It was a great ending to a great day. The high yesterday was 67 with a low of 46. I took a walk out to Myrtle Point and soaked up some rays. May 2012 is being put to bed with a bright sunny day. I hope that is a sign for June to be outstanding. You can tell it is summer time. The kids are on the mountain exploring, playing hide and seek, and drinking as much hot chocolate as humanly possible. No wonder they are able to hike 5 miles and then run for a good four or five hours afterwards. Maybe LeConte hot chocolate is the fountain of youth.
"Keep on the sunny side.
Always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day
It will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life"
- Doc Watson, 1923-2012
I was saddened to awake to the news of Doc Watson's passing. I was fortunate enough to see him perform live on several occassions. One of the pastimes Chris and I enjoy during our trips off of the mountain is to attend concerts and music festivals. I have been fortunate enough to attend the Merle Watson Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on numerous occassions. I have seen Doc perform on many different stages. His contributions to the wonderful world of bluegrass will be truely missed.
Yesterday was a good day to catch up on some indoor chores. It rained for most of the day. We were treated to a beautiful rainbow right before sunset. The high yesterday was 69 with a low of 47.
What an amazing day to hike back to work. Yesterday's skies were bright blue. Alum Cave trail was hustling and bustling. Who could blame everyone for wanting to get out in the park on such a fine day? The catawba rhododendron around Inspiration point has passed its peak. I did notice the mountain laurel was starting to bloom. If you want to see some rhododendron at its peak, keep hiking past the cave, about three quarters up the trail, it is putting on a show.
The birds are enjoying this amazing weather. I counted 5 Junco nests on my way down the trail last week. I found one chick that had hatched maybe an hour our so before, I found several nests with eggs, and we saw some chicks that were waiting on dinner. I love discovering the nests with new life. I found three more nests on the way back up. I passed several garter snakes in our travels. I got a picture of one we passed yesterday. I am not a big snake fan, so I did not pause to long to get it in great focus.
I believe summer is upon us. The flowers are blooming early, the synchronous fireflies are already peaking, and the temperatures are rising. I suspect our wildflowers will be about a month early on the mountain. I hope you all can get out and enjoy this great park.
Happy Memorial Day to all of you. I hope you're enjoying the fruits of summer (watermelon, ribs, strawberry pie and the like), even if technically spring is still clinging to the calendar. While I hope you've authored a wonderful holiday weekend, I also hope you've considered the more somber side to Memorial Day. There are many folks who've loved Mt. LeConte throughout the years who've been taken from us in the snarl of war. If you're hiking today, please try to enjoy it a little bit extra for those who've gone ahead and sacrificed all they had to give.
We've had a few clouds take up residence over LeConte this afternoon, but the morning was beautiful. Unfortunately, we had a little malfunction with our weather system Sunday afternoon (since resolved), so we couldn't record an official high temperature. It felt warm, quite similar to Saturday's high of 69, which matches the hottest day of 2012. We have already reached 69 on Monday before the clouds moved in. Our morning low was a mild 52 degrees. There was a bit of a breeze this morning, which seemed to clear out some haze and give us good visibility down into the valley.
Back to Memorial Day, here on LeConte we draw crew members from a widely diverging spectrum of life. We call different areas home, whether embraced in the Sweet Tea Belt (a more accurate border, in my opinion, than the historical Mason-Dixon Line) or hailing from outside it. We pull for different college football teams when autumn graces the Smokies (we do have alums of both the Michigan and Ohio State marching bands on crew), may vote differently in November and pick different tunes on the radio when it's our turn to wash dishes.
But, despite our differences, we fly one flag on LeConte. The U.S. flag proudly decorates crew member John's cabin at the top of Tennessee. I'm not sure about the flags over on Clingman's Dome (not been over there in a while), which stands 50 feet higher than LeConte. But if they don't have an American flag flying on top of the Dome on the Tennessee side, then John's flag holds the distinction of being the highest U.S. flag in the Volunteer State. Mt. Guyot also stands a little higher than LeConte, but there's no one over there, and I sincerely doubt even the most patriotic squirrels are flying the "Stars and Stripes."
We welcome guest Larry Israel tonight. Larry made his 39th trip (out of 42 years) to LeConte Monday. His first visit came in 1970, when he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail and a sign to LeConte Lodge via the Boulevard Trail beckoned. He was incredibly lucky we had a space available that night (please don't try to just show up in 2012 and expect a cabin), and has been visiting us regularly since.
Allyson and Chris will return to the mountain from off days today, so this should be my last update for a while. Thank all of you for reading and for your kind comments.
I'll close by recounting an impromptu sing along in the dining room during last Tuesday's breakfast. One of our guests began singing the Western classic "Happy Trails" and others soon chimed in before people headed down the mountain on their separate ways. After spending plenty of time in the saddle the last five years, I'm a big fan of "Happy Trails." It's genuine and unpretentious. Our guests did a fine job singing it. I dare say Roy Rogers, the "King of the Cowboys," and Dave Evans, the "Queen of the West," wherever they may be, were plenty proud.
Happy trails indeed.
Good day to you. We've been quite busy at LeConte Lodge with a fully booked lodge and a robust ledger of day hikers. Just to give you an idea, on Saturday during her five-hour office shift, Lindi sold 60 candy bars--a record as far as I know.
Saturday's high reached 69, which ties for hottest day of the year with April 30. The low was 52. As for Sunday, we've seen periods of sun, but we're currently overcast after lunch.
Most of you know that we utilize llamas to help resupply LeConte Lodge, but their arrival is relatively recent in LeConte history. Real horsepower filled the bill prior to the llamas. In another update I may talk about some of the reasons for a switch from horses to llamas. But today, I pay homage to the humble horse.
The first horse on LeConte (as far as we know) was Old Joe. In the photo below, Jack Huff, founder of LeConte Lodge, sits atop Old Joe on Cliff Top (still our favorite spot to catch sunset on LeConte). When Cookie (Huff) Bowling, the daughter of Jack and Pauline Huff, was visiting us a while back she told me she often rode a horse up the Rainbow Falls Trail to report for a season of work on LeConte. However, I don't expect she would have ridden Old Joe (who was already nicknamed "Old" in 1929), as Cookie is much younger. Just the same, it certainly appears from the photo that Jack Huff trusted Old Joe, because riding a horse on Cliff Top (which is illegal now) is not for the faint of heart.
The mountain horse we know the most about is Blackie, who worked on LeConte in the 1970s. I have to thank former LeConte crew members Al Bedinger and Dick Ketelle for their fond remembrances of Blackie. Blackie was a draft horse, weighed in at about 1,600 pounds, colored black (surprise, surprise) with a small white mark on his forehead. Blackie replaced Ambrose the mule, who went on to his reward.
Blackie loved being on LeConte, even the hard work. He despised heading down below. When helping with packing work, Blackie was occasionally kept below at a beautiful, old apple barn at Cherokee Orchard, near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. He hated being away from the top of LeConte so much that he would occasionally escape and make a midnight ride (sans Paul Revere) up the Rainbow Falls Trail to greet the crew in the morning. Al reports that it made Herrick Brown, the LeConte Lodge manager at the time, mad because Blackie had slipped up the mountain without supplies. But Herrick got over it because everyone loved the way Blackie worked.
Both Al and Dick agree that Blackie was a strong, intelligent and hard-working horse. When on the mountain, Blackie's job was to haul old, dead logs out of the woods for firewood. Just a disclaimer, park regulations and ideas about resource management have changed drastically since the 1970s. At LeConte Lodge, we work closely with the National Park Service to follow their resource management plans as they've evolved through the years to protect the mountain we love. While only deadwood was harvested, firewood was the only way to heat the cabins and kitchen stoves then. Since then, we've progressed to kerosene heaters and now propane, each change being better for the environment. Also, keep in mind that now all wood on LeConte, live or dead, is to be left alone for nature to take its course.
"Blackie was a grown up," Ketelle said. "He knew how to handle himself." One time while gathering firewood, Al and Blackie came across a massive, old spruce log. Moving the log would be quite a chore--difficult but in the area code of impossible, but Blackie was hitched to the log. He turned his head around and looked at his massive load, confidently flexed his muscles and moved the log under the power of Blackie.
Blackie stayed in an area off the Trillium Gap Trail near the lodge. It's all grown up now as the mountain has reclaimed Blackie's pasture. One time Al was perched on a roof near the lodge doing some work and looked back into the clearing to behold the powerful Blackie growing his shaggy winter coat. "He looked like a bison grazing in the field," Bedinger said.
"He hated going down," Bedinger said. "You just had to drag him. One day going down he stopped, and I couldn't budge him. One bag of laundry he was carrying fell off and Blackie stopped because he knew we needed it. He was uncannily smart."
However, coming up was a different story. In his 20s when he worked as a crew member, Al could hike up Alum Cave Bluff Trail in about 1 1/2 hours, an impressively fast clip. But he couldn't keep up with Blackie coming up Rainbow Falls Trail in his quest to return to the mountain he loved. Interestingly enough, Blackie wintered at a farm across from the Pigeon Forge/Sevierville Walmart, near the current LeConte Lodge corporate office.
Blackie loved to eat Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies and was known to chew tobacco from time to time.
Happy Saturday to everyone. I hope your weekend is full of family, friends and good eats to celebrate Memorial Day. We boast all of the above here at LeConte Lodge. There's a steady stream of folks meandering through camp after a hard-earned ascent of LeConte today. Our t-shirts are flying off the shelves as folks want to commemorate their hike with an official "I Hiked It 2012" LeConte Lodge shirt--the only place in the world to score that vintage.
Saturday morning has been spent in the cloud, but we've not seen any precipitation as of early afternoon. I'll take a gray morning, seems a fair trade for the glorious sunset on Friday night. Friday's high was 66, the hottest day since May 3. The low only dipped to 49 degrees.
We have lots of folks who stop by and ask about bear activity. I have a few updates, but nothing to be concerned about as long as you use good sense. A day hiker came by the office Saturday morning and reported a bear on the lower section of the Rainbow Falls Trail (below the falls). Mitch, our llama wrangler, has seen a lone bear about halfway up the Trillium Gap Trail the last few trips up the mountain. Also, crew member Alan saw evidence of a bear at the summit of LeConte on High Top. Some people will leave a rock on the pile at High Top to make LeConte higher. Evidently, the bear left a pile of something else and is not overly concerned about adding to LeConte's 6,593-feet elevation.
We've enjoyed more interesting guests than we can shake a stick at. The Sabos came up to visit us a couple of nights. In between their two-night stay early in the week, they set off on a day hike down the Boulevard Trail and got absolutely soaked. Despite slogging back to the lodge, they arrived with smiles on their faces and retained them their entire trip. We like to see that. When the weather finally broke and the sunset painted the sky for the first time in days, I enjoyed a fascinating conversation with them about the Battle of Little Big Horn. That's one of the best things about life at the lodge; it's amazing the conversations you have when you turn off the phone and TV and start listening to each other. The Sabos started visiting us around 1999 or 2000. I say that's a fine way to start a millennium.
On my last ascent up the Alum Cave Bluff Trail, I ran across a trio of former University of Tennessee Lady Vol track and cross country runners. They seemed to be making fine time, but they allowed the footing on LeConte wasn't quite as forgiving as Tom Black Track.
We were also proud to host a couple of my former colleagues from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Rob Hardin and Jim Bemiller made reservations for lunch recently. Rob is a Desert Storm veteran, teaches at UT and uses his expertise to help the university host high-profile athletic events. He's also plenty helpful when you have a thesis weighing heavy on you.
A Renaissance man, Jim has worked as an attorney, teaches at UT and ranks as one of the best pole vault coaches in the U.S. Jim coached American (and former Tennessee Vol) Tim Mack to an Olympic-record, gold-medal winning triumph at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece (during happier times for the Greeks). With the Olympic record and gold medal hanging in the balance, Tim launched the jump of his life--soaring 19 feet, 6 1/4 inches to clear the bar with the world (and his coach Jim) watching.
I met another gentleman on the trail who had hiked up a small (and I hope light) HAM radio to LeConte. While enjoying the top of our mountain, he contacted someone in Oregon and Switzerland, both of which boast pretty nice mountains, too.
You never know the fascinating people you may meet on LeConte if you slow down and take the time to visit.
Hello to all of you. I'm passing along a couple more inspirational stories of folks we've been fortunate enough to host here at LeConte Lodge, a special place for a long time.
We're enjoying a beautiful Friday on Mt. LeConte, though we do have a few clouds building this afternoon. The forecast calls for warm days with the typical summertime chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Thursday offered up ample sunshine to dry up our puddles with a high of 63 and low of 46. At observation this morning (about 6:45 a.m. when we call in weather conditions on LeConte to the National Park Service), the temperature was 52, the warmest observation temperature since May 2.
We were happy to host the celebration of Walland, Tenn., native Sam McGroom's big accomplishment Thursday night. Sam chose the Trillium Gap Trail leading to Mt. LeConte to complete all of the hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The nickname for membership in such a group is the "900 Club," though with several trails in the park closed the total is probably closer to 800+ miles. At any rate, Sam logged 1,304 miles to meet her goal of covering the park.
"It's a big accomplishment for me," McGroom said. "I wanted to celebrate it at the lodge. I think it's amazing that the weather has been bad all week, and it was beautiful today. I was greatly rewarded."
Sam started her Smokies' quest on Sept. 7, 2010 and wasted little time in making this dream reality. "I would have finished quicker, but we were waiting on our reservation on LeConte," McGroom said.
She says her favorite trail was "the trail I just hiked!" However, she did mention that backpacking Hazel Creek with her son was special. She was quick to thank her family for all their support and effort.
"I've learned so much," McGroom said. "I have had some magical experiences."
Sam could have chosen any trail to place the bookend on her goal, but we're honored you chose LeConte to celebrate your accomplishment.
We were also honored to host John Mason, an Asheville, N.C. native, on his 50th hike to LeConte Thursday. Mason persevered through heart attacks and other serious medical challenges to return to his beloved LeConte Lodge after missing last year. Mason eloquently addressed our guests assembled for dinner, speaking of his friends who had helped him return to celebrate life on LeConte. He came up with his wife and eight close friends from Asheville.
"We had a magnificent LeConte experience once again," Mason said. "You might be strangers when you get to the top, but not after dinner."
Glad to see you back at the top of Tennessee, John. Come on back and see us soon. That goes for the rest of you reading, too. Have a fantastic weekend. Happy trails.
Good afternoon to all you High on LeConte readers. Thanks for stopping by and reading. The wet weather broke Wednesday night in time for a special sunset. We also had a nice window for stargazing--our first good look at the celestial show since the fantastic new moon night on Sunday. The stars were so pretty about 5 a.m. on Monday that I hated to go in and start breakfast.
Thursday morning has provided us a mix of sun and clouds--but no precipitation as of early afternoon. The high topped out at 57 with a low of 45. We received an additional 0.46 inches of rain Wednesday. I don't think we have to worry about the spring drying up anytime soon.
We were finishing up morning chores when the telephone rang. The number identified the caller as the National Park Service dispatch, which often means your day is about to get busier with a rescue. The good folks at dispatch do excellent work to serve all the guests of the park in happy times and, more importantly, tight spots. Turns out that the University of Tennessee Medical Center prudently wanted to get in a practice landing for its Lifestar helicopter on Mt. LeConte just to stay sharp in the event of a real emergency. We were glad to welcome them to the mountain, and even happier that there wasn't a real medical evacuation. We'd be glad to host them on a social call anytime.
The flight crew did an excellent job and the landing looked textbook to me. A couple members of the flight crew hopped out for a brief but friendly visit. I offered them some lemonade, coffee or some of the best hot chocolate in Tennessee if they wanted to visit the dining room. However, they were on duty and wisely didn't want to shut down the helicopter in the event of a mechanical malfunction. Kerosene lamps I can fix; helicopters not so much. I imagine that would be the mother of all prank calls to AAA -- "Your helicopter's broken down and it's where?"
The helicopter took leave of the mountain in fine form. We appreciate the crew being prepared to help our guests in a time of need. That being said, it should be noted that the rescue crews on the ground (whether LeConte Lodge personnel or National Park Service rangers) and in the air go to incredible risks to protect visitors. Slips and injuries happen to us all through no fault of our own. However, do everything you can to limit the dangerous effects of fatigue or improper gear by preparing for your hike up LeConte (like Mr. Watkins' training from Wednesday's update). We'd love to see you, but we'd rather see you healthy and happy.
Good afternoon to you all. Life on LeConte has been mighty damp the last three days. The good news is that the long-term forecast is improving. That news should suit the army of visitors we expect to host throughout the long Memorial Day weekend just fine. We registered another 0.98 inches of rain Tuesday and overnight. The temperature didn't fluctuate a great deal with a high of 52 and low of 40. The sun has peaked out a few times to tantalize us on Wednesday, but most of the morning has been spent in the cloud with some additional rain.
First of all, I pass along happy birthday wishes to Walt, one of our crew members who has elected to celebrate down below on off days. He's a good neighbor, and I hope he's enjoying his birthday in the land of plenty.
I've often said that LeConte Lodge claims the best guests in the Smokies, which I earnestly believe. The past few days have been no exception. As promised Tuesday, I'd like to introduce you to Bill Watkins, an 85-year-old native of Gretna, La., near New Orleans. Bill came up with members of his obviously adoring family on Monday. Bill was happy to tell his story but didn't want his photo made, as his mother made some pointed comments long ago about people who plaster their photos everywhere in public.
I was folding some shirts in the office and count myself lucky to hear some of Bill's stories. To those of you who've visited the fine state of Louisiana (I was last down that way after Hurricane Katrina and am a fan of the unique culture and people), you don't have to be very observant to notice a distinct lack of alpine training areas.
However, that doesn't slow down Bill. He told me he walks up and down the levees to prepare for his annual hike up into the thin air of LeConte. To mix up his cross training, Bill also heads to a nearby three-story motel to walk up and down the stairs. I don't know the name of the motel, but as a professional courtesy I'd appreciate it if they'd continue to open their stairs to Bill so he can continue to visit us. I know their guests would like to visit with him.
The 2012 Watkins trip marked Bill's fifth hike up LeConte. He started when he was a spring chicken of 79, but had to skip a year for the small matter of a knee replacement. Bully for you, Bill. I'm proud to claim you as an honorary Tennessean.
The same night I enjoyed visiting with another guest (I forgot to get permission to use his name) who had been waiting for 33 years to stay at LeConte Lodge. He had last hiked up LeConte and stayed at the backcountry shelter in 1979. All the stars aligned in 2012 and he came to see us. He was thrilled with his visit to the lodge, and we were glad to host such pleasant and interesting company.
There was a question about bear activity left in the comments section yesterday. To answer, we have had several bear sightings on the Bullhead and Trillium Gap Trails over the last month. Crew member Austin also saw a couple of bears at the lodge one night about a month ago. However, we've had no trouble with bears at the lodge. I'd like to thank all our guests and day hikers for helping in our effort not to tempt the bears with tossed out food or drink or unattended backpacks. Please be diligent in following safe food behavior to help us keep the bears (and, in turn, our guests) safe.
Have a good day. Happy trails.
I hope everyone's enjoying a fine Tuesday. It's been a gray day thus far at LeConte Lodge as we've been living in a cloud. Just after lunch that cloud layer began offering us a gift of steady rain. If you want to be an optimist, the good news is that I sincerely doubt anyone's hike up LeConte will be hindered by dust storms Tuesday.
The gray conditions have been offset by an interesting group of guests, which I'll tell you more about on Wednesday.
Monday's weather proved exciting for about 45 minutes. Pulling my laundry off the line proved to be a sound decision as we experienced a grade-A, frog-strangling rain beginning about 4:15 p.m. It didn't last long, but we endured a couple of bouts of small hail interspersed with the rain and lightning. Within 5-10 minutes, the deluge turned our stairs leading down from camp to the dining room into "LeConte Falls," my least favorite waterfall in the Smokies.
Officially, we received 1.08 inches of rain very quickly, but it surely seemed like more. Thank goodness most of our guests were already checked in safe and dry. Although crew member Alan, returning to LeConte from off days, was forced to seek shelter in a small cave just down from the Pulpit on the Bullhead Trail. He arrived no worse for the wear. Our high temperature from Monday was 55 with a 42-degree low.
A hail storm on LeConte provides a sensory explosion. You are bombarded with all the sound and visual aspects which you all can imagine at home. The thing that impressed me the most (and I've never thought about before I began working up here) was the heightened sense of smell caused by the hail bruising the spuce and fir trees high on LeConte. Although I'm glad I wasn't outside getting pounded like the trees, the hail didn't do any damage to them. It did create a heavenly aroma as the spruce and fir scents wafted across the porch.
On Wednesday, unless something changes, I'm planning on introducing you to the elder of LeConte last night -- an 85-year-old gentleman from Louisiana with an interesting method of training for his hike. Stay tuned.
Come see us (just bring your rain gear, a good idea regardless of the weather). Happy trails.