Friday, June 26, 2020

New route, record pace for the Tour de Le Conte

Ash Walsh after 51.2 miles

 Congratulations to ultra-marathoner Ash Walsh for pioneering a new route for the Tour de Le Conte that eliminates the shuttle between the Alum Cave trailhead and Newfound Gap.
 Starting at Newfound Gap at 5:02 a.m. on Friday, June 26, Ash went up the Boulevard, down and back up Alum Cave, down Bullhead, up Rainbow, down Trillium, and then returned to Trillium Gap to descend the Brushy Mountain trail. She finished at 7:32 p.m., completing 51.2 miles in 14:30:26. Even considering the extra mileage on Alum and Trillium, that's the fastest known time for a female and among the 10 fastest times by the 28 completers we have on record. Her route had a cumulative elevation gain of 10,705 feet.
 Ash said she has been running the trails of the Smokies for several years and calls Le Conte "my favorite mountain." A few years ago, she decided it would be "so fun to tackle all the trails on Le Conte in one day. I had no idea quite a few had already done it. I should have known!" She is the second to complete the Tour this year and the sixth female to accomplish all six trails in 24 hours.
 The way the six trails on Le Conte are laid out, most hikers who attempt the Tour use a car to get from Alum to Newfound Gap. In 2019, Nathaniel Klumb did it in reverse and rode a bike down from the gap to the Alum trailhead, which he said took just one turn of the pedal.
 Ash studied the possibilities and realized she could avoid the shuttle if she did Alum both ways. Her route still covered all the trails to the roadside trailheads and included three trips past the Lodge, which we count as a summit hike. The Tour does not have written rules, but by tradition, hikers are not expected to go to High Top on every ascent.
Ash is 33, lives in Georgia with her husband and two children, and has completed nine 100-mile footraces. 
 She hasn't kept count of her LeConte climbs but estimates more than 30. "Being able to enjoy this mountain is truly a gift, and I thanked God for it the entire day. I really enjoyed Bullhead, as I had not visited the trail since the fires. Wow, what a change! But clear evidence that beauty can grow from the ashes."
Ash's route: Started at Newfound Gap, up the AT and Boulevard, down and up Alum, down Bullhead, up Rainbow, down Trillium to Cherokee Orchard, back up to Trillium Gap, and down Brushy Mountain.

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