I must confess that I was worried.
Today was the big, big celebration of the reopening of the Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A steep 5-mile hike takes you to LeConte Lodge. Though it’s not the easiest way up to the Lodge, it’s the shortest and therefore the most popular.
For two years, four days a week, the trail was closed while the elite Trails Forever crew worked on its rehabilitation. Though I had a preview of the trail back in August, when a Friends of the Smokies hike used it to come down from the Lodge, I hadn’t yet gone up the new trail. Years ago, when I hiked up, I found Alum Cave Trail steep, slick, precarious and exhausting.
Park personnel, hikers, volunteers and media folks gathered for the ceremony. At 10 AM, Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan started the festivities by praising the work of the crew.
“Engineering and artistry transformed this trail,” Clay said. “When you walk on a good trail, you don’t notice it.”
I was concerned that I was going to start the hike way too late. By 10:30 am, the ribbon had been cut with oversize scissors and we were off. Most hikers stayed with the crew who explained how the trail was rebuilt with new steps, drainage ditches, rock walls and other techniques.
What a difference from what I remember! While no one can shorten the distance or lop off the mountain to make it lower, Alum Cave Trail had been transformed. Though it was still a steep climb, the hike was made so much easier by a smooth trail. Sure, there were a lot of steps but steps are so much easier to negotiate than rocky, slippery roots.
After Arch Rock, I caught up to a fellow, who was walking steadily. I asked him his name – I can’t talk to anyone without knowing his/her name – but I quickly realized that he was profoundly deaf. Still we communicated with smiles, thumbs up or down, and passing our cell phones back and forth for pictures.
I felt I had plenty of time because the trail was so good. If I had been struggling, I would have waved to my fellow hikers and moved on. A good trail encourages camaraderie. Ultimately hiking trails are for people. If hikers don’t have to struggle too much, they’re much more likely to be social and helpful.
I didn’t see the hiker at the top. I didn’t see too many people at the top from our ribbon cutting ceremony. It took me two and a half hours to get up to the Lodge and about two hours to get down. Not bad for 10 miles and 2,500 feet of ascent.
Now the trail is open every day. Get up there before the rest of the world finds out!