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Alum Cave Trail improvements highlight July Classic Hike of the Smokies

July 25, 2017

hikers on Alum Cave Trail

Steve Pierce was the hike leader for the July Classic Hike of the Smokies to Mt. Le Conte. Steve has hiked all 900 miles of maintained trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

by Steve Pierce

hikers cross wood bridge on Alum Cave Trail

Hikers had the opportunity to see the many improvements to the trail, including this new bridge and steps.

Twenty-five hikers came out for the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike to Mt. Le Conte on July 11. The hike was an out-and-back hike on the Alum Cave Trail. We had a beautiful day under blue skies to enjoy the trail.

Alum Cave is one of five trails that ascends Mt. Le Conte, at 6,593 ft., the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home to the LeConte Lodge. At five miles, Alum Cave Trail is the shortest trail to the top, making it a steep climb of about 2,800 feet elevation gain.

Over the past two years, Alum Cave Trail has undergone a complete rehab under the Trails Forever Program. For those who have hiked Alum Cave before, you may remember a rocky trail that was eroded in places with many roots and long stretches of sloping rocks.

Most of those areas have been improved with the Trails Forever work. New box steps ascend the steepest places, and the rock steps through Arch Rock provide stable footing. The steps at Alum Bluffs curve up and provide a dramatic approach to this popular site.

Alum Cave bluffs - photo by Steve Pierce

Alum Cave Bluffs is a good location for taking a break and enjoying the view. This is the turnaround point for many hikers on the Alum Cave Trail. Photo by Steve Pierce

Beyond the bluffs, the number of hikers on the trail diminished as many turn around there. After a snack break at the bluffs, our group continued up the trail, stopping to view the Eye of the Needle on Duck Hawk Ridge and views of Mt. Le Conte, our destination. Along this upper section, we climbed more steps and appreciated the flat steps chiseled into the sloping rock sections. The many hours of hard work by the Trails Forever crew were evident.

Near the five-mile mark, the trail flattens out, and we soon arrived at the LeConte Lodge. We had lunch at the lodge area, enjoying the view from the dining room porch. Some low clouds drifted in obscuring the view somewhat, but after the long hot climb, the cooler temperature felt good.

About half the group took the short, rocky climb to Cliff Tops and were rewarded with a view of the ridges to the west and south and even a little sun burning through the clouds.

At 2:15, we regrouped and began our descent down the trail. The new steps and rockwork provided sure footing as we made our way down the trail. As we descended, the humidity and temperature increased, but along the lower section of the trail the sound of Alum Cave Creek made for a pleasant walk.

Thanks to all the hikers who took on this strenuous and rewarding hike. Everyone enjoyed the day and the new Alum Cave Trail. Thanks also to the Friends of the Smokies and their support of the Trails Forever Program.

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Thanks to Linda Spangler and Steve Pierce for the photos from the hike. You can see more photos on the FOTS Facebook Alum Cave Classic Hike photo album.

Each guided Classic Hike is $20 for FOTS members, with funds going to toward the Trails Forever program for major trail restoration projects. New or renewing annual members pay $35, which includes a one-year FOTS membership and the hike.

The special FOTS overnight event this year is the August Classic Hike – the Overnight Fontana Lake Experience, Aug. 28-29. On Aug. 28, Danny Bernstein will lead a 6.6-mile hike on the Twenty Mile Trail. The hike will be followed by a cocktail hour and meet and greet with National Park Staff, followed by a cook-out dinner. The evening presentation wil be: “Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community” by Dr. Dan Pierce, Professor History at the University of North Carolina/Asheville. Overnight lodging at Fontana Resort. On Aug. 29, participants have two hike options. JP Smith will lead a 5-mile hike of Lakeshore Trail to historic cars. Danny Bernstein will lead a 15-5-mile hike to Hall Cabin. The cost is $350 single or $500 for a couple/partner.

You can register online for Classic Hikes or contact Marielle@FriendsOfTheSmokies.org