Mount Le Conte

Ascending Mount Le Conte

Ascending Mount Le Conte

Day 8: A Big Hike

We put Eric and Mia, the two staff leaders and veterans of the Mountain Challenge program, in charge of planning this day’s events.  They ambitiously chose to lead us up to the top of Mount Le Conte, one of the highest peaks in the Appalachian Mountains, and third-tallest mountain in the Smokies.  We trusted their years of expertise hiking in rugged terrain, but we knew we had our work cut out for us.  My wife and I had hiked up to the Mount Le Conte lodge a decade ago, but I had never attempted to ascend and descend the peak in the same day.  What I had forgotten, though, was how utterly inspiring this hike could be; the terrain is challenging but this climb simply has some of the most breathtaking views in the Southeast United States.  At the end of the day we were all exhausted, but we had all made it to the top and returned without regrets.

Starting the ascent

Starting the ascent

One of the many bridges in the first quarter of the trail

One of the many bridges in the first quarter of the trail

Transition zone between the deciduous forest below and the coniferous forest above

Traveling from the deciduous forest below into the coniferous forest above

Mia inspired the entire team throughout the journey

Mia kept up student morale during the entire hike

Getting to the top

Getting to the higher elevations

Alum Cave

Alum Cave

Taking a rest in Alum Cave

Taking a rest in Alum Cave

Fragile forest in the highest elevations

Fragile forest in the highest elevations

A brief stop at Mount Le Conte Lodge

A brief stop at Mount Le Conte Lodge

Resting at the cliff tops at the summit

Our heads were literally in the clouds

Our heads were literally in the clouds as we ate lunch

A garter snake greeted us on the way down

A sated garter snake greeted us on the way down

Descending through Arch Rock

Descending through Arch Rock

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