Our Christmas Hike to Alum Cave Bluffs

A view of eye of the needle

A lovely view of Eye of the Needle, appears as a small hole in the background rock ledge.

Well . . . I got my Christmas wish and present a week early!! We went on our Christmas hike, and the destination was Alum Cave Bluffs and actually a bit beyond that towards the top of Mt. Le Conte. We left earlier in the morning, enjoying the hour-long drive through the Park until we reached the trailhead for Mt. Le Conte and Alum Cave Bluff. It was a bit nippy as we loaded ourselves up with backpacks and with hiking sticks in hand, began our journey upward. It had been at least three years since we were last on this favorite trail of mine, thus creating a happy reunion for me! We started our hike walking along the path leading through a tunnel of beautiful, densely growing Rhododendrons, all with their shiny, evergreen leaves folded and bowed down as if in a constant state of prayer. Their thick, leaves begin to droop and curl as the temperature approaches freezing, and the colder the temperature, the tighter they curl and the more they droop. They make a great visual thermometer!

On the stairs of Arch Rock

Reaching the top steps of Arch Rock

They weren’t the only sign of the colder temps, as the path of frozen mud we were walking on was lined by icicle “spurts”. That’s what I call them anyway, and they look as if the earth spewed out water and it was frozen instantly, capturing a moment in time in ice, and they’re beautiful, with no two being alike! Although the air was frosty, as our hearts pumped faster while walking the incline of the path, we began to warm up a bit ourselves. We had walked a little more than a mile when we reached the first amazing sight along our journey. It is called Arch Rock and you actually go through it, while climbing up a curving  path of steps, made of stones, of assorted shapes and sizes, while holding onto a wire cable. Up . . . up . . . up you go, until you come our through the top section of the rock formation. When you reach the top, you teeter and climb a few more awkward rocks and grab the cable now on the other side of the trail. Normally this is no big deal, but icy patches on some of the rocks added extra interest to the ascending process this time.

The Arch Rock stairs

Me with the opening leading through Arch Rock below

Ice stalagmites along the trail to alum Cave Bluff

Beautiful ice stalagmites along the trail

Upward and onward we went while carefully navigating patches of icy mud and rocks while also continuing to admire the “ice spurts” along the way. We have had quite a bit of rain recently, so it obviously added to the wintery icy condition of the trail. It also has made the patches of moss, amazingly lush and soft, and such delicious shades of green, making it simply irresistible to someone who loves to pat and feel moss . . . me! So as you can imagine, instead of stopping to smell the roses, I had to stop to softly pat the delightfully soft moss. This trail is also home to several very large, old trees, so when I wasn’t patting moss, I was hugging the majestic trees along the way. When you take the time to stop and simply touch one of these wise old beauties, you’re really touching history, as some have been around quite awhile and seen a lot.

An icicle filled tree

We decided this is God’s Christmas tree, and it was a beauty!

As we walked around a curve in the rocky path, we could see Alum Cave Bluffs in the distance, as it opened up. It was as amazing as always and even more so with the top ledge now lined with icicles in all shapes and sizes, with the sun shining through them, making them sparkle like large, dangling diamonds! After seeing one come crashing down on the path ahead of us, we decided this part must be navigated quickly, being sure not to become a moving target for these icy weapons. We safely crossed the line of fire and after climbing the steep incline, we found ourselves tucked safely back in the huge dry open space of the bluffs. This was the perfect place for our lunch, so out came the peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, with dark chocolate for dessert. It was amazing to sit and watch the icicles turn loose and come crashing down, sometimes with great force, when larger ones fell to their life’s end below. One listening to us would’ve thought we were watching fireworks perhaps, with the exclamations of “WOW . . . did you see that one!” being blurted out.  This went on for quite sometime, until maybe a third of them had fell to their icy death below. With a beautiful afternoon ahead, we pressed onward for another mile or so, as a few of my favorite spots in the trail lay ahead.

Me with alum Cave Bluffs behind

Approaching Alum Cave Bluff

Sitting in Alum Cave Bluffs

Enjoying lunch with a gorgeous view from the bluff

Icicles on Alum Cave Bluff

Some of the icicles waiting their turn to fall

Before long we had reached one of my favorite places, and it was mostly covered in ice. But hey, what is life without a bit of adventure, so carefully and slowly we climbed along, while holding on tightly to the wire cable handrail, attached to the rock face on one side, with the edge a mere two or so feet from the rock face. When you reach the middle of this section, you look out over a magnificent view filled with numerous mountain ranges! It was a perfectly clear day too, making it even more spectacular! But alas this was not to be the last of the treacherous crossings, as we pressed on, coming to yet another such section of rock outcropping. Being the adrenaline junkie that I tend towards, I kept asking Wes “Is this dangerous?” to which he would reply “Yes, it is”, and that would make it even more thrilling for me somehow. Finally we decided we had gone far enough and turned to start our decent, being sure to leave time for stopping and admiring sights on the way down.

On the trail to Mt. Le Conte

One of my favorite sections of the hike to Mt. Le Conte, covered in ice no less.

A close up of the icy trail

A close up of the icy trail

So with carefully planned foot steps, we walked down until we came back to the buff, where we stayed for a few minutes in hopes of catching another dramatic crash of the icicles.  And disappointed we were not, as perfectly in my sight, a section of about eight icicles came crashing down, shattering with force as they hit the ground stories below!! Then to top it off, a pair of gorgeous Peregrine Falcons circled above, swirling and crying out as they slowly circled and flew in the azure blue sky! With a sense of sheer delight from that encounter, we decided it time to leave the bluff, and quickly crossed the “line of fire” for the last time, and although I thought my planned passing was safe, an icicle missed me by a mere foot and a half! Glad to have been spared the experience of being nailed by an icicle, we plodded down the path. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, answering the call of a Boomer, or little Red Squirrel, in their language of course, one came out onto the trail and greeted us each individually, as if that was his job, which he greatly enjoyed! He was adorable as he sat up and looked inquisitively at us, before slowly checking us out, then passing us by and disappearing off into the brush as fast as he had appeared. In minutes we were at Maggie’s Pulpit, which is a lovely outcropping of rock on which we sat for awhile, enjoying the gorgeous view, warm sun and the Red Crossbill visitors that were feeding on the pine cones of the Fir trees above. Recharged and ready to go, we made our descent down the trail until we reached the end of our hike, returning back to the trailhead.

A precious little Red Squirrel

Our precious little visitor, a Red Squirrel also known as a “Boomer”.

On Maggie's Pulpit with Eye of the Needle behind us

On Maggie’s Pulpit with Eye of the Needle behind us

As fast as the day came, it had almost gone, but alas there was enough time left to walk one of the quiet walkways, on the way home. We ended the day with supper at the Subway here in Townsend, enjoying it as always. I feel so blessed to be able to enjoy precious days, such as this one, in our beautiful woods in the Smokies, and have already tucked these memories away safely in my personal collection, along with many others. The best way to completely renew and recharge one’s spirit is to take a walk in God’s wondrous woods! So if you can, take a walk in the woods this week . . . you’ll feel better . . . I promise!

Wes photographing Crossbills on Maggie's PulpitWes photographing Red Crossbills on Maggie’s Pulpit

A Crossbill in an evergreen filled with pine cones

A Crossbill atop an evergreen tree filled with pine cones

Fresh off the easel; I finished my miniature painting of me admiring the Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran. I had so much fun doing this painting and am now working on a miniature of a precious chimpanzee. Wes finished his miniature of a Polar Bear appropriately titled “Polar Plunge”. He is presently painting on a painting of one of our resident Chipmunks photographed in our front yard.

"Admiring Moran's Grand Canyon" by Rachelle, is 2½ x 3½ inches

“Admiring Moran’s Grand Canyon” by Rachelle, is 2½ x 3½ inches

"Polar Plunge" by Wes is 3½ x 2½ inches

“Polar Plunge” by Wes is 3½ x 2½ inches

Remember to . . . “Collect the future’s history today while it is still affordable.”

Until next time ~ Rachelle

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