We’ve talked about it for years. We both wanted to do it. We would do it. Someday we would pack our gear and get it done. On Saturday, someday arrived. We hiked to the peak of Mt LeConte.
For weeks prior, I was plagued by doubts. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve done the Alum Cave Bluff portion a year and a half ago, and I remember it being a real challenge. This time around, we would be in the company of the Padawan’s Webelos den. Would I be able to keep up with the kids? Would I be that mom who slowed the whole group down? I didn’t want to ruin it for my husband or my son, especially since our den leader had planned the whole trip so he could award the boys their Webelos rank at the top of the mountain. It was a big deal.
Husband and I had some disagreements prior to stepping off the trail. I let him win on both counts, but I still resent it a little. He talked me out of taking my “real” camera, and I had to settle for my daughter’s point-and-shoot. He also balked when I packed my book in my backpack. “You’re not going to have time to read, and you’ll be sorry for the extra weight.” Yeah. I did, and I wouldn’t have. But whatever.
On the way up, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s not every day I get to cross something off The Dream List. The trail was so much easier than I remembered, maybe because I didn’t have a thirty pound preschooler dangling off my back this time. We got to Alum Cave much faster than I expected, and it was actually fun. It wasn’t a fear of heights that made our last trip so terrifying, it was a fear of Squish plummeting off the side of the mountain. No Squish, no worries.
We tagged about 1/10th of a mile behind the Padawan’s group, well ahead of the middle-of-the-pack. My husband and I hiked essentially in solitude. We talked. We are at our most honest on the trail. Being in the moment brings the things that matter into clearer focus. We can solve the world’s problems at 6,000 feet. As the path grew more difficult, the talking stopped, and our thoughts turned inward.
We hit the top after just under three hours of hiking. Actually, we hit it sooner than that, but we missed the trail to the lodge and kept hiking another 1/4 mile before I realized our mistake and we got turned around. While we waited for the last group, we took a side trip to the actual peak.
I must have framed a thousand shots that I did not take. The breathtaking peaks and valleys; tiny deer mice scurrying across the trail; tangles of tree roots spilling downhill like so much water; my husband, rosy-cheeked and smiling, mist hanging over the hills; my son grinning with the triumph of 11 conquered miles. I carry those images in my heart.