Pack your bags and go. The advice I’d give to any college student looking for an adventure. Sometimes as a full time student, you can get far too caught up in making the grades, getting to class, going to work and making money.
Maybe that is why fall break was invented. A reminder to rest and recharge. Over my fall break, I did exactly that; all while hiking up a mountain. Thanks to an adventurous boyfriend and a pair of L.L Bean hiking boots, the hike was to be easily accomplished.
At 6593 feet, Mount Leconte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. So, when I say easily accomplished, it’s helpful when your bag is less than half the weight of whose bag you’re travelling with.
The journey began at 8:30 a.m. via the Alum Cave Trail with the fuel of a Dave’s killer bread peanut butter bagel. Trekking poles in hand, the first steady 1.3 miles will guide you to the Arch Rock landmark. Here, a staircase carved into a large boulder jutting out from the earth will act as the first real incline. Your trail legs will kick into gear as you marvel at this first landmark up towards Mt. Leconte.
Knowing what to expect next is a real game changer when hiking up a mountain. The mental push it gives you to put one foot in front of another for hours on end is important. That’s why the next landmark, at 2.2 miles is so significant. That, and it’s the halfway point; Alum Cave Bluffs.
For me, this was the tiniest bit of stretch that seemed to be the toughest. Upon arrival, the accent had been steady and you’re immediately greeted with a huge set of dirt covered stairs straight up. The bluffs are breathtaking, overwhelming, and admired as you realize you are half way. Walking up this dirt cliff to sit beneath it was absolutely killer. The rest is far greater of a reward than any picture that could be taken here.
The second half of this hike is much harder than the first half; this is the point where most people turn around. Passed the bluffs there are continuous stretches of uphill climb. When you are hiking, these stretches can become brutal even if they’re only a minute or two long. The views however and endless scenery are worth it.
You know you’re near the finish line when you enter what feels like an enchanted forrest. A narrow path with shimmering foliage and sun beams peaking in every nook and cranny light the way to the top of the peak. At 5 miles, there is an entire village at the top filled with small cabins, elated hikers, and even a giftshop with tee shirts for the fist timer, to prove they completed the task. There are also a couple trails to lead you to beautiful summits with 365 panoramic views. If I were you, I would highly recommend taking the time to visit these as well.
Myrtle Point and Cliff Tops offer the most surreal, dreamlike views. Myrtle Point’s overlook is the perfect place to feel like you are on top of the world. The beauty of the mountains stretching as far back as the eye can see in every shade of blue and purple is an opportunity that can’t be missed. Cliff Tops is a difficult 0.2 mile stretch but with the mental mindset of seeing the best sunset in your life, it’s the last push you need.
Whether you decide to hike back down or stay the night, the journey is well worth the destination. Besides, everyone wants to come back from break saying ‘best fall break ever,’ right? But, if you are like me and stay the night in a tent, carry the extra weight of a blanket. You will thank yourself later.