I am not a frequent hiker and have never carried a pack heavier than a small camelback, however I texcept Alum Cave Trail to LeConte with a group of friends. Some had done the trail before and some had not, so there were different levels of experience.
The beginning of the trail is somewhat flat but gradual in accent, so not bad. We made the first part to Arch Rock carrying approx 20# packs in about 45-60 mins. Not to say it was easy, but it was the easiest part of the entire trail.
From Arch Rock to Inspiration Point was a steady climb and there were great views here, a great place to spend 10-15 mins. and rest. Next your accent is a bit steeper to Alum Cave. By this time, I was so out if breath and just getting tired from carrying the pack and we were just about halfway there! Once I rested, I enjoyed the views from Alum Cave and bet it is awesome in fall and spring!
Now from here until about a quarter of a mile to the lodge, its a steep hike/climb/trail. There are large rocks to step up onto, ledges of a sort with cables to child to for safety, large roots to step up on, man-made log steps with rails to help in a couple areas, waterfalls, and different flora and fauna as you climb higher. This was the hardest part of the trail. It was about 2.5 miles in length.
Finally we reached the last leg of our journey and it was a bit more flat, but very wet, like walking in a shallow creek bed (but we have had lots of rain too). Really, I was so tired going up from the hike, the constant climb, and carrying the pack, I did not enjoy the scenery as I would have liked. It took our group 5.5 hours going up and that was with many breaks, especially above Alum Cave.
The sunset view from above the lodge area was well worth the experience and struggle up the mountain. Many people passed us going up and were coming back down pass I g us when we still had about 1.5 miles left to go. They also didn't have heavy packs and were also frequent hikers in this trail. Now, it took us 3 hours to go down, with 2 short breaks.
I would suggest a hike during spring, after the time changes thru fall before the times changes again to allow ample daylight time for a one day hike.
The weather is unpredictable. It was in the upper 50s when we started out and we added layers join the way up, especially due to wind. It was about 42 degrees up top. We experienced heavier rains down low, misting as we got higher, and rough cold winds toward the top.
We weren't sure about food, but we each drank about 24 oz or less on the way up and ate an energy bar, some pb crackers, and trail mix which was plenty of snacks. You can check the website about the lodge but there is food available during season for day hikers. There is a spring up top but I would use a filtration system.
Layers probably even in the summer months. I had regular hiking shoes, however purchased some Keen mid, waterproof shoes and loved them. Great support, good traction, and comfortable. Mine were about half a size larger than normal to accommodate my wool socks, but no blisters or soreness. ( I purchased them about 3 days before our
Hike!) Our pants were water resistant and zipped off into shorts. Wind apparel is probably a must except summer. This to e of year we wore a layer of heat gear, short sleeve shirt, and some type of thermal or fleece jacket.
I probably will never hike this trail again unless I have been exercising and hiking a lot and definitely not carrying a large pack. It was a wonderful experience just to see the views and really great family time without all of the business and technology!
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