# 13 and # 19Do you sometimes find yourself at the same old trailhead heading for the same old summit, climbing a mountain that you have been up what you think is more than enough times? In my case this would be Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just recently I made another short weekend trip to the Smokies, and once again found myself on the Alum Cave Trail heading to Mount LeConte on Saturday and on the Chimney Tops Trail on Sunday morning. Having kept pretty good notes from trips past I knew going in that this would be my 13th trip up to Mount LeConte via Alum Cave and my 19th trip to the Chimney Tops.
A large number of these summit visits were accumulated the first few years I started hiking. Since then, I have become somewhat tired of this itinerary. Maybe it’s just the fact that I now have set my sites on so many other mountains, in other parts of the country, not to mention within GSMNP as well. I keep telling myself that there are just too many trails I want to get to to keep going back and doing the same hikes over and over again. But by the end of this weekend I found that I was quite happy that we had hit these same old well worn trails. I realized that there are a few good reasons to keep going back!
Yes, I repeated the same weekend itinerary of climbing Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops in late May this year. But the primary reason I ended up repeating it is because I continue to take new friends down to the Smokies to introduce them to hiking in the mountains, hiking in GSMNP, or in most cases both. And when I do this, I want my friends to have as good of a hiking experience as possible, and for several reason Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops fit the bill. In this particular case, it was my friend Rob that wanted to visit the Smokies. While Rob and I have made the 20+ hour drive from Indiana to Colorado four times, we have never made the short eight hour drive to the Smokies. We had talked about making this trip quite a bit, but we never seemed to get around to making it a reality. During a phone call from Rob in January we decided the time was right, and a short weekend trip in May was planned.
Why this same itinerary? I still have the majority of the trails in the Smokies to hike, but I would argue that from a scenery standpoint the Alum Cave Trail offers the best mountain vistas as any trail in GSMNP. So often in GSMNP the ridgeline views are obstructed, making a hard day of hiking seem somewhat pointless. There is nothing so disheartening as to hike uphill for five miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain, to see nothing more than a forest of trees all the way to the summit. The Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte is that rare Smokies experience that offers unobstructed mountain vistas for a good majority of the hike.
As for the Chimneys, I am sure this is the busiest trail in the park, so why would I choose it for this special itinerary. Well, if you hit the trailhead early enough, you can have the summit all to yourself! And the views from the Chimneys summit are quite special, particulary if you are alone.
The OldDespite having been up these trails so many times, during the hikes I realized how much I never get tired of seeing the same beautiful Smoky Mountain vistas.
The NewDespite all of my previous hikes on these trails I was surprised at how many new experiences I had over the course of this short weekend. As I reflected back over the weekend trail experiences, it made me realize that yes there is some merit in returning to the same trails over and over again. You can alwasy find something new to see or experience.
I have been up the Alum Cave Trail at least a half dozen times in the month of May and I don’t ever remember seeing rhododendron blooms in this area this early in spring.
I’m sure I have noticed the numerous downed trees along the trails in the past as this is fairly common in the Smokies. This one just seemed to stand out.
Another trail scene that I had probably missed in the years prior…wildflowers on the approach to Myrtle Point
It is always hard to miss noticing the damage to the Fraser Firs by the Wolly Adelgid, but heading out on the Boulevard Trail, the devastation seemed so much more intense than on my previous visits.
The "Washout" on the Boulevard is always impressive to hike across. I have always wanted to get a good view of it from Myrtle Point and after a little exploring I was finally able to on this trip.
Despite my 19 trips to the Chimneys, I have never made it over to the "second chimney". I ran out of time on this trip as well, but I did make a half hearted attempt. Interestingly enough it seemed much less dangerous than what I had previously thought. Of course, this makes me think that I want to go back...so is trip number 20 in the works already?
A Little PerspectiveMy 13 trips to LeConte may seem like a lot to me, but here are few quotes from Hiking Trails of the Smokies that pretty much put my few visits into perspective. Obviously, and for good reason, Mount LeConte holds a certain mystique to the avid GSMNP hiker.
“…Paul Dinwillde of Knoxville had made 744 hikes to LeConte by late July 1993. That’s probably the record for recreational hikers to the popular peak…”
“…And C.L. Baum, who in 1922, at age 61, thought he was the oldest person to hike to LeConte, has lost that distinction to thousands of older hikers. Rufus Morgan, the late long-walking Episcopal minister from Franklin, North Carolina, made his 174th and last hike to LeConte on his 93rd birthday. Margaret Stevenson of Maryville, Tennessee, who has hiked every trail in the Great Smokies and had recorded 607 LeConte hikes by early August 1993, is 81 and still going strong."