Lunch for Day Hikers

Knoxville News Sentinel writer Morgan Simmons’ article in a recent issue of the paper:

I’ve avoided writing about Alum Cave Trail for the same reason I never got around to talking to the prettiest girl at my high school.

I figured she already was getting all the attention she could stand.

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Alum Cave Trail – also called Alum Cave Bluff Trail – is one of five trails that lead up Mount LeConte, the third-highest peak in the park behind Clingman’s Dome and Mount Guyot.

Of all the footpaths leading to LeConte, Alum Cave is the most popular, and for good reason. At 5.5 miles, it’s the shortest route to the top, with a net climb of 2,560 feet, and arguably the most scenic. The lower portion of the trail climbs gradually along Alum Cave Creek. At 1.3 miles, the trail ascends a flight of stairs through Arch Rock, and then begins a steady ascent to the top of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte.

At 2.3 miles, the trail passes beneath Alum Cave Bluffs, an overhanging cliff that was mined for alum, Epsom salt, saltpeter, and ferrous sulfate from 1837 through the Civil War.
The Bluffs is where most people turn around.

For those who continue on, LeConte Lodge awaits at the summit. The lodge began in 1925 as a large tent operated by Paul J. Adams under contract with the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Society. Today, it consists of seven cabins, three lodges, and a dining room and can accommodate as many as 60 guests. Three days a week, a team of llamas pack out the garbage and re-supply the lodge with clean linens. The facility is booked full throughout the season, which runs from March to November.

March 23 marked the re-opening of LeConte Lodge for 2009. The lodge is operated by Stokely Hospitality Enterprises under a concessionaire contract with the National Park Service.

As part of their new contract, Stokely Hospitality Enterprises is now offering lunch to day hikers. There are two options, both of which cost $10.

The first is a sack lunch that does not require reservations, and consists of a bagel and cream cheese, beef summer sausage, applesauce, trail mix, cookies and a Gatorade drink packet.

The sack lunches are available at anytime, and can be eaten at the lodge.

Call 865-429-5704 to make reservations at LeConte Lodge.

One of the signature features of the Alum Cave Trail is its exposure. The upper section of the trail is often rocky and narrow, with sheer drop-offs that make the hiker thankful for the wire cables bolted to the near-vertical sides of the mountain.

At the two-mile mark, the trail reaches Inspiration Point, a rocky promontory surrounded by heath balds and laurel slicks. The knife-edge ridge nearby is Little Duck Hawk Ridge, where in 1997 the park documented its first successful peregrine falcon nest in the Smokies since 1943.

The mountains are steep and craggy. It’s the kind of Southern Highland scenery that gets made into postcards, except for one thing – the vast number of hemlocks that have been killed by the hemlock woolly adelgid, a non-native insect discovered in the Smokies in 2002.

The mountainsides and drainages are ghostly gray where the trees have already died. At this point, the park is battling the infestation in the backcountry with chemical and biological controls, hoping to save patches of hemlocks so the forest can eventually make a comeback.

LeConte Lodge gets a little more than 12,000 overnight guests a season. Between 13,000 and 14,000 day hikers visit the lodge each season.

Tim Line, the general manager of LeConte Lodge, estimates that he has made between 12,000 and 13,000 trips to the lodge, mostly up Alum Cave Trail. In 1978 he made it down the trail in 33 minutes by running the whole way. To his knowledge, it’s a record that still stands.

“It was stupid, is what it was,” Line said. “I fell a couple of times. Fortunately, I fell in the right direction.”

Getting to the Alum Cave Trail trailhead is easy, which undoubtedly contributes to the trail’s popularity. The parking lot is located on the Tennessee side of the Smokies off of U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road), eight-and-a-half miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Leave a Reply