Why do people climb mountains?
Because it is there…. Because it is a challenge… Because it pushes you to your limits and tests not just your physical capabilities but also the mental and spiritual ones as well. Those who make it to the peak do so with all the honor and glory that comes with conquering such a daunting task. I bet the intrepid mountaineers who have conquered Mt. Everest wish there was another Everest to climb. They will always be seeking for more, more adventures, more challenges, more mountains….
Now don’t get me wrong, Mt. LeConte is by no means an Everest. It is not even close to the likes of Mt. McKinley, the highest in the United States, peaking at 20,236 ft. Mt. LeConte is just a baby amongst these giants. It is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains at 6,593 ft. and is noted for having the highest inn providing lodging for visitors in the Eastern United States. There are five trails leading up to Leconte Lodge each with its own unique attractions all the way to the summit. No, you cannot drive up to the lodge. You have to walk or hike or run, if you must, but you have to use your legs.
And this is where it all gets personal. My husband and I are proud to say that we have hiked this mountain four times in the past five years. How’s that for bragging rights! This is our challenge. This is our story.
The first time was the hardest for me, at least. I guess I wasn’t physically prepared. Having chest pains due to insufficient oxygen supply is a scary feeling. I’m glad it lasted for only a few seconds. The next time, I made sure to train at least three months before the hike. It still is tough, we are not hardcore mountaineers. We are just regular ordinary people who love the outdoors and for some reason, fell in love with this particular mountain. Why do we do it again and again? Why do we like to torture ourselves hiking uphill for six hours, with sporadic rain showers (have you ever tried hiking in the rain? ugh!), the possibility of meeting/seeing black bears in the area, and then go down again the next day for four hours, blisters, body aches and pains all included?
We get asked this question more than once from a few well meaning friends. They understand it is okay to have hiked it once just to say you have done it, but four times? Ask a few dozen people who have hiked the trails more than fifty times, ask the handful of hikers who have done it over a hundred times.
Once it has captured you the right way, you develop this special relationship with the mountain and you long for its rugged natural beauty and its quiet solitude that only a mountaintop can give you.
You crave for the smell of fresh pine and spruce and that distinct smell of the earth after a rainfall.
You get excited and thrilled at little challenges along the way and revel in your heightened sense of awareness that one small misstep and you are gone tumbling down the steep inclines.
When you are out in nature, you notice not just the grand scenery but also the little things as well and realize that there is beauty in all of them.
You miss seeing the fog slowly creeping over the peaks and before you know it, you are enveloped in its misty coolness. No wonder it is named the “smoky mountains”.
When you get to the point of near exhaustion and see this, you know you are going to make it to the lodge because it is just around the corner (or so it seems).
You finally make it to the lodge and you know this is waiting for you at 6:00 pm. Come ring the dinner bell!
You obsess over seeing the perfect sunset on its peaks because you know that more often than not, the clouds get in the way.
As if the beauty of the sunset is not enough, you wake up the next day feeling so sore and think about the hike going down and then you remember this hoping it’ll energize and perk you up enough.
Sure enough, the thought of walking alongside water sounds so refreshing as you listen to it meandering across rocks and boulders, flowing into little clear pools that make you want to take off your hiking boots and get your feet splashing wet.
You walk along wooden bridges and fallen tree trunks and when you get to the very end of the trail, you are met by this beautiful rocky river.
Of course, by the time you reach the end of the trail, the exhaustion is almost nil as that leisurely hike beside the river simply puts you into a refreshing state of mind pushing you to walk some more. No matter how sweaty and bedraggled we all are, the obligatory shot at the trail sign is always a joy to see. Yay!!! We made it!!! Here’s to more hikes in the years to come!