Mountain, but we were once again above the fog. So we took a few pictures and had a snack before continuing the rest of the way to Le Conte. We were pretty footsore at this point, and low on food…so the final 3.5 miles up the Trillium Gap trail was the toughest section of the day. We had been talking most of the day (politics, jokes, medical stuff, etc.), but switched to headphones and focused silence for this section.

Mt. Le Conte summit, for the second time

Mt. Le Conte summit, for the second time

It was very chilly at this point (probably low- to mid- 20’s), but didn’t feel bad at all so long as we were moving. Trent and I had been prepared for the worst, and each had a couple extra layers in our packs that we never ended up using.

Heading back down the Alum Cave Trail

Heading back down the Alum Cave Trail

The final 5-mile descent on the Alum Cave Trail felt relatively easy. We chatted briefly with a couple guys heading to the summit to spend the night, but otherwise didn’t see anyone. Made it back to the car at exactly 11:58 pm EST on December 31, 2015, just BARELY in time to keep this from turning into a 2-year-long hike.

2 minutes until 2016

2 minutes until 2016

Distance Summary

Ended up taking 12 hours 40 minutes to cover 27+ miles, slightly better than the 14 hours we had planned on. We grabbed some burgers in Pigeon Forge before heading back to Newburgh. A long day, but we had a great time.

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Published in: on January 3, 2016 at 10:19 pm  Comments (5)