Archive for September, 2011


On Friday, September 16th, 2011, at 11pm, our group of 4 (and Davis’ dad Woody) met at the Cherokee Orchard trailhead. We left 2 cars full of food and water at this trailhead and Woody shuttled us to Newfound Gap for the start of our trek. After getting a group picture made at the TN/NC sign, we proceeded north on the AT toward the Boulevard Trail. Start time: 11:51 pm

Bright headlamps and spirited conversation sped our journey along. Before we knew it, we were leaving the AT to begin the Boulevard Trail. We encountered dense fog for a few miles, which prevented our headlamp beams from reaching the ground. It’s weird what happens to your eyesight when you can only see a white glow about 4 feet on front of you.  Eventually, we climbed above the layer of fog and were able to enjoy a near full moon, Jupiter and a sky full of stars.  Mountain landscapes take on a different kind of beauty under a full moon.

After nearly 3.5 hours, we reached the top. We stopped at the Myrtle Point trail junction and High Point long enough to grab a photo and then proceeded to the lodge. We spent about 20 minutes eating a snack and filling up our water bladders before beginning our descent down Bull Head Trail.

The highlight of this slow descent in the dark was watching Davis sleep walk. In fact, all of our bodies were telling us that we shouldn’t be awake at 4am! Hiking in the dark has it’s own challenges and it’s really kind of boring since you can’t see anything except the heels of the guy in front of you.  We made it to our cars as daylight was breaking.

After refueling, filling our water bladders, and spending about 30 minutes off of our feet, we began the unrelenting ascent of Rainbow Falls Trail (+4,000′). Including a snack break along the way, we reached the top in about 3 hours, marking the halfway point of our journey. Tyler wanted to be sure it was mentioned that Rainbow Falls is the “worst trail in the universe”.

Rainbow Falls

A word about the weather: we couldn’t have asked for better hiking conditions. We had light sprinkles once; temps varied between low 40’s and low 60’s. Short sleeves or no shirt (Davis) were worn on the way up each time. A light jacket was needed from time to time.

Thermometer at LeConte Lodge

Davis – showing off his muscles

After a 20 minute lunch break at the top, we began the rocky descent of Trillium gap trail. There was lots of evidence that the llamas had been on the trail the day before. Once we passed Grotto Falls, we saw many “civilians”, which led us to believe that the trailhead was nearby. Within a mile, we encountered the 2.5 mile connector trail that lead us back over to our cars. This is a relatively easy trail, except for the fact that it seemed to be 10 miles long.

When we arrived at the cars around 2pm, Woody was there with Subway sandwiches. We refilled on water and snacks, including Honey Stinger energy gels and chews, and Woody shuttled us to Greenbriar for the final leg of our journey. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this trip was getting out of the car and starting to climb again.

Starting the last leg of our journey

We started up the Porter Creek trail/gravel road about 3:15pm, with only 9.1 miles left to climb. Shawn blazed the way along the Brushy Mountain Trail. This trail definitely earned its name, with stinging nettle all along the sides of the trail.

We made it to the top for the final time around 7:30pm and spent about 25 minutes recovering before the final 5.5 mile descent down Alum Cave Trail.

View from the top

Aching knees and sore feet kept us at a reasonably slow pace. Nonetheless, we averaged 2.7 mph on the way down. The sand and fog at Alum Cave Bluffs made it hard to see where to go. The sand reflected the light in a way that made it look like freshly fallen snow and it hid the rocks causing us to trip a few times.  After descending the stairs through the cave, we knew we had about 1 mile to go.
As we followed the river for that final stretch, we were convinced that someone had moved the bridge that leads over to the parking area. We shouted for joy when we finally saw it. When we neared the parking area, Woody was waiting for us with a bucket of KFC and a cooler of root beer and ginger ale.

We completed our journey in 22 hours and 2 minutes, with an overall average pace of 2.4 mph. We were physically exhausted, but emotionally satisfied.

Davis posted on Facebook that this was truly a ONCE in a lifetime opportunity. I think the rest of us would agree… at least until the soreness and bad memories wear off.

Here are our time splits for each section:

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It’s only a few hours away from the start of LeConte24 and I am busy packing.  I have long been an instructor for the Boy Scouts, training leaders in outdoor fundamentals.  One of the basic tenants of venturing into the outdoors is the Ten Essentials…a basic list of critical equipment you should always take on any trip of any kind.  The idea is that if something went wrong, such as getting lost, you could survive long enough to find help or for help to find you.  Here are the ten:

  1. Pocket knife
  2. First Aid Kit
  3. Extra Clothing
  4. Rain Gear
  5. Water Bottle
  6. Flashlight
  7. Trail Food
  8. Matches and Fire Starter
  9. Sun Protection
  10. Map and Compass


To be true to my own preaching I decided to check my gear against the list.

  • Pocketknife – CHECK  I have a light weight backpacker’s single locking blade by Gerber.
  • First Aid Kit – CHECK  It’s cheaper now to buy them ready-made, so I found one that weighs ounces and has advice and Moleskin
  • Extra Clothing – CHECK  I have a nifty jacket made for cyclists mad of TYVECK that is really light and compact and fits into my Camelback M.U.L.E.
  • Rain Gear – CHECK  I am carrying a very lightweight backpacker’s poncho.
  • Water Bottle – CHECK  My whole pack is a water bottle.
  • Flashlight – CHECK  I will be wearing one on my head for the first 6 hours of the hike.
  • Trail Food – BIG CHECK – We have all kinds of high carb, high protein performance food.
  • Matches and Fire Starter – CHECK  I debated this one.  We are never going to be too far from help or a trail head and the course is very well marker.  I decided to go ahead since a lighter is very light.
  • Sun Protection – CHECK  I have a good hat, sunglasses and a small tube of sunscreen
  • Map and Compass – XXXX… well ok CHECK   All the trails up Mt. LeConte are well marked and we have been on all of them.  The chances of getting lost are really, really small BUT!!! we have cell phones with GPS so I’ll take a check on that one.

So to all those who sat through my sermon about always having the ten essentials, there you go.  Practice of the preaching!

Time for a spaghetti dinner.  Gotta load those carbs!!!

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Food for Thought

We have been doing a lot of research regarding nutrition during our hike. Although there is a lot written about nutrition for 5k, 10k, and marathons, there has been very little research into optimal nutritional practices during events lasting 6-24 hrs. Although our government-backed “food pyramid” looks sort of like Mt. LeConte, I’m not sure it is the solution to our needs. Plus, what kind of pyramid is built like the “new and improved” version below???

On a more serious note, I came across a great article written for ultra-cyclists (http://www.ultracycling.com/nutrition/fueling_for_endurance.html). It makes some really good points, including:

  1. Don’t drink too much water – It is believed that 24 oz per hour is the most a body can absorb.
  2. Don’t consume too much simple sugar – these cause a burst of insulin, which leads to fatique, mood swings, and bonking.
  3. Use complex carbs – bagels, sandwiches, and pretzels instead of candy bars and sports drinks
  4. Don’t eat too much solid food during exercise – diverts blood from working muscles to digestive process – use liquid food supplements
  5. Take in the right amount of calories per hour – 200-400/hr is recommended, since a body can’t process more than that
  6. Take supplemental electolytes
  7. Consume protein, but not too much – 8-15% of calories should come from protein, with 85% coming from complex carbs. The human body can only handle 20-30 g of protein per intake and cannot handle that every hour.
  8. Replenish nutrients afterwards – consume 50-75g of carbs and 15-20g of protein within 30-60 minutes

Another article suggests: “Eating a relatively calorie dense meal 2-4 hours before a race is absolutely essential for topping off muscle glycogen levels as well providing blood glucose for the intense activity ahead.”

An article written for all-day sporting events (I’m thinking tournaments), suggest snacking throughout the day with snacks that are balanced between carbohydrates and protein, and low in fat. Healthy snack choices include:

  • String cheese and an apple
  • A cereal bar and low-fat milk
  • Trail mix (dried fruit, nuts, cereal and pretzels)
  • Apple and peanut butter
  • Half a sandwich (meat, peanut butter and jelly, or cheese)
  • Low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Bread sticks and cheese
  • Bagel and peanut butter
  • Frozen grapes or juice fruit such as watermelon
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Low-fat granola bars and fruit
  • Low-fat pudding
  • Ginger snap cookies or graham crackers and low-fat milk
  • Fruit smoothie (yogurt, milk and fruit blended together)
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and canned fruit
  • Low-fat granola and yogurt
  • Veggies and low-fat dip

Another issue that is common in the ultra world is hyponatraemia – abnormally low levels of sodium in the blood. Ultra-endurance athletes often gulp down sports drinks during their events; by design, such drinks are low in sodium. Ultra-athletes also tend to take in a fair amount of water during competition, believing that such drinking is a great way to ward off dehydration. Of course, the net result is that a lot of sodium can be lost from the body through the sweat glands, while little may be entering the body at the mouth.

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Bear Activity

Based on information published by the GSMNP, it looks like we may have a good chance at a bear sighting this weekend. The latest Backcountry Info Poster warns that hikers should use caution at the Mt. LeConte shelter and on half of the trails that we will hike (Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, and Trillium Gap).

On one of my recent practice hikes, I was on the way back down from LeConte on the Trillium Gap trail and began hearing someone blow a whistle loudly every few seconds. I picked up the pace, thinking that someone was in trouble. In a short time, I approached a family that was on their way up. They had seen a bear earlier in the day and decided to blow their whistle regularly to ensure that they didn’t see another one.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a bear, I just hope we don’t have any more encounters with yellow jackets!

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Weather Forcast

The extended forecast that includes the 24-hr period when we will attempt LeConte (Sept. 17)  is indicating that we couldn’t have asked for more perfect hiking weather. The 10-day forecast below is for Gatlinburg; we can expect temps to be just a bit cooler on LeConte, but I like the sound of “sunny”.

10-day Forecast for Gatlinburg, TN

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