In Search of A Smoky Mountains Sunrise on Mt. Leconte

During my last trip to The Great Smoky Mountains, I decided that I wanted to night hike up Mt. Leconte to Myrtle Point to attempt to photograph the sunrise. This is a trip I’ve been trying to do for several months, but the weather has never been particularly cooperative! 

I obsessively checked the weather and determined that my best window of opportunity would be Sunday morning. So, it was set. I’d wake up at 2 a.m. on Sunday, drive to the Alum Cave Trailhead, and hike up Mt. Leconte in the dark.

The Trip Up

I arrived at the trailhead just before 2:30. I slung my pack onto my pack and dawned my headlamp. It was time to start the approximately 5.5-mile hike up to Myrtle Point. 

My view for the next 5.5 miles.

I will sometimes get questions about what it’s like to do a hike like this at night. Or comments about how scary/insane/stupid it is. The truth is, night hiking is really no different than hiking during the day. Sure, it’s dark and you need a headlamp, but that’s really where the differences end.

In some ways, I found hiking up Leconte in the dark to be easier. For one, you can’t see the mountain looming over you. It’s very much just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. There isn’t that psychological effect of knowing that you still have a long way up to go. 

With that being said, I made pretty quick, easy work of climbing the mountain. Upon arriving at Inspiration Point, I got excited by how clear of a night it was. I could clearly see the Milky Way overhead!

I still kind of wished that I stopped to photograph it, but I was on a mission to capture the sunrise!

Monkey Wrench in My Plans

As I continued my way up the mountain, I serious monkey wrench had been thrown into my plans. Just like my previous attempt at Leconte, I was hiking into the clouds. The mist was so thick that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face!

All I could do was point my headlamp down at the ground, taking things one step at a time. I couldn’t see where I was going or what I was walking into. All I could do was hope that things would clear up by the time the sun came up. 

Things didn’t clear up, however. Upon arriving at Myrtle Point I came to the conclusion that the clouds simply weren’t going to clear. I decided to set up my camera and see what happened. 

An example of how thick the clouds were at Myrtle Point that morning.

Getting a Shot

It turned out to be a good thing that I decided to set up my camera and not just give up. The clouds were moving rather quickly and, every once in a while, they’d break just enough to allow you to see the sun as this big, red, ball of light. I ended up getting a shot that I’m moderately happy with!

Heading Down

After spending a fair amount of time hanging out at Myrtle Point I decided it was time to head back down the mountain. Not surprisingly, the way down had started to fill up with people headed to Alum Cave. It wasn’t nearly as bad as my first time down the mountain, but there were still quite a lot of people.

On my way down I managed to get a shot from Inspiration Point that I’m happy with. 

The view from Inspiration Point.

All in all, this ended up being a really fun hike. The trek up Mt. Leconte is one of my all-time favorites. The sunrise didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, but I still got a usable shot out of the whole ordeal. Besides, it gives me a good excuse to go back!

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