April 18, 2016…My alarm clock radio sounded at 6:00 AM. By 6:20, I had dressed, brushed my teeth, grabbed my backpack, and found my way to the edge of the driveway in the near dark, waiting like a school bus rider to catch the first glimpse of Buffie’s headlights peering down the road. Buffie rolled to a stop at 6:30, and we headed up to Newfound Gap, where the AT awaited our arrival. On the drive up, we savored our Burger King Croissanwiches and chatted.
Chilly air greeted us at Newfound Gap, where we took our final bathroom break before reaching LeConte in 8.5 miles. We stepped onto the trail at precisely 8:00 AM, our intended goal, which was status quo for two OCD chicks. We steadily ascended the Appalachian Trail (AT) for 2.7 miles and encountered three women – one a trail ridge runner for the AT. She looked quite official with her pinned-on name badge and arm badge. Apparently she patrols the AT five days a week. What a challenging yet rewarding job!
At 2.7 miles, we reached the junction for The Boulevard Trail toward the left and said our goodbyes to the AT. Almost immediately we encountered the spur trail, called The Jump Off. Talk about steep and rocky! We climbed a quarter to a third of a mile, though the distance felt longer, and reached the overlook (Jump Off) around 10:00 AM. We rested. We snapped a few pics. We ate our first snack. The smell of pine squeezed me softly, like a welcoming hug from a rarely seen friend. I leaned in.
After just ascending 1000 feet, The Boulevard plummeted, and we lost much of the elevation gain we worked so hard to reach (pun intended). Steep inclines preceded descending hills, which taunted us before reaching even steeper inclines. Up we climbed. My lungs burned. My legs felt like a worn out garden hose, flimsy and inefficient. Tiny rivers of sweat flowed down my back. At one point during the final two grueling miles, nausea played ping-pong inside my belly. We conquered one step at a time and took several thirty-second breaks, mostly for my benefit. Buffie was a hiking rock-star that day (and on every hike, really).
Just shy of reaching the summit of Mt. LeConte, we encountered the only other hikers we saw on The Boulevard portion of our journey. Alas, a large pile of rocks marked the summit and just beyond, LeConte Lodge sat perched atop the mountain in plain view. We reached our destination. My entire body shook unsteadily, like a precarious stack of Jenga pegs. I toppled into the nearest sofa upon entering the game-reservation-library-shop-music room.
Up next: Atop LeConte…the Saga Continues