This past weekend was the big trip to TN to hike up Mt. LeConte in the Smoky Mountains. We planned this trip almost a year and a half ago, after we hiked halfway up and could go no further due to being grossly out of shape. We decided we would get in better shape and brave the mountain this year.
When I checked the weather a few days before the trip it was high 65 low 46, so that did not seem very cold and figured I wouldn't need much in the way of foot protection...but when I checked the weather the day before the trip, the mountain was now hovering in the high 46 low 22 range! It also snowed on top of the mountain, but luckily (or unluckily) it was mostly melted by the time we went hiking. Due to the colder-than-anticipated temperature, I went to a great little store called In Search of Balance and bought some Injinji toe socks for my Vibrams (this would turn out to be the best idea I ever had).
Sunday morning we got up as early as possible. I was feeling nauseated (presumably from the pizza I ate the night before) and didn't eat very much for breakfast, but I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of me conquering that mountain!
When we got to the trail head we realized that it was pretty darn cold...my toes were freezing, despite the socks, and I wondered if wearing my Vibrams was a wise decision. But it was too late by that point and I figured they would warm up with the exertion of hiking.
Early on in the hike.
The elevation on the top of the mountain is 6,593 feet (did I mention I live in Florida?) so the inclines and elevation was a killer. The hike was 11 miles round-trip and most of the trail was filled with jagged and pointy rocks (fun!). Luckily, my toes did warm up early into the hike and I was no longer worried that they were going to fall off.
This picture barely does the trail justice; the rocks were extremely jagged
I was very careful to watch where I was going and to be mindful of how and where I was stepping. The Vibrams turned out to be a good choice because the rocks were wet and slippery and part of the trail was muddy. The Bikilas have good traction and I slipped maybe once or twice the whole time (no falling, luckily). I did get a few people commenting on my "toe-things" but they were positive and/or curious. Some asked how I liked them for the hike and I said that they work very well, but that you do have to be extra vigilant.
I was so focused on how I was stepping that I forgot to pay attention to what I was doing with my legs. I have a tendency to push off and step up with my right leg only and since I do that so often, I don't even realize it until it is too late. I hurt my leg pretty early on in the hike doing this and once I realized what had happened, no amount of attempting to overcompensate by stepping up with my left leg was going to fix my issue. I am fairly certain I strained my hip flexor.
But like I said, nothing was going to stand in my way! I was the slowest in our party of 4, but no one seemed to mind. I huffed and puffed my way up (yes, I am in much better shape than last year, but we have no hills in FL; hiking this trail made me feel very out of shape!)
At Inspiration Point (almost halfway). That's me on the far left
Alum Cave Bluffs (halfway point)
We made it up to the top--where there's a lodge (and bathrooms!)--in 4 hours. We bought a sack lunch from the lodge (best $9 ever spent) and tried to recover for a little bit. We stayed up there for about 45 minutes, but we had to get going if we were going to make it out of the woods before dark.
At the Lodge
My foot in the snow at the top
By this time, the pain in my leg was hellish, but at least it was all downhill. The downside to this, though, is that the rocks were even more treacherous and slippery going down. I had to not only be careful of how/where I was stepping, but I had my leg to contend with. I was still slow, but tried to pick up the pace a bit so that I wouldn't be the cause of us being stuck in the woods at dark.
It took us 3 hours to get down and during the last couple of miles I just wanted to cry because of the pain. Fortunately, we wandered out of the trail just as the last traces of light left the sky.
We did 11 miles in 7 hours, and I was in pain almost all of those hours, but I did it! I am proud that I climbed the mountain and was happy to have done it all in the Vibrams.
It is now 2 days later and I am still recovering. My leg is slowly getting better, but my calf muscles are on fire. The only thing that doesn't hurt are my feet, which is surprising considering all the jagged rocks I walked on. Everyone else in our party has very sore calves as well and they were wearing regular shoes, so I don't think the soreness has all that much to do with the Vibrams.
My best friend, who went with us, is already talking about doing it again! This time, I'm going to do some hill training on the treadmill or something so that I can be more prepared. I also have to work on my leg issue (perhaps some strength training to even out the muscles).
Now, I will leave you with a few more pictures of the hike.
The views were breathtaking