I recently had hand surgery and was going stir crazy sitting at home. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t hike long distances… what was I to do?! Well, it was a gorgeous fall day, and the Smokies would be close to the fall peak, so we packed up the Element and headed north to Gatlinburg, TN.
The plan was to hike to the LeConte Lodge, the highest guest lodge this side of the Mississippi. Located on Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the lodge sits at an impressive elevation of 6,400ft and can only be accessed by hiking. There are a number of trails that lead to the LeConte Lodge, but on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the lodge is resupplied by llamas. They only take one trail to the lodge: the Trillium Gap Trail.
The drive through the park took a lot longer than we anticipated, since the leaves were nearing their peak and the park had just recently reopened after the government shutdown. So, we didn’t hit the trail until 12:30, and it was packed! A number of vacationers frequent the trail because approximately 1.7 miles in from the parking lot you come across Grotto Falls.
The Trillium Gap Trail continues behind the waterfall and up to Brushy Mountain, but most people on the trail that day just stopped at the waterfall. The trail up to Grotto Falls is wide in a lot of areas and has a very slow elevation gain, so it is perfect for occaisonal hikers.
However, once you continue past Grotto Falls, the trail narrows considerably and you have to be on the lookout for llama droppings. By now, we had passed a couple coming down from the lodge. They confirmed that the llamas were up there, so we continued heading north.
We reached the summit of Brushy Mountain at about 3 o’clock and still hadn’t seen the llamas. The hike to the LeConte Lodge continues another 3.6 miles up the Trillium Gap Trail, so I continued my search. Eventually, we found them!
Around the corner came Chrissy, the llama wrangler, and 9 male llamas. She was very friendly, but made a point to say that she couldn’t stop there because the plants along the trail there are poisonous to the llamas if they eat a lot of them. We walked and talked with her down to the summit of Brushy Mountain, where she could safely stop. Then, she introduced us to all of her llamas, and explained their individual personalities.
Chrissy told us that the llamas take 4 hours to summit Mt. LeConte, so they hit the trail at 7:00am. They leave the LeConte Lodge at 1:00pm after a good break and snack, and begin the three-hour trip back down the mountain. That day, Chrissy said that their bags were filled with the dirty laundry from the lodge. The bags are full going up and coming down.
As we came down the mountain and rounded the corner to go behind Grotto Falls, the visitors were shocked to see a pack of llamas following this petite woman down the trail. Chrissy obviously gets a lot of questions, and she loves explaining that they resupply the lodge. As we got closer to the parking lot, the llamas started making noises because they were excited to be done. I don’t know how to best describe it, but to say they sounded like the air being let out of a bunch of whoopee cushions would be appropriate.
Take a trip up the Trillium Gap Trail and meet Chrissy with her llamas sometime. You will have one interesting story to tell!