June 24, 2011

Hiking Mt. LeConte: the Descent

Yes, 'The Descent' is a little overly dramatic for a blog title, I'm well aware.

While sleeping in my bed the temperature went from cold to raging hot. It poured rain all night, the winds howled, and thunder and lightning well into the dawn hours.   There were plans to get up at watch the sunrise but the lightning made it unsafe.

By 8 it was time for breakfast.  Like dinner, breakfast was made to support lumberjacks or coal miners (or their daughters).  Pancakes with syrup, butter, and honey.  Fluffy eggs, grits with butter, Canadian bacon, big homemade biscuits with butter and apple butter, coffee, hot chocolate, and maybe something else that I'm forgetting.  I wish I had taken pictures of the food at the lodge. 

After breakfast we packed and by 10 we were back on the trail.  The rain had not stopped and continued to drizzle down the first third of the mountain. 

Because the rain had slowed I was able to take a few more pictures than the day before.  This was taken at one of the overlooks along the beginning of the trail.

Normally this waterfall is almost entirely dry (supposedly, but I doubt anything is ever almost entirely dry in the Smokies).  Notice the wire rope meant to help people along the trail.  These were more hopeful on the way down then on the way up the mountain.

This is a picture of the trail in front of me.  See how lush and verdant everything is?  There were only a few spaces up and down the mountain that weren't entirely like this.

The trip down took about half as long as the trip up but it was challenging in a different way.  Coming down does use different muscles.  While climbing up I felt my legs working and when I awoke up the next morning I expected some muscle pain but there was none.  However, while climbing down whenever we stopped I could feel my legs trembling.  I didn't feel it in my thighs so I wasn't entirely sure where it was because thigh pain was all I really expected.  The day after coming down the mountain my calves were in crazy, incessant pain for almost three days.  I'd never had calf pain from running, pilates, or yoga so I'd never been exposed to how essential calves are for everything and how incredibly irritating it was for them to out of commission.

The trip down was over too soon.  By 2 we were back at the trail head and everyone dispersed so quickly.  This was perhaps the only part of the trip that I was dissatisfied with, everyone leaving so fast.  I wanted to say goodbye or get a picture with the guide, Erik, or at least shake his hand to tell him how sincerely grateful I was that he made the experience so positive and how much I enjoyed myself. 

I think last weekend was one of the most satisfying times of my young life.  I felt like I pushed myself appropriately and really tested myself.  Again, I never felt like I could not finish the hike but there were some moments where I knew it was just a situation of choosing to go on and to not complain and to be positive and cheerful; especially when everyone was cold and wet and hungry.

Lessons I learned:
Ziploc bags, for everything.  Everything.
An extra pair of shorts would be helpful.
Those hiking boots were worth the money, sneakers would have been terrible.
The Creator made beautiful places just for me to enjoy, just for me to love, and just to let me feel small.
Physically I am very fit, much fitter than I really thought and much fitter than I look.

I know there will be other lessons that will continue to make themselves known to me in the coming weeks.

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