LeConte and Synchronous Fireflies

View from Cliff Tops, Mount LeConte

If you have never gone up Mount LeConte, it definitely worth the trip. A few weeks ago, Doug Woodall mentioned that he was getting a group from church to go up LeConte. For those of y’all that don’t know, LeConte is the third highest mountain in the Smokies. It also has the distinction of being the tallest mountain (base to peak) in the Eastern US. At the top of LeConte there is nice resort called LeConte Lodge. There are five ways to get up to LeConte. Alum Cave, The Bullhorn, The Boulevard, Trillium Gap, and Rainbow Falls. In previous times, I have just gone up and down Alum Cave and once going Rainbow Falls. The group was planning on going up and down Alum Cave. I thought this would be a great time to be able to mark The Boulevard off, so I arranged with Doug to pick us up at Newfound Gap.

So Saturday morning, we left my house around 7:10 and got to Newfound Gap around 8:30. This was the time we had planned on meeting. A few people from the other group ran a little bit later, so they didn’t end up getting to the trail until closer to 9:10. Doug was going to drop them off so they could start hiking and then come get us. One of the first scenic places you’ll come to will be Arch Rock on the Alum Cave trail. This would be the designated meeting point for the group. Their 20 minute head start, would probably get them to Arch Rock before we did. I decided to book it and see how far ahead of us they were. I caught up to them about .2 miles before Arch Rock. After hanging out at that spot for a little bit, we were all together and hiked to Arch Rock. Once we got there we took a group picture.
Hiking Group Picture

Shortly after Arch Rock, Jon, David, and I started moving at a faster pace. Along the way up, we passed Phil Coleman and his group and ran into Dan and Sarah on their way down. All in all, it took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to get up. It was about 12:15 when we got to the top. Once we got up, we hung out at the lodge for a little bit and then headed up to the Cliff Tops peak of LeConte. We figured we’d just hang out on top until the other group showed up. Around 1:45, the other group arrived. We stayed for another 15 minutes or so and then headed out for Newfound Gap via The Boulevard trail at 2:00. The Boulevard isn’t near as scenic as Alum Cave. It has a couple of good views, but I think Alum Cave trail has better views. The Boulevard is also a trail you probably want to hike in on, and not out. Since it is along a ridge, it goes up and down quite a bit. The last mile before you get to the AT you gain like 500 ft of elevation.

The route we took, should only be done by those in really good shape or have a high threshold for pain. At roughly around mile 2.2 of the Boulevard, my right calf muscle started to cramp up. As I bend down to massage it, I can see that the gastrocnemius muscle is going into spasms. We would still have 5.8 miles to hike before we would get back to the car. It was a very painful hike back. All in all, we still made it back to the car by 5:15. After spending some time just relaxing we headed back down to Sugarlands where we intended to catch the trolley to Elkmont to check out the synchronous fireflies. As we passed the Alum Cave trail head parking, I could see that the other groups car was still there.

The downside of seeing the fireflies in Elkmont, is that it happens really late. The waiting we had to do at Sugarlands and Elkmont didn’t really help us. Benton and Bryan had also come up to Elkmont to see the fireflies. It was pretty cool, but I (along with the rest of the group) was ready to get back. So we caught the very first trolley back to Sugarlands.

Yesterday after church, Bryan got the idea to open up a trip to go to Elkmont for the youth group. Originally, it was just going to be a few people, but it grew into 12 kids in total. Each with different abilities and speeds. We ended up parking the van near the road up to Elkmont at about 9:35, but the 2.5 mile walk up to the fireflies ended up talking a lot longer than anticipated. We didn’t get to the Little River trail head until about 10:45. Bryan thought it would be best for the group to take the trolley back to Sugarlands and he would walk down to the van. This was a great idea even though some of the kids forgot that we only waited in line like 5 minutes and he had to go 2.5 miles to get to the van. So shortly after arriving at Sugarlands people started to get antsy. I figured we’d probably end up waiting for about 25-30 minutes before Bryan showed up, and that is just about how long we waited. So while the originally arrival time was estimated to be about 11:30, it ended up being 1:30.

So yes, I am going to be really tired today.