The forecast for Saturday had been kind of bleak so we slept in but when we did get up it was a bright sunny day. We decided to just go into town to do some shopping. What a zoo. We got caught in a 4 mile long, 3 lane wide stop and go traffic jam to try to get back to the turnoff for our campground. I think this is pretty normal here on the weekends.
Yesterday was very gloomy. It seemed like it was going to rain all day but never did. We just puttered around the RV.
The Alum Cave Trail is the “easiest” of several trails to get to the top of 6500 foot Mount Le Conte. At the top there is a lodge where you can stay in one of many cabins. It is very popular to hike up one day, stay there, have dinner and breakfast and then hike down the next day. The problem is to get a booking. I heard one person say that the bookings opened up at noon on some day last October. By 5 pm the entire year had been booked.
The trails are the only way to the top so to get supplies up and trash down, every day a pack of llamas go up and down one of the other trails. They say they use llamas because they are calmer around people than horses or mules and don’t chew up the trail as much.
To get from the trailhead to the lodge is about 5 miles and a 2500 gain in elevation. We only went about half way and up about 1400 feet to just past the Alum Cave.
The Alum Cave is not really a cave but a black slate bluff with a huge overhang with lots of powdery soil on the floor. This is the turnaround point for most of the day hikers like us. Almost all of the people we encountered after the cave where on their way to the lodge.
The guide book I use said this is a great trail but you will be hiking with “billions of people”. All the blogs I had read said to get there early if you wanted a parking spot. We got to the trailhead about 9 am and easily got a spot. I have to say that the trail just did not seem that busy. Most of the time there was no one else in sight. When we got back the parking lot was full and cars were parked on the roadside but we had no idea where they all were.
It was also a cold morning with temperatures in the low single digits Celsius which wasn’t helped by the trail being in the shade in the early morning. We should have gone later, maybe about 11, because on the way back the trail was much nicer in full sun. Also the Cave itself doesn’t get sun until the afternoon.
So we bundled up and headed off surrounded by all the mountain laurel.
The first part of the trail climbs up alongside Alum Cave Creek.
It was a tough day for pictures with lots of very bright and very dark spots in every frame.
The grade was nice and steady the whole way up. We were never really huffing and puffing but by the end we were pretty wiped out. This is the first time, this year, where we really needed a nap after getting back to the RV.
Lots more bouncy log bridges or “foot logs” as the guide book seems to call them.
The trail was a little rooty and rocky in places but in general was in pretty good shape.
The first real landmark on the way up is called Arch Rock. You cross the creek and then climb up through a hole in the cliff.
Using the convenient steps.
Then we crossed away from the creek and started climbing the far side valley wall.
Rounding a corner we got our first look at the cave. It is the dark spot on the right.
The guide book called this section a “laurel bald”.
To the cave / overhang.
We were going to stop here but we thought we would go one a bit to see if we could find a nice place for lunch and perhaps by the time we got back there might be some sun on the bluff.
From here the trail got narrower and the rocks slipperier. There were cables along the wall at the bad spots.
We only went about another 1/4 mile before we found a lunch spot.
It was not the best place for Jennie because about 6 feet in front of where she was sitting the cliff dropped straight down for several hundred feet.
Some dew on the moss in front of us.
Heading back there was a spot where we could see way back down to the parking lot.
When we got back to the cave it was still in shadow. We sat for a while in the sun before continuing on down. As I said the trip back was much nicer because we were in the sun most of the way.
We got back to the car a little after 1 pm and headed back to the RV for a nice long nap.