Posted by: pjbarr | April 11, 2010

An Irresistable Appeal

Start: Newfound Gap
Finish: Mt. LeConte Shelter
Distance: 2.7 mi.
Trip Distance: 207.4 mi.
Side Trips: Mt. LeConte, Cliff Tops, Mt. Kephart, The Jump-off, Mytrle Point
Side Trip Miles: 7.5 mi.
State: TN
Highlights: Newfound Gap, Hiking with my Smokies friends, The Jump-off, The Boulevard, Mt. LeConte, Myrtle Point, Cliff Tops Sunset, The Lodge

“I sensed again, as though for the first time, the exhilaration which goes with the thin air a mile and a quarter up and the grand mystery of wind ripping through a concealing fog on top of a mountain. I have never wanted to leave Mt. LeConte.”– Harvey Broome, 1962

Steve picked me up early this morning and took me to the store for last food and supplies. Earl Shaffer came into Gatlinburg in 1948 to re-supply himself. Boy how time has changed the town since his visit. It is now a gaudy monstrosity bustling with idiots and overweight tourists. It is indeed ironic that all of this tackiness and glittery excess exist because of the Great Smokies and wilderness so opposite the over civilized town. They are two completely separate planets but still adjacent.

I’ve actually in a way held a fondness for the town only because I so frequently immerse myself in deep wilderness for periods of time in the Smokies that I find the sensory overload of Gatlinburg a delight after missing the comforts of civilization. Equate it to the effect of taking a massive chug of water after being parched for an extended period of time. The drink is restorative more after just that first large dose. Plus, Gatlinburg is quite classy if you compare it to the absurdity that is Pigeon Forge to the north.

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Steve dropped me off at Newfound Gap where to my great delight and surprise eight friends awaited me to hike. These included some of my dearest Smokies Hiking friends: Gretchen and her husband Paul, Dave and Jenny. Also were new friends I had yet to meet but came to be part of my thru-hike, including Steve Parsons and his wife, Chris and Joey. I was so excited to have these friends join me today. It was special having them hike with me, especially because I owe some of them the development of m love for the Smokies and hiking, especially Gretchen and Dave. These two people have been to my most important moments in the Smokies with me including my Smokies 900 completion on Hemphill Bald and my wedding in Cataloochee. Now they with equaling meaningfulness join me to be part of my AT thru-hike.

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Our arranged plan was to hike to Mt. LeConte, one of my favorite places in the Smokies. I would stay the night at the Shelter with the rest of the party would descend the Alum Cave Trail. I got only 2.7 miles of actual Appalachian Trail despite hiking about 10 miles today, but it was well worth the extra distance. Mt. LeConte is unquestionably one of the most spectacular mountains in all of the Appalachians.

The Boulevard Trail that connects the summit to the state line divide is an awesomely scenic trail itself. Though we hadn’t discussed it, anyone who knows me should have anticipates it ahead of time. I wanted to make a side trip to the summit of Mt. Kephart and the Jump-off.

Mt. Kephart is named for one of my hiking heroes and author of Out Southern Highlanders, one of the best and most literary respected works on Appalachian mountaineers and the Smokies. “Kep” as he was known, was one of the earliest Smokies park promoters, and thanks to men like him I now have the Smokies to love and enjoy today. This 6,000 is a fitting monument to a man so influential in preserving the Smokies. He should and does own, in namesake, one of the parks highest peaks. Even more fitting is that Mt Kephart lies adjacent to Masa Knob names for his dear friend and photographer George Masa. Masa was a founding member of the Carolina Mountain Club and though his dramatic photograph visually inspired the creating of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Kep and Masa were best of friends and even desired to be buried side by side upon death. This never came to fruition (Masa is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville) but at least these two mountains standing as monuments to these men straddle to Smokies divide adjacent to each other.

The view from The Jump-off was dramatic. Nowhere else in the Smokies does there lie such and extreme and sheer drop off of the mountain side – even more sharp and exposed than that of Charlie’s Bunion.

On our hike along the Boulevard, the views were splendid as well. We encountered some snow and ice higher up – enough to make me nervous about re-crossing tomorrow after it refreezes over. We took a long lunch break at the Myrtle Point intersection. Paul pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey and most of us took a drink. When in Rome… Gretchen pulled endless amounts of food out of her small pack and ensured that I was well fed, including bananas, chips and angle food cake.

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We crossed over the summit and made our way to the lodge. This was my 6th trip to the top of LeConte. Many people keep record of their ascents of this peak several people have over 1,000 climbs. I’d be satisfied in my lifetime with 100, but even that number would be too few times spent on this wonderful peak.

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At the LeConte lodge Gretchen introduced me to Doug, the caretaker. I found him exceptionally generous and friendly. In fact, I later hung out with him and the other Lodge crew members after dinner in the kitchen shooting the shit for well over an hour. We discussed Shuckstack and Doug offered to post about my thru-hike and fundraising efforts on his popular online blog to hopefully generate more traffic for my Shuckstack project. Thanks Doug! I appreciate your help and your kind hospitality more than I can tell you, literally.

Following an evening meal, I hiked up to Cliff Tops for the sunset. (I’ve witnessed sunset here before, but never have I seen it this intense with this clarity and color.) A man also taking in the sunset was skilled at the harmonica and playing several neat tunes. This enhances the experience – goosebumps yet again.

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Harvey Broome once wrote, “I have never gone to that cliff without exhilaration. I have never left without regret.” He couldn’t have put it any better.

Tonight I am writing my journal by oil lamp high in the Mt. LeConte lodge common room. It has been a memorable day with amazing vistas, amazing friends and amazing food.


Responses

  1. nice write-up on your day; note your typo of cammerer’s first name – arno.
    i’ll look forward to future posts…hike NE!


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