So where were we? Oh yeah…my legs felt like a precarious stack of Jenga pegs. After we plopped down on the brown leather sofa in the common room, we rested before walking ten additional feet to check in. The clock read 2:30, so we had ample time.
Tracy confirmed our reservation and guided us to a three-bedroom cabin, where Buffie and I shared a private bedroom with full size bunk beds. The other two rooms would later fill with two other ladies traveling together and four self-proclaiming, ill-prepared men. The small common area housed a twin bed and propane heater. If we desired some fresh air and relaxation, rocking chairs rested on the front porch just a few paces from our bedroom door. Now…back to the room description, so the visual you’re concocting suffices. Though the bunk beds slept four, the narrow space between the beds and the wall lined with a dresser, mounted propane heater, and door barely allowed enough room for Buffie and me to turn around. Realtors would describe the space as cozy.
Buffie grabbed the metal pail that Tracy left us and trekked to the dining hall, where the mountain top’s lone hot water spiggot stood. She returned, and we sponged off the day’s grime and pungent smell with soothing hot water. Though the toilets were a short jaunt away from the cabin, we appreciated the key that unlocked the bathrooms with the only four flushable toilets atop LeConte…for paying guests only.
We bought our “I Hiked It” 2016 t-shirts, available only at LeConte Lodge, and planned to wear them proudly after returning to civilization. We guzzled the complimentary lemonade and took advantage of the bottomless cups. I dislike lemonade, but somehow their lemonade tasted heavenly. The fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies lived up to their one dollar price tag. I read aloud an article from Smokies Life about the first ridge runner, while Buffie and I kept time with the rhythm of our rocking chairs.
When the dinner bell rang promptly at 6:00 pm, we entered the dining hall, where Tracy handed us seat assignments. We shared conversation and a family-style meal with our table companions – a middle-aged couple and their two young girls.
After dinner, we donned our headlamps, grabbed our cameras (the one “heavy luxury” item we both deemed important enough to carry up the mountain earlier that day), and headed up to Cliff Tops. We perched ourselves on the rocky cliff and awaited nature’s premiere of Monday night’s sunset. Tiny fireflies flitted inside my stomach as I watched some onlookers creep close to the edge. The air grew colder as the sun’s rays warmed to shades of pink. The mountains resembled a back drop, with the closest range the darkest shade of blue and each layer lightening until meeting the white clouds on the horizon.
As a group, we bid farewell to the diminishing sun and trudged down the 0.2 mile rocky trail. Before heading back to the cabin for bed, since it was merely 8:30, we secured a couple rocking chairs on the porch by the common room. A fellow hiker strummed a guitar, while many harmonized their voices and offered free entertainment under the starlit sky. We chatted with a couple guys from the group of self-proclaiming, ill-prepared ones sharing our cabin. Life atop LeConte proved simple. And simple proved overwhelmingly satisfying.
At 10:00, we headed back to our room. With PJs on, I climbed in the bottom bunk, while Buffie climbed the short ladder to the top. We chatted like middle-school girls at a slumber party until I drifted off to sleep. I barely moved through the night, unaware of the propane heater, which shone like a night light, or the snoring filtering into our room from the cabin’s other occupants. Thankfully we missed the scurrying mice that apparently kept some of the guys up.
At 7:15 am, we awoke and packed our gear. The Lodge fed us heartily, and we started our nearly seven-mile descent down Rainbow Falls Trail.
One of my all-time favorite adventures. Check out some of our moments below.