March 15: Hiking the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Leconte

8:00 AM EDT, Airbnb
We are kindly awoken by nature’s alarm clock, a persistent rooster, demanding that the world wake up to see the sunrise over the Smokies. It’s a quiet morning aside from the rooster, and we go about our morning to cook some breakfast before our 10-mile hike, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Leconte.

10:00 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trailhead
After a hastily-made breakfast and a scenic drive through some of the Smokies, we arrive at the Alum Cave Trailhead, approximately ten miles total. It starts off pretty good; we’re in high spirits and we’re making good pace: 3 miles an hour.

Alum Cave Trailhead

10:42 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trail
The terrain is starting to get a little icy and snowy, as expected since it’s barely even spring. I’m starting to get a little nervous and cautious about where I’m stepping. While trying to step up onto a patch of snow and ice, I fall, face-first, bruising my left knee and my right hip. (Don’t ask me how I contorted myself like that.) I brush it off, becoming even more wary of where I’m stepping.

11:00 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trail
About twenty minutes later, Jaret steps the wrong way on some ice and almost falls off a cliff. I mean, the only things that save him are his quick reflexes and hand strength from rock climbing. He just pulls himself right off that cliff and laughs it off, while I’m recovering from a near heart-attack from that.

11:14 AM EDT, Alum Cave
We reach the halfway point, the Alum Cave, which is this huge, cavernous opening that stretched about a thousand feet over our heads. Naturally, the ice was melting, so the icicles continue dripping from the top of the cave above us.  We take a ten-minute break to snack before getting on the Mt. Leconte trail.

The view from our break spot in Alum Cave

12:35 PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Trail
I have my first big mental breakdown. I’m ready to quit. I’m sore and out of shape; my hips hurt and my feet are swollen. I’m not having a good time. I actually start having an anxiety attack on the trail, but Jaret calms me down.

1:13 PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Trail
I have my second big mental breakdown. This time though, I am adamant about finishing the hike, but this trail is difficult. My body desperately wants me to stop. Jaret calms me down again and recommends I eat a little bit, which helps my energy but doesn’t stop my pain.


1:50PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Clifftops
We summit! My body is in so much pain that my brain completely shuts down. I immediately lose all control of my feelings and all I can feel is anger towards myself for not preparing at all for this hike. But everyone else is ecstatic to be at the top. It’s 6400 feet above sea level and a beautiful view. We start heading down.

The view at the top of Mt. Leconte. Thanks to that girl in the blue for being my model for the picture.

4:36 PM EDT, Alum Cave Trailhead
It’s always faster coming down than it is going up. We finish the hike in about 6.5 hours — 4 hours going up and 2.5 hours coming down. We made pretty good time and we just accomplished one of the hardest trails in the Smokies!

8:40 PM EDT, Airbnb
Jaret and I can’t figure out how to turn on the hot water, so we fiddle with the tub for twenty minutes, call some help, and finally take showers. In an attempt to turn on the jacuzzi though, Jaret sprays the water everywhere across the floor, getting everything wet. But, the jacuzzi bath is nice and relaxing, and we are ready to do nothing tomorrow.

March 14-17: The Great Smoky Mountains Reflection and Advice for Hikers
March 14: Driving up to the Smokies <–  –> March 16: Waterfall, river, and fried catfish!

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