My son and I left out Thursday, June 17th for Pigeon Forge where we would stay in a hotel that night. We arrived in Pigeon Forge early enough to go ahead and go to the Sugarland Visitor Center located just inside the GSMNP and fill out the paperwork to fulfill our reservation. After we did this we headed back to Pigeon Forge to check into our hotel.
Once we were checked in and got all our stuff settled in we decided to go and grab a bite. I also had to stop and pick up a few other things for the trip. After doing all of this we went back to the hotel, and I let my son go swimming in the pool at the hotel. He had a blast. After he finished swimming he got into some dry clothes and we took a stroll down Parkway in Pigeon Forge until the skies grew dark.
The next morning we woke early, got dressed and then headed to the Pancake Pantry for some good breakfast, and to meet Pasty White. After breakfast it was finally time to hit the trail. We dropped Pasty’s car off at Newfound Gap which is where we would finish the hike, and then headed back to the Alum Cave Trail head. I believe we had started hiking around 8:30 am.
We enjoyed the morning, just being on the trail and listening to the sound of the water crashing against the rocks in the creek we were following. We crossed several log bridges going back and forth over the flowing water. Pasty educated me in identifying some of the trees and bushes. I watched my son closely to see how he was really doing, and he seemed fine.
About an hour later I could already tell it was wearing on him. The reality of walking down a trail where each corner revealed another long stretch of trail, and usually in an upward direction. But he pulled through. Shortly after this though, he began to complain his back hurt, and questioned when we would be there (there being the bluffs about 2.5 miles in, in which we were stopping for a lunch).
We came to Peregrine Peak where we viewed our first good panoramic view. This view looked over valleys and towards the tops of many mountain tops. It was beautiful. However the part that my son picked up on was that we could see the bluffs, and it was close! So we headed on, and 5 minutes later we were climbing the steep mountain side which stopped under the bluff. Matthew stripped his pack off, and began running around, enjoying being free from his pack, but also amazed at the bluffs. He tried scaling the walls of the bluff to try to get into some crannies for a good seat and finally with a little help from dad managed to do so. Here we had a quick lunch snack.
As we loaded our packs back on and began to head out we overheard some hikers talking with some rangers that had just hiked down into the bluffs about some bear activity at Mt LeConte shelter the night before. Obviously there had been a bear which had shown up about 3 am and was shaking the poles holding the bear cables which were about 20 – 25 feet from the shelter. The bear never came into the shelter though. Also, another bear had been showing up routinely during the evenings and the mornings at the same shelter and had gotten within 10 feet of the shelter but was scared off by the people in the shelter. The rangers were staying at the lodge on top of Mt LeConte for this reason, but had been called back for the moment because a bear had gotten into some kind of structure in Cade’s Cove. So we headed up the last half of the Alum Cave trail anticipating a bear sighting for the night at the shelter.
The last half of the Alum Cave trail is harder than the first half, and my son could tell it. He was ready to get there to be done with carrying his pack for the day. It took a little nudging from me to get him there. He didn’t really complain, but I could tell he was done with the fun part, however he trudged on, and he did get there.
Once on top he got a little more excited. We walked through the lodge area briefly, and then to the shelter and dropped our packs. We laid claim to a spot in the shelter and then walked back to the lodge and filled our water bottles. On the way back to the shelter we passed the llamas that are used for carrying the supplies up to the lodge. Once we got back we finished unpacking and took a break. Another ranger showed up spoke with us some more about the bear activity at the shelter. Two other guys also informed us that they saw 2 bears at the Icewater Springs shelter which is where we were staying the next night. Visions of bears were definitely dancing in our heads!
Later we went down the trail and fixed our dinner away from the shelter. I was able to use my original White Box Stove with my GSI Kettle again, which was fun. We sat on the side of a mountain and enjoyed our meal with a beautiful view of the mountain, when they peaked through the haze that is! After we finished we went back and put away all our supplies. We hung everything that night except our sleeping gear and the clothes we were wearing.
While at the shelter 2 men hiked in. One was carrying the sole to his 10-year-old Vasque Sundowner boots in his hand. The people at the shelter quickly offered a helping hand. They held the sole back on the bottom of the boot and wrapped string all around the boot, holding the sole in place. After this, they used some duct tape over the string to help hold the sole in place. The hiker then went to the lodge and shortly returned with loads of duct tape around his boots. They had decided to hike back out that night instead of staying which opened up 2 spots for some other hikers that were needing a place to stay. The hiker with the busted boots hiked back down from Mt LeConte after 5 pm via the 5 mile Alum Cave Trail. I hope he made it ok and without injury.
We ended the night trying to catch a glimpse of the sunset from the famous Cliff Tops. When we arrived we found the ranger telling the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to a rather large crowd from the lodge. So there we sat, catching glimpses of the sun setting between rolling clouds with a very detailed story of the parks history being told. It was awesome.
We made it back to the shelter and called it a night. As we were doing so, the rain came. It rained good for about an hour, and then it went away. Soon after the snoring began, and lasted till the morning. All throughout the night a bear never showed, that we knew of anyway, and our food was all there in the morning.
Breakfast was instant Oatmeal in a pouch. It was fine and dandy, until we smelled the bacon frying… A man and his son which had showed up later in the evening before were really cooking it up. The bacon smelled great, better than at home. Maybe it was something about waking up outdoors, away from civilization, way on top of a mountain, and just smelling bacon. Yum. I must say we were ecstatic when he set a bowl on the bench and said this is extra, ya’ll eat up!
We suited back up and hiked off into the morning. Again, we were hiking by 8:30. We followed the Boulevard trail all 5.4 miles to the Appalachian Trail. The Boulevard trail was a little unmaintained. It was really grown over with grass and bushes at many spots. My son again led the way, which meant he was knocking all the dew and rain off all the overgrowth, so he was completely soaked from the knees down, fast. This kind of took a little out of him. He started out kind of bummed about putting his pack on, and the day was hard for him, but yet again, he trudged on.
By 12:30 we had reached Icewater Springs shelter and laid claim to a spot again. We then sat down for a quick lunch snack, and then the rain came. I actually got service on my phone and looked at the radar. There was a red line almost right on top of us, but luckily it was a thin red line. The rain lasted about an hour or so. While we were waiting on it to pass, we made a fire in the fireplace inside the shelter, and people were constantly pouring in. At one point there were 28 people inside the shelter! Mostly were day hikers, and then a few hikers that were staying overnight at the shelter. One was a section hiker that had been out nearly 4 months. He had started at Harper’s Ferry. (He had to take 3 weeks off due to an injury.)
After the rain stopped, the shelter emptied. My son had taken a nap again, and when I tried to wake him to ask him if he wanted to go to Charlie’s Bunion, well, he wasn’t happy. I told Pasty that he was done hiking for the day, and Pasty decided to go and check out the Jump Off. About 30 minutes later once my son had woken up good and eaten some Gold Fish, he was pumped about going check out Charlie’s Bunion, so off we went. When we got there it was amazing. The previous rain had knocked some of the pollution in the air down, and visibility was high. I don’t know the surrounding lands, but we saw what seemed like as far as the eye could see. Sweet!
On the way back we met Pasty heading up. We continued back to the shelter and started getting our dinner stuff ready. Again, I got to use my stove and kettle, and I am really getting attached to it. However, my set up was dwarfed by the smorgasbord that 4 other hikers came in with. I am not sure what all they had, but there were fresh squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions…….they boiled noodles, and then added all this in with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese, it just looked grand. But I enjoyed my Mountain House lasagna. My son on the other hand didn’t want to have anything to do with lasagna. He ended up eating brownies and Fruit Roll-Ups.
So night eventually came, and again we settled in. As we were getting ready two young hikers came in. After they ate and unpacked a little, Pasty left the fire to the young guys and turned in himself.
The next morning we arose early. I made breakfast and got our stuff packed up. We were back on the trail by 7:45. This was the hike out, and my son knew it, but at first it didn’t make it any easier for him. Still, he pushed on. We were out at Newfound Gap by 9:25. We pulled our packs off, this time for the last time, and changed our muddy boots out for our sandals. We all loaded up in Pasty’s car and he took us back to our truck.
So ended our trip. Until next time…