I stepped outside on my way to the kitchen. It was still dark. It’s always dark when I start my day. The mountain continued to drip from a heavy day of rain. Stopping by the weather instruments - the gauge showed two inches of precipitation. My gaze met the black sky; a heavy flake of snow landed on my beard - then another and another. The entire mountain was suddenly encapsulated in a white wall of snow. The silent scream of winter had come to Mt. LeConte.
Leah checked her gear and filled her vest water bottles. I also did a double check; my vest carried everything I should need for an extended journey on the trails - micro-spikes, raisins, water bottle, cabin key, lite wind jacket, and a park service radio. I wore a medium weight beanie with matching gloves, a thin long sleeve shirt paired with a wool sweater, and a pair of light weight running pants. Wool socks and light-weight running shoes completed the kit.
We were unsure of how long it would take for us to run the ten miles down and back up the Alum Cave Trail. Outside, the snow fell heavier and heavier. It was thirty degrees outside - the trail would be mashed potatoes. We both shared an excited look of uncertainty, a hallmark of any adventure. We both down-played our excitement:
“Well, I guess we should get going.”
“Yep, I guess so.” Leah responded.
We both noticed, right away, that this would not be our run-of-the-mill ten mile run. Yesterday’s downpour created a soup-like foundation beneath a heavy seven inches of new snow. Leah and I shared the nervous look one last time before rounding the sharp corner of the horse gate.
“Heeere we goo!” I yelled as we began the descent.
Leah jumped ahead, disappearing around a well known precipice. Skirting the south face of Le Conte, we found waist deep drifts had already formed. Fully embracing the journey ahead, we giggled like school children as we post-holed down the mountain. The double-step, now a single set of steps, came into view quicker than we expected. We took advantage of gravity and flew down Monotony Ridge. Coming into the saddle, Adams Gap, the snow began to press harder - obscuring our vision.
We welcomed the retreat of the Alum Cave Bluffs. Out of the deluge, we marveled at the contrast created between the brown earth and white wall of snow tumbling in the distance. Leah laughed and took full advantage of the steep descent. Stuffing my camera into its case, I followed Leah with a new found zeal. The trail disappeared under our feet.
Down at the parking lot, the busy trail-head had become a scene from The Road. Apocalyptic.. I bit into a, now frozen, honey waffle and focused on chewing the block of energy. With my one 200 calorie snack dispatched, the focus settled back on the ascent at hand. Settling our breath, we began slowly across the wooden bridge.
On starting an adventure from the summit - the true challenge doesn’t show itself until you decide to head for home.
Tracing our footprints, we slugged along the once mellow creek path. Arch rock eventually came into view. The entrance looked like a dragon’s lair. Through the den, we marched heavily on. Our bodies were coated with snow and ice as we approached the Bluffs for a second time. The steps leading up always felt harder the second time around - rightfully so.
The second half of the climb became somewhat of a blur. Deep in the zone, we marched when we had to and ran when we could. We neared the waist high drifts; they had grown. Looking back at Leah, I could hardly tell the difference between her and a snow flake. Even her eyelashes were drooping with clumps of snow. It finally dawned on us - we were crazy.
Legs full of lead, we pulled hard up the last climb to the horse gate. Smooth flat sailing from here - except for the ten inches of slushy, albeit, flat trail. We ran fast, feet soaked and freezing; we felt crazy. The junction came into view. We ran harder. 0.1 to go.
Breathing heavy on the front porch of my cabin, I fumbled with the key. My hands were going numb an hour ago. Inside, we stripped off all of our soaked layers and hung them high above the heater.
“I’d say that was quite the success.” Leah said.
“You know what we have to do now?!”
Before Leah could answer, I knew too. We blurted it out at the same time.