Gossamer Gear Brand Ambassadors are an incredible bunch, if we do say so ourselves. Not only are they completing incredible physical feats in the great outdoors, but they're also always finding ways to give back to the public lands we all love so much. Nancy East, who previously shared about her work doing search and rescue in the Smokies for the Light Feet blog, is one of these bonafide badasses. Her latest undertaking? The Tour de LeConte Challenge.

Mt. LeConte is a 6,594-foot tall peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Five trails lead to its summit, where the hike-in only historic LeConte Lodge meets tired and hungry hikers. The Tour de LeConte Challenge involves hiking each of these five trails, which adds up to about 45 miles with over 11,000 feet in elevation gain, within a 24-hour period. So far, only around 22 people are known to have successfully completed the challenge. Nancy has had a blast watching them succeed, and is now ready to add her name to that list of Tour de LeConte Challenge finishers.

Tour de LeConte Challenge

The sunsets from Cliff Tops on Mt. LeConte's summit are some of the best in the entire Park.
Photo credit: Up 'N Adam Adventures

While this challenge will be a fun and rewarding undertaking on its own, Nancy is adding another element to her Tour de LeConte Challenge attempt to make sure she's hiking with a cause. She'll be raising ( hopefully with your help!) $5,000 for trail restoration efforts in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a public land that she says has already given her so much.

Interview with Nancy East on Preparing for the Tour de LeConte Challenge

We caught up with Nancy to learn a little more about her journey to deciding to take on the Tour de LeConte Challenge, as well as how she's making this an opportunity to give back to the park she loves. She plans to begin her attempt at midnight on October 26, 2019, though the date is somewhat tentative depending on weather conditions.

Gossamer Gear: Can you share some of your history exploring the Great Smoky Mountains and why this public land is so special to you?

Nancy: I started hiking and backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the late nineties while I was in college, and a love affair with the park was born from those experiences. I moved to western North Carolina after I graduated from veterinary school, so I could hit the trails on a more regular basis. I eventually hiked every single trail in the park (currently 803 miles worth of trails), and it was one of the most meaningful endeavors of my life.

Tour de LeConte Challenge

The last stretch of Alum Cave Trail leading to LeConte's summit is a visual treat at the end of a long climb!

What sparked your initial interest in taking on the Tour de LeConte Challenge?

I've known about the Tour de LeConte Challenge for quite awhile, but my interest piqued this past spring when three friends, who all happen to be named Adam, completed the challenge together. They have fun personalities and are amazing photographers, so they received quite a bit of attention on social media and in news outlets, and that's how I heard of their attempt.

After they finished, I couldn't stop wondering if I was capable of hiking that many miles in a day, and especially with that much elevation gain. I'm very I have a good friend and hiking buddy, Chris Ford, who thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail this year. He's the kind of friend who loves to push his physical limits like I do, so I was thrilled when he agreed to do it with me!

Tour de LeConte Challenge

Chris on the PCT this summer.

How are you making your attempt of the Tour de LeConte Challenge about more than just a personal pursuit? What does it mean to you to hike with a cause, and how can others help support that?

After I finished hiking all the trails in the Smokies, I wanted to channel my energy into giving back to a place that has given me so much. In particular, I wanted to pay it back to the trail network of the Smokies.

About the same time I decided I wanted to attempt the Tour de LeConte Challenge, I heard about Friends of the Smokies, a nonprofit that supports the park, beginning extensive restoration work on the Trillium Gap Trail (one of the trails leading to Mt. LeConte's summit). Attempting the Tour de LeConte Challenge in an effort to raise awareness and funding for the restoration project felt like a perfect match!

Hiking with a cause is something near and dear to my heart. Our public lands give us so many rewarding and meaningful experiences when we visit them, and reciprocating that love simply feels like the right thing to do.

We are hoping to raise $5,000 for the Trillium Gap Trail restoration project through this effort, and donations can be made through this special link on the Friends of the Smokies website, where the funds will be earmarked for this project.

How have you been training for the Tour de LeConte Challenge?

I've been training for the Challenge primarily by increasing my mileage on hikes. A typical day hike for me used to be in the 15-20 mile range. I knew I needed to click it up a notch in order to do the Challenge, so I've steadily increased my mileage to upwards of 30-mile day hikes.

This past weekend, Chris and I both completed our longest day hike ever of 42 miles! It included two of the more challenging trails in the park–Jenkins Ridge and Eagle Creek. We both felt strong at the end, and it was a huge mental boost to know we could still walk after tackling some of the toughest terrain the park has to offer, as well as finishing the hike in under 16 hours, which is well below the 24-hour time limit of the Tour de LeConte Challenge.

I've also been incorporating some weight and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is a mainstay of my exercise routine on a regular basis. I feel that this type of training reduces my risk of injuries and makes me a stronger hiker overall, especially as I get older.

Tour de LeConte Challenge

Still smiling at the end of our 42-mile training hike!

How are you feeling leading up to the Tour de LeConte Challenge? Nervous? Excited? Completely Zen?

After our 42-mile hike, I feel much more confident that I can complete the Challenge successfully; however, I've hiked long enough to know that just because I felt great on one hike doesn't mean I'll feel as good on a different day. Uncontrollable factors like weather and temperature fluctuations, especially in the higher elevations of the Smokies, can also derail the best laid plans of any hiker!

So, overall, I'd say I'm excited with a healthy dose of humility for Mother Nature and my body's whims on any given day.

Will any Gossamer Gear items be hitting the trails with you?

Absolutely! My Kumo pack has been a mainstay through my training efforts. My Liteflex Umbrella is also a constant, and it has been invaluable during the summer on my hikes of the Bullhead Trail, one of the trails leading to LeConte, which is incredibly exposed to the sun since the 2016 fires in the park. And my LT5 Trekking Poles have protected my joints from the abuse I'm putting them through as I train!

Finally, I'll have some smaller Gossamer Gear items with me, such as my pocket knife, Joshua Tree mini lip balm, and Suunto clip compass, all contained in my Cuben Q storage sack.

Tour de LeConte Challenge

What's the best way people can follow along with your journey?

I've been posting training videos on my YouTube channel, as well as some blog posts, about the various trails leading to Mt. LeConte. I'm also posting photos on Instagram and Facebook.

On the day of the Challenge, I'll provide a link on my blog's Facebook page, where people can track us in real time through my Garmin InReach Mini.