Today my friends and I hiked to Mt. LeConte along the Alum Cave Trail, then hiked along the Boulevard Trail and Appalachian Trail to Newfound Gap. This was a 13.4 mile route with 4838 feet of climbing. We started hiking just before sunrise to make sure we got a parking spot at the trail head. This is one of the most popular hikes at the most popular time of year. As we hiked the sun rose and the clouds lifted. Much like our “fall colors” hike two years ago, as we climbed in elevation the fall colors gave way to frost. We stopped at many great look outs along Alum Cave Trail and at Mt. LeConte. The Boulevard Trail is much less traveled and we quietly hiked along the ridge line with views through the trees on either side.
Today my friends and I hiked from Cataloochee, along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, to Swallow Fork Trail, to Low Gap Trail, to the Appalachian Trail, to Mt Cammerer, and back again. This was a very challenging 30.4 mile day hike with 7284 feet of climbing according to Caltopo. It took 13 hours total, sunrise to sunset. We started at 7:50 (sunrise) and got back to the car at 8:50 (nearly 2 hours past sunset) stopping twice for 30 minutes each: once at mile 15 for lunch at the Mt Cammerer fire watch tower and once at mile 20 to refill our water at Walnut Bottom. Unfortunately, like last week, the clouds covered the top of Mt Cammerer so we didn’t have a view. By the time we stopped to refill our water in the evening, the clouds lifted, and we could see bright patches of fall colors through the trees around us. On the hike back up to Pretty Hollow Gap the sun was starting to set. Golden hour was quickly approaching. We picked up our pace to reach the gap before the sun set only to realize the gap we first passed in the clouds was covered in trees blocking a clear view of the surrounding mountainsides.
Hiking so far and so quickly is different than what I am used to and what I prefer. There were many times I would have liked to stop for a photo and had to keep moving. Similarly, by the end I was on autopilot just trying to put one put in front of the other. I was really happy with my hiking boots. I wore only one pair of wool socks and only had a small blister by the end. I am not sure I ate enough. During the days leading up to the hike ate more than I normally do, and in the morning I had a good breakfast. On the hike I had a peanut butter sandwich (350 cal) apple sauce (100 cal), two Chick-fil-a sandwiches (880 cal and great trail food), four rxbar (840 cal), a banana (90 cal), trail mix (460 cal), five thin mints (180), and a brownie (250 cal), for a total of only 3150 calories. Next time, I need to be better about planning food.
Today I hiked a 12 mile loop including Charlie’s Bunion. Starting at Newfound Gap at 5,048 ft, I followed the Appalachian Trail for 1.7 miles then hiked down 2,000 feet to the Kephart shelter, then back up to the AT at dry Sluice Gap and Charlie’s Bunion at 5376 feet. The trail back to Newfound Gap peaked at Mt Kephart at 6217 feet. All told the elevation gain was ~3217 feet.
This turned out to be one of the best hikes I’ve done. I woke up at 5:30 am and left the house by 6 to get to the park before the crowds (this time of year is especially crowded. It can feel like rush hour in the mountains.) True to their name, the Smokys were covered in clouds. When I started hiking at 8 it was cold, windy, and wet. Ice cold water fell from the trees every time the wind blew. There was no visibility past the trail. As I descended to the Kephart shelter I dipped below the clouds and caught the morning sun. I stopped for lunch and a nap just before the bunion because I found a beautiful spot to set up my hammock with a window between two evergreen trees overlooking, The Sawteeth, an adjacent peak. By the time I hiked to the bunion the clouds around the peaks had evaporated leaving a cloud inversion in the valleys lasting well into the late afternoon. I did my best impression of the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. After the bunion I hiked directly back to Newfound Gap finishing the hike in a casual 9 hours.
Today my friends and I bouldered in Stone Fort / Little Rock City in Soddy-Daisy Tennessee near Chattanooga. Most of what we climbed was difficult for me but not too highly rated.
We warmed up on Slab (V0-), Needless Things (V0-), and Costume Rings (V0-). We sent Fire Crack Flake (V1), a big incredibly thin flake on the corner of the boulder. I separately climbed the first and second halves of Art of the Vogi (V4), a really cool problem with a sloper, slab top. I couldn’t get anywhere on Hairy Underclings (V3). I loved the start of Swingers (V3-4), a cave super overhung with jugs, but couldn’t nail the sloper top-out. I climbed halfway up The Crescent (V1) and Spacegrass (V2), and flashed Smoking Jacket (V1-2).
Every climb here is highly rated. The problems we climbed have interesting holds and require precise moves. Overall, it was a warm day (even in early October), and my hands and the holds were quite slick. I’d love to come back and try these problems in cooler, drier weather.
Climbing outside, especially the strong moves required in bouldering, is rough on the skin (every hold on sandstone is basically sandpaper). My fingerprints wore off and my computer couldn’t read my print for a week.
Today I hiked a short 2 mile out and back trail to Spruce Flat Falls with my parents. The family was in Gatlinburg to celebrate my grandmothers birthday. This trail is not on my map and is only marked “falls” by a sign near the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
Today my friends and I climbed at Leda, in Soddy-Daisy. This is a pretty area with many sport climbs in our range (<5.11). The property is owned by the Montlake Golf Course and also includes the bouldering area Stone Fort Little Rock City. With climbers and golfers everywhere it makes for an odd crowd.
I top roped Walk By Me (5.7), Knock on Rock (5.9+), Speedway Boogie (5.7+), Free to Think (trad 5.8), and Cracked Actor (trad 5.10a). Cracked Actor has an awesome off width crack which is too big for a hand jam (i.e. hand cracks) but too small to fit my whole body in (i.e. a chimney). There were a few crimps in the off width that made it easier. The crack then became a finger crack with a sharp edge and an awesome layback. Unfortunately, I didn't have the energy in my grip to finish out the juggy, pumpy moves to the anchors without resting.
Today, my friends and I climbed at Lilly Bluff at Obed. It was a beautiful day. The routes at Lilly Bluff were more difficult that I expected. I top roped a few classic climbs, Tarantella (5.10a) and Ticks Are For Kids (5.10a). I lead Rocking Chair (5.9-) and finished the lead (with rests) on Clyde the Mega Dude (5.11b/c), my first 5.11! Though, only the crux is 5.11. The rest of the climb is 5.8-5.9. I was totally worn out by the end.
Today, my friends and I climbed at South Clear at Obed. We set out with the intention to climb trad at North Clear but the trail was really overgrown and we couldn't find the right routes. So, we went to South Clear and sport climbed. I only top roped this time. It took a while to adjust to the heights and being on a rope after bouldering in the gym. I climbed Best Seat In The House (5.9), Double Feature (5.10c), Shadowhawk (5.9), and tried Cheap Seats (5.10a) and Spawn (5.10b/c). Best Seat In The House and Cheap Seats were slabby climbs. I was sweating too much in the heat to deal with the small holds on Cheap Seats. We started on Shadowhawk and Spawn. These were both high climbs (90 feet) with great views of the river. I got worn out at the end of Spawn and didnt have the strength for the last few moves. Double Feature started with a cool boulder problem using a two finger pocket. The rest of the climb was big moves. Unfortunately, we all got yellow jacket stings on the hike in and out (they build their nests in steps on the trail). This was still a great day out.
As I wrote before, I had to go back to Ramsey Cascades because I forgot my camera the first time, and if there are not any (good) photos did it really happen? This time my sister met me at the trailhead to hike with me. There had been a lot of rain this week so the river and falls were roaring. It also rained on us for about 20 minutes. The whole forest was just as green and alive as ever. Just like last time there were many cool fungi. My favorite is the clear one that looks like frosted glass.
Today, I hiked to Ramsey Cascades. The trail was an 8.0 mile total, out and back with 2190 feet of climbing. The trail winds along the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River through the largest old growth forest in the national park. I walked past the three largest trees I've ever seen, and everywhere was filled with life: wild flowers, butterflies, moss, trees, undergrowth, fungi. It felt like walking through a Hayao Miyazaki film. The trail ends at Ramsey Cascades the tallest waterfall in the park at 100 feet (though Rainbow Falls at 80 feet is the largest single drop waterfall in the park).
On the hike back I walked past a rattlesnake 10 feet off the trail. It rattled as I walked past, and was loud enough to hear over the sound of the creek. A half mile later I walked past an agitated bee hive. I walked calmly and briskly and avoided getting stung.
I brought my fully charged camera but unfortunately forgot the memory card. The only photos I took were on my phone (the best camera is the one you have with you), so I will hike it again to get better photos.