The hike to Jump Off in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park goes along the Appalachian Trail for a little ways before branching off into a less traveled area. There were great views, and it was a good test preceding our upcoming two-day hike to Mt. LeConte and back.
Ten months ago, I was in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot in my lungs that caused difficulty breathing and some pain. The doctors said they weren't sure I understood how serious it was. We haven't done any strenuous hiking or hiking at any significant elevation since last July.
It was time to see if my lungs could handle a little elevation and some longer hikes. Of course, elevation here in the Great Smoky Mountains is limited to the 6,000 - 6,500 foot range rather than the higher elevations we experienced in the west, but it should be a good first test.
We drove up U.S. 441 (Newfound Gap Road) to the Newfound Gap Overlook parking area on the Tennessee/North Carolina boundary.
We were delayed about a half an hour due to road construction, but evenutally arrived around 12:45.
View from the overlook as the Newfound Gap Road continues winding into North Carolina.
This was also a point where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road and continues up into the mountains.
Yep, it was only 1,972 miles to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the end of the AT. Today we were going to hike 2.7 miles of it.
We quickly left the large crowds at the parking area and started to climb. You can see the white slashes on the trees indicating the Appalachian Trail.
The first mile and a half of our hike was all uphill with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. Fortunately, we felt no altitude effects.
The trail started off as dirt with several steps, and then it turned rocky and rugged as we climbed.
There were a few mountain views through the trees.
After the first mile and a half, we passed a junction at 1.7 miles ....
and the trail had gentle ups, downs, and flat spots for the next mile until we reached the Boulevard Trail.
On the way up, I asked several hikers going in the opposite direction where they were coming from. Everyone had hiked to a landmark known as Charlie's Bunion. I mentioned to Linda "Everyone goes to Charlie's Bunion, and that's why we're going to a different place". And her reply was a simple, sarcastic "Of course".
At that junction, we left the AT and walked a short distance ...
to a small sign pointing to the Jump Off.
We had less than a third of a mile to go on the unofficial, rugged trail. The first part of the trail was the steepest we had all day as it rose a couple hundred feet in a very short distance to the top which happens to be the summit of Mt. Kephart (6,217 feet).
At the peak, I took these dead tree photos.
The trail then dropped through the woods with bright green moss along the edges.
Soon, we had open views of the mountains ....
and arrived at the Jump Off.
There were great views, including this one looking down on Charlie's Bunion over on the AT.
The white spot in the middle of the next photo is a hiker on Charlie's Bunion across the valley.
It was a little overcast and hazy, but we could still see for miles.
There were two other couples there when we arrived. As it turned out, one of the couples is going to be hiking to Mt. LeConte on Thursday and staying at the LeConte Lodge - the same as us. The odds of actually running into someone staying up there the same night are very low, and to meet them in this less visited spot was pretty amazing.
Everyone left and it was just Linda & I there by ourselves until the time we decided to leave.
We re-traced our steps, but rather than returning right away, we continued on down the AT for a little bit. There was a hiking shelter, and I wanted to check it out.
This was Icewater Spring Shelter.
While we were there, we chatted with a couple of "Thru Hikers" with trail names "Radio Man" ....
and "Ninja Mike".
I'm quite fascinated by the people that choose to hike the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I'd love to do it as what they call a flip-flopper, where you start in the middle and do it in sections during the best weather as opposed to doing it end-to-end. Linda wouldn't be up for roughing it quite that much, so I may have to go solo if the opportunity arises.
After asking several questions, we left the hikers in peace and wished them safe trekking.
We had about three miles to get back to the Jeep, but it was mostly downhill. We turned the trip into almost seven miles round-trip and did just fine. It was a good warm-up for our Thursday and Friday hikes, and we were glad that the altitude didn't have any affect. Soon we were back in the Newfound Gap parking lot, and were glad to sit down. We headed back to Pigeon Forge.
It was great to be out in the woods again doing a little more challenging hiking. I'm looking forward to the hike up to Mt. LeConte.
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