Back at home everything dried up and we had a few days of glorious weather. In an email to Judy I lamented that my hubby was out of town, the sun was shining and I was not hiking, and Judy said, “Well, what are you doing tomorrow?”
So…I drove up to Judy’s house that night and on Wednesday morning we headed for Mt LeConte in the Smokies by the route we had ditched last week. The Rainbow Falls trailhead is reached via Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg. You drive through the heart of G’burg with all the hotels, restaurants and boardwalk atmosphere, and in about two minutes you are cruising through woodlands on a one-way road. Rainbow Falls is very popular because of its easy access, thus the trail shows heavy use. There are numerous shortcuts along the switchbacks, although it was sometimes hard to tell whether the shortcuts were made by people or running water from the recent heavy rains. (I suspect both.) Some of the interesting sights along the way:
Judy and what I call a tree sculpture, a blowdown where all the soil has washed away from the tree’s roots.
A creepy-looking plant called doll’s eyes, know more for its fruit than for its flower. Interestingly, it is part of the buttercup family, and another common name for it is white baneberry.
The waterfall was not outstanding today, but still a nice snack stop. This is where most people turn around.
Despite the weather forecast, a cloud followed us up the trail, staying on our left side as we climbed to Mt LeConte, and we were a little disconcerted that there would be no views once again. I had been here only one time before, in August several years ago, when Jim and I stayed overnight at the Lodge, and it had…guess what…rained and been foggy for the entire visit. These high mountains have their own weather and it is often nothing like what is going on down in the lower elevations.
Surprise! The buildings of the Lodge came into sight and so did a lovely blue sky. As we stood on the porch of the lodge office, the cloud hung on the left/north side of the mountain and the sun shone brilliantly on the right/south side of the mountain. The cloud kept trying to creep up and a gentle breeze stalled it and kept it in place. So cool!
After a rest we signed the guest book and checked out the Lodge office, which is filled with photos on the walls of long-time visitors and hikers and history of how the Lodge was built. Then we turned our attention to Cliff Tops, which is where Lodge guests traditionally gather to watch the sunset each evening. (Sunrise is at Myrtle Point.) Here is what we saw from Cliff Tops that day:
All too soon it was time to leave, as we had about 7 miles to hike down, 2 hours drive back to Judy’s house and then 2 hours more for me to get home. We headed down on the Bullhead Trail, which is probably the least used of all the trails leading to LeConte, and is quite rocky at the beginning but eventually becomes a lovely and interesting trail. On the way down we saw some stands of grass of parnussus, not a grass at all but a beautiful flower. About halfway down we stopped at the Pulpit, a seemingly random stack of stones on the trail, described in “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” this way: “The Pulpit is a stone cairn built by men of the Civilian Conservation Corps when they constructed this trail in the 1930s. Nobody told them to do it. Somebody thought it would be a good idea, and enough others agreed to get the job done. They carried stones from far and near. The Pulpit is tall enough for those who stand on it to get a good look northward down into LeConte Creek Valley. It’s wide enough for two or three to sit on.”
Down, down, down until the Bullhead Trail ended at Old Sugarlands Trail and we walked about a half mile back to the car. No bears today – Judy has never seen a bear on a trail. However, as we drove out of the Park on Roaring Fork Motor Trail (really a one-way road) cars were stopped twice to check out bears ambling around near the road. But seeing bears from the car window don’t count…
Got home very late, 11:00 PM, very tired, but one hike closer to my goal.