Most people who regularly visit the Smokies have heard of Margaret Stevenson. To those who hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that name is spoken with some awe. When we first heard of her, she was described to us as a woman who, in her seventies, hiked up to Mount LeConte several times a week.
Now, we had hiked to Mount LeConte on our first trip to the Smokies. We thought it was going to kill us. And we were in our forties!
Margaret Stevenson may not have been widely known outside of the area of the Smoky Mountains, but she was a bit of a legend among those who enjoy hiking the trails of the national park.
She is reported to be the the first woman to hike all 900 miles of trails in the national park, which she completed in 1976. It is also said that she logged 3,000 miles a year during her 40 years of hiking in the Smokies...more miles than she put on her car.
Margaret hiked to Mount LeConte a total of 718 times. Most often, she hiked to LeConte using the Alum Cave Bluff trail which, although the shortest route, is also the steepest, gaining about 2500 feet of elevation in the five and a half miles to the summit. Most of her trips to Mount LeConte were day hikes, making an 11-mile round trip for her on a single day. Sometimes, though, she did stay overnight at LeConte Lodge, hiking back down the next day.
Doug and I were privileged to meet Margaret Stevenson on the Alum Cave Bluff trail on September 5, 1994. As we were panting and struggling on our way up to Mount LeConte, Margaret, having hiked up that morning, was already on her way back down.
Other hikers that we had met on the trail had told us that Margaret was on her way down, so Doug had the video camera ready when she came into view. I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the video but hope that you can see a little of the amazing individual that was Margaret Stevenson.
Her first words to us were to identify her walking partner as her "Indian guide." We didn't catch that on this video clip, but I wanted to mention it because she refers to it again later in the clip.
As she began to walk away, she pooh-poohed her accomplishment of (then) 644 trips to Mount LeConte, implying that it was no big deal since she had started when she was a young woman of 48. I was 49 at the time and not feeling so young.
Margaret's 718th and last trip to Mount LeConte was on May 21, 1997, when she was just shy of her 85th birthday. Deciding that the downhill portion of the Alum Cave Bluff trail had become too risky for her, she opted to limit her future hikes to more level ground, continuing to walk six to eight miles a day.
Margaret Stevenson died in 2006, at the age of 94. She is missed, not only by her friends and family, but by all who ever met her on the trails of the Smoky Mountains.
Thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for including this post as a Post of the Week.