07 Jul A stay at Le Conte
In the past two weeks, I had the amazing opportunity to hike the Alum Cave Trail up to Mount Le Conte and stay in a bunkhouse. Our crew made two camping trips up to Mount Le Conte to collect data in eight of our plots located there. Because the hike up to Le Conte is about 5.5 miles (11 miles roundtrip), we decided to hike up at the beginning of the week, work throughout the week, and hike back out at the end of the week. These plots would not be feasible to do as regular work days, since the travel time would take up most of the day, leaving us little time to actually work.
This was one of my very first experiences backpacking, so the hike up was definitely a challenge, especially the first time around. My body had to quickly get used to carrying a heavy pack while hiking with such a steep elevation gain. But the views were definitely worth it! Alum Cave is a very popular trail, as it takes you through a small cave, a spectacular bluff, and a heath bald. On the way to the summit are several beautiful lookouts. The gallery below shows some of the views along the way.
Once we got up to Le Conte, we got to work. Some of our plots can be challenging, whether it be because of super dense trees and/or shrubs to navigate through, sleep slopes, or lots of down and dead trees. One of the harder plots at Le Conte had a 68% slope, which made it super difficult to maneuver through the plot. Getting to the plot itself was also a challenge, having to get through dense shrubs (including thorny blackberry bushes!). The picture below to the left is a shot I took of my crew lead, Tori, leading us off trail down into that plot. It was also super foggy and wet that morning! In the middle is a picture of two of my crew members searching for rebar and tagged trees in a different plot. The far right is a picture I snapped from within one of our plots. This plot in particular was super dense and required us to navigate though a huge stand of fir!
Here is me in the field! I am measuring the dbh of a Fraser fir in this picture. We record the dbh of every single tree in our plot (any woody species over 5 cm at breast height). In some plots, this could mean measuring 30 trees; in other plots, it could be upwards of 150!
To conclude this blog post, I want to include one of my absolute highlights from this trip: seeing the sunrise from Cliff Tops. Cliff Tops is a viewpoint only 0.2 miles from our bunkhouse that gives a breathtaking view of the Smokies – nothing beats this view 🙂