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Climbing Mt. LeConte: Down!

May 23, 2013

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“Listen! I think the rain has stopped!”
6AM & the rain is gone…but not the clouds. Sunrise at 6:45…let’s give it a try, I am an optimist after all! We climbed the 3/4 of a mile up to Myrtle Point, the eastern flank of Mt. LeConte to find clouds & fog, so we climbed the 3/4 of a mile back down to our cabin to pre-pack some things before breakfast.

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Pancakes, margarine & Tang were on the table when we arrived. No thank you, I’ll just have some hot water for my tea, please – yes, I brought my teabags with me!
Scrambled eggs & Canadian bacon. Grits & biscuits. Coffee. Hot chocolate.
While everyone else fell on the carbs, I attacked the platter of eggs & bacon.

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Time to clean up the cabin: dump the wash water, pack the now-dry dirty socks & ponchos, pack the non-burnable items that we brought up, make sure nothing was left behind. Shrug on the backpacks. Time to go – 9:05AM.

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The trail was still wet & slick but at least it was no longer raining! Ski poles in hand we started our descent, not sure if we could pick up the pace & beat yesterday’s climb time.

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DH was struggling early on with his legs – the muscles were still fatigued from yesterday’s climb & he was having trouble maintaining is balance. I took the lead trying to encourage, cajole, anything to keep him moving down the mountain. I slowed my pace to make sure DH didn’t stumble as we descended.

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Llamas! Got to step aside off the trail – llamas have the right-of-way! We met the llama train coming up with supplies for the Lodge. The llamas & their wranglers make this trip every Monday, Wednesday & Friday during season. That’s got to be tough on the knees of the wranglers!

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These wranglers are new having taken the reins from the previous handler who retired at the end of last season after 20 years on the job.

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Streams were still swollen & rocks quite slick. Mud holes were disguised under leaves so footing was sometimes a problem.

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The spring wildflowers were opening their blooms to the sun. I know my friends C & P could identify all of them, but I could only guess at Spring Beauty & Native Wintergreen.

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That was the trail we had just descended.

As we reached the 3-mile turn, we met a group of men climbing to the Lodge. DH had to rest for a while on a log. We were over 2 1/2 hours into the descent.

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Begin again. I insisted DH take my ski pole so he would have more stability since his legs were getting worse, at times barely able to keep them moving without severe muscle cramps. I offered to carry his backpack but he refused.

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As we approached Grotto Falls the number of people on the trail increased; people out for a lovely walk on a pretty day. Our pace slowed again, this time because people were in front of us or sitting along the trail.

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After passing the falls we encountered a group of young people, college-age & one of the guys was smoking a cigar! Give me a break! You come out into the fresh air & then pollute it by lighting up a cigar? First of all, I think it’s against the law to have an open flame on this particular mountain. Second – if you want to smoke a cigar, go to a cigar bar with a nice glass of Scotch, not an area where people have been climbing down a mountain for 3 1/2 hours, need to breathe deeply & not be choked on lung-polluting smoke!

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We managed to pass them, praise the Lord, even DH!

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At last we could see the end of the trail. I sped up leaving DH to negotiate the final steps downward alone so I could open the car, remove my pack & be ready to drive. He made it! Down in 4 hours 5 minutes! We stowed the backpacks in the trunk, removed our sodden-once-again shoes, buckled our seat belts & were off!

DH opened the coconut water I had left for us in a cooler, took a couple of aspirin while I drove out of the national park headed west.
4 hours 15 minutes later I pulled into our driveway. Thank You, Lord, there were no State Troopers out this afternoon because I was flying low!

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