Mount LeConte

Today I hiked to Mount LeConte via Rainbow Falls then returned along the Trillium Gap trail passing by Grotto Falls. This ended up being a longer hike than expected, 15.3 miles with 4000 feet of elevation gain; I missed one of the legs on the map until I saw the mile markers at LeConte Lodge. I would rather just complete the loop rather than hiking two out and back trails. Unfortunately, the peak was covered in clouds so there wasn't a view from the top. The actual peak is a little distance from Leconte Lodge. Because I now had farther to hike than expected, the clouds blocked any view from the top, and I've seen it before, I did not hike the extra distance to the top.

The forest was pretty at this point in mid-summer. Everything was green. Everything was a little damp. Moss growing on everything. The white flower is a ghost plant or Monotropa uniflora. It is completely white which means it does not have chlorophyll and thus does not get its energy from the sun. It is parasitic to mycorrhizal fungi (fungi that grow on the roots of trees). Plants have their own microbiomes just like people. Other researchers in the lab I work in study plant microbe interactions, particularly bacteria in the mycorrhiza. This is the second parasitic plant I’ve seen while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail above Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls was not crowded at all. I only saw 10 people during this stretch (except for Leconte Lodge which is always packed with friendly people). Rainbow falls is the tallest single drop waterfall in the park at 80 feet, and Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the park that you can walk behind.

At one point I walked through an area affected by the wildfires in 2016. All the trees were dead and charred black. Large white boulders stuck out without any moss or lichen growing on them. The undergrowth was thriving, enjoying all the light they could want, which made the contrast between the white rocks, green undergrowth, black trees, and blue sky all the sharper.