Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Legend on the Trail

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.



  1. Hmmm. I couldn't make the video work. But it's a great story anyway. What a thrill to meet such a legend.

  2. What a heart warming share, I am glad to have gotten to meet her.

  3. Sandra-Thanks for alerting me to the problem with the video. I think I've got it fixed now. It WAS really a neat experience to meet her on the trails that she loved so much.

    Steve-Thanks. I'm glad we were able to get this little video clip of her in action. She was an inspiration.

  4. What a neat video, Linda... I have read about Margaret so many times.. You were lucky to have met her. She was quite a lady...

    Great video..

  5. Betsy-It truly was a treat to have met this lady. You probably did know more about her, since you live in the area. Since we live a few hundred miles away, the only times we ever learned anything about her were on our frequent visits to the Smokies, when others would talk about her.

  6. What a cool event to get to meet this lady of the mountains. Knowing next to nothing about the area, I, of course never heard of her but sure do understand her legend status. Very nice that you were able to capture it on video to share.

  7. Hilary-I'm just amazed that Margaret Stevenson continued that difficult hike to Mount Leconte until she was almost 85 years old. Doug and I haven't done it in recent years because it got too hard for us. We still talk about doing it again some day, but talk is cheap. :)

  8. Well, I'm glad I came back and tried to watch the video again. It was great.

    And it cleared up a misconception I got the first time. The freeze frame that showed up (at least for me) was of the man who was with her. But since that's all I saw, I thought that was her! I have to say I was relieved when I finally saw what she looked like, because when I thought he was her, I thought, "Wow, those 600+ trip up Mount La Conte have realllllly taken their toll on her!" :)

  9. Sandra-Ha! It's unfortunate that the freeze frame stopped on the walking partner instead of on Margaret. You probably weren't the only one who had those thoughts. When you actually see Margaret, though, it makes you start calculating how many trips to LeConte it will take in order to be like her at age 82.

  10. She really DID look good. But I'm not sure I'd be willing to make all those treks just to look as good as her. :)

  11. Sandra-Well, we're in our sixties now, with only three or four treks to LeConte on our record, so I'd say it's a moot point. :)

  12. Congratulations on POTW honors! Very deserved.

  13. My husband wants to be walking trails like that at 82. How wonderful that you were able to video your meeting! Congratulations on your POTW.

  14. Sandra-Thanks so much. Hilary's kindness strikes again.

    KC-We'd like to be doing that, too, but we don't see it happening for us. Some of those trails are already becoming more of a challenge than we can handle. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  15. How inspirational! I am just wowed right now. Congratulations on POTW at Hilary's!

  16. Hi, Lori. Yes, Margaret Stevenson was inspirational. The video shows the steepness of the trail, first as she appears above us and then as she disappears below us. And she made it look easy.

    Thanks for the visit and the kind comment.

  17. I never knew of her. What an inspiration! I really look up to these people. It's difficult, because I am an icu nurse so I see most people age very poorly. Often succumbing to illness after routinely abusing themselves with poor lifestyle choices which could easily have been changed. Bravo! I wanna be just like her. Thank you posting this. Merry Christmas!

  18. TNE-She was a lady we could all emulate, for sure. I'll never match her hiking record, but I'm trying to change some of those poor lifestyle choices you mentioned. Thanks so much for the visit and the nice comment.


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