It's a fine morning to start off the weekend. It is promising to be a beautiful day on the mountain. I am sure this will bring a deluge of hikers to the lodge. Long weekend means busy, busy up top. We are loading up on coffee and ready for the day. The high yesterday was 44º with a low of 31º. I thought I was hiking back to spring, but it seems the cold temperatures are holding on for dear life.
Chris and I had a great hike up Alum yesterday. The sand myrtle seems to be in full swing just before the bluffs. It won't be long until the myrtle up top is putting on its display. I am ready for some photo ops of the beautiful flowers we get around the lodge. Hopefully, June will bring that. It is hard to believe it is just around the corner. Well, it is good to be back. It is time to go prep for the crowds. If you are out in the park this weekend, hike safe and enjoy this weather.
In July 2012, this bear had been hanging around the lodge looking for human food. In a successful attempt to save his life, we trapped him and had a ranger do a health analysis on him. This photo was taken just before he entered the trap and started on our intervention.
I wish everyone a fine Memorial Day weekend. The clouds have finally lifted here and we're looking at azure skies. It's a breezy, chilly, lovely afternoon and you can see as far as your eye is good.
This morning was a different story, however. While yesterday's high hit 57, Friday morning's low sank to 40. By late this morning the temperature dropped to 35 with a stiff wind. With the cloud pressing in and wind blowing up the mountain this morning, I felt like I'd been trapped in a Charles Dickens' novel. There's redemption at the end of A Christmas Carol, and I guess we've gotten some, too, as sunny skies have overtaken the top of Tennessee.
We're heading into late May and have yet to see a bear at the lodge. Usually by now, we've seen a bruin wandering through camp. With that in mind, I wanted to pass along a few bear safety tips for your trip to the Smokies.
We're sensitive to leaving food, drink or backpacks lying around camp. Sometimes the oddest things could attract a bear onto your porch here at the lodge. That's why we ask our guests not to leave anything out on their porch unless someone is there to watch it. One time we had a bear steal a pair of jeans from a porch.
I also heard a report recently about a bear breaking into someone's car trunk (which had been held partially shut with an elastic cord) in the Alum Cave Bluff parking lot. Please don't leave food in any unsecured location in the park. Once a bear gets a taste for human food, grubs and acorns don't seem quite so tasty. In all seriousness, once a bear begins to look at humans as a source for food, the people who got him hooked have signed his death warrant.
On the trail, be careful about leaving scraps of snacks. Just because it's biodegradable doesn't mean you should leave it in the woods. That apple core is an artificial food source and could begin a bear down that nefarious path of seeking food from humans.
We had some guests not long ago say they always kept a jar of peanut butter in their backpack to throw at a bear in case it threatened them. We mentioned that was exactly why that bear would threaten them, because it had been rewarded with human food for that bad behavior. We encouraged them to bring a can of pepper spray instead if they were concerned about bears (not that I've ever needed it in the Smokies). It's lighter than a can of peanut butter (but doesn't taste very good on a cracker), and much better for the long-term health of the bear.
We only had one problem bear last year at the lodge. This one bear had lost all fear of humans and was waiting around the lodge for someone to make a mistake--leave a pack unattended or leave a cup of lemonade out on the porch.
We ended up trapping him and ranger Rick Varner came up to do a full health workup on the bear. When that bear awoke from sedation, he was pretty wary of the two-legged critters responsible. That story ended happily, exactly like we hoped--that bear may have continued to call LeConte home but he never turned into a beggar. As far as we know, he's doing what Smoky bears are supposed to do--live wild and fend for himself.
I've heard some unfair criticism that the rangers are bullying trapped bears. I've seen firsthand two bears trapped on LeConte, and the actions of Rick Varner and the other bear rangers may very well have saved their lives and prevented ugly bear-human encounters. In both instances, the ranger explained each step of the process to a gathering of hikers in a wonderful educational opportunity while the bear was sedated.
I know this has been a long post, but this topic is important to all of us on LeConte. We're concerned for the health of our neighbor bears and our human guests. We can share the mountain. Allyson has returned from off days and will be retaking the lead on High on LeConte. I've enjoyed visiting with many of you in person and thank you for reading. Happy trails.
In July 2012, ranger Rick Varner hiked up LeConte to do a health analysis on our trapped bear. This bear is not dead, just sedated. However, today he is likely living a wild life as a Smoky bear should because we intervened in his search for human food.
Jenene Martin and Rick Rinschler of Union, Ky., were engaged Wednesday afternoon at Myrtle Point.
Hello to all of you. Mt. LeConte is still seeing some unsettled weather, but nothing that should force you to change hiking plans. We were treated to another brief supper shower Wednesday night. We received another heavy shower this morning about 6:45 a.m., just about time for me to haul the coffee up to the office.
We reached 68 degrees Wednesday, the warmest day of 2013. The morning low was 50 degrees with 0.16 inches of rain (that total doesn't include our morning shower as I checked the gauge about 15 minutes prior). The current conditions are much like the last two days, periods of thick clouds punctuated with bursts of sun.
I was perusing the calendar yesterday and realized we've been open for about two months now. We have a lot of season left, but I've already been happy to see some of my favorite guests of the year--people who love to be on the mountain. The best thing about my favorite guest list is that at a place like LeConte, the list continually grows--like a boy's Christmas list after he tears into the catalog for the first time.
Just in the last week we've hosted so many interesting folks, with whom I've enjoyed friendly conversations. Just in the last couple of days we've met guests from Washington to New Jersey, with a contingent from Missouri to represent the interior of this fine land.
Yesterday we were honored that Jenene Martin and Rick Rinschler chose LeConte Lodge as their engagement spot. Rick proposed at Myrtle Point Wednesday afternoon (in good weather) and received the answer he hoped.
Sam McGroom brought her family up to see us. I wrote about Sam last year after she chose LeConte as the last hike as she finished all the trails in the Smokies. It was good to see her again the year after she joined the Smokies' vaunted 900-mile club.
The forecast sounds pretty good for a busy Memorial Day weekend. Come on up and see us. There's plenty of room left on the favorite guest list. Happy trails.
Good afternoon. We've been powerfully busy up here at the lodge. With a nice Memorial Day weekend in the forecast my advice to the crew down below on off days is to catch your breath now.
The atmosphere was electric in more ways than one last night at supper. We didn't get heavy rains as I heard they did in the valley, but we were treated to an impressive lightning storm. I was standing beneath the overhang on the porch and saw one lightning bolt ripping through the sky--a jagged hypodermic needle delivering tough medicine to a tree between High Top and the Trillium Gap Trail.
Tuesday's high was 67, tying for the warmest day of 2013. The low only sank to 50 with 0.38 inches of rain in the gauge. Wednesday's forecast isn't promising, but we've had a nice day up top thus far.
The main subject of today's entry is Crazy Horse, the dependable, strong and proud. While I could be talking about the Native American, one of the most feared and skilled warriors in the sordid history of the "Wars of the West" (ask Gen. George A. Custer), today I'm talking about one of our finest LeConte llamas.
Crazy Horse is the most veteran of the LeConte string. Crazy Horse predates Alan, who is working in his 11th season as a llama wrangler, and is the last of his original team. "Crazy Horse is a really solid llama," Alan said. "The most striking thing about him is he has two different colored eyes--one brown and one blue. He's a hard-working guy."
Chrissy, in her first season as a LeConte llama wrangler, didn't hesitate when asked how valuable Crazy Horse has been in her inaugural campaign.
"Crazy Horse is a 'man's man' llama," Chrissy said. "He exudes his experience more than any other llama. This boy just wants to work. He's past all the games the other llamas play."
Crazy Horse packed up some groceries for us today and took down some linens to be washed. He'll enjoy life on the farm and be off for Friday's trip and the weekend before returning to see us on Monday (if the schedule holds to form). We salute Crazy Horse, the elder statesman of the LeConte string. Happy trails.
Crazy Horse, the veteran llama of the LeConte string, is appreciated for his strength and dependability.
The buds of the mountain ash trees on top of LeConte have exploded in the last week. In the background you can see a cloud cascading down from High Top, the summit of LeConte.
A fine day to all of you from LeConte Lodge. The weather today closely resembles yesterday, chapters of sun with clouds also streaming over the summit. Just after lunch, one can look up and see the sun while being enveloped at eye level by the clouds.
The high (65) and low (49) have begun to feel like a prelude to summer. We have been lucky thus far to receive a real winter and spring season. I have no doubt we'll get a full dose of summer, though thank goodness the full brunt of a Tennessee scorcher gets sanded down above 6,000 feet. I do hope for an extended autumn, as it's my favorite time of all.
This morning's sunrise looked plenty nice from my vantage point in the kitchen. It wasn't particularly ostentatious, certainly not the most striking I've seen this year. No, this morning's sunrise was workmanlike. You could look out and know that our guests who had risen early and hiked to Myrtle Point in the predawn hours were being rewarded for their effort. The colors were muted and reminded me of a layer cake or sand art that you made as a kid at camp. The birds were singing and the day still stood pregnant with possibility.
I mentioned the other day that I take over breakfast cooking duties when Chris is on days off. Caroline is our assistant cook and takes over lunch and supper preparation in Allyson's absence. We enjoy some fine eats up here, just like our guests (though our menu varies quite a bit).
Caroline has been taking good care of us while Allyson's gone--no weak trembles to be found. On Sunday the LeConte crew tradition is to have the best meal of the week for lunch and then we're on our own for supper (that tends to be a popular night for making mountain popcorn after our guest dinner service). That's fair because the Sunday lunch takes longer for the cook to prepare.
Caroline studied in Greece for a while, and imagined up the following menu for our Sunday feast. We enjoyed Greek salad, tzatziki, bread, spinach pie, skordalia, chicken kabobs followed by brown butter tart with blueberry topping for dessert. It was so terrible we all had seconds. Happy trails.
Our crew and crew guests sitting down for Snday lunch, weekly the most anticipated meal on the mountain. Caroline (in white), who prepared the feast sits nearest the camera. Moving clockwise, Julia (in green) and her dad, former crew member Al Bedinger, who came up to visit. Continuing clockwise are crew members Bethany, Matt, Brad and Austin.
These two deer stayed around for their portrait. A third was a little camera shy and exited stage right.
Good afternoon to all of you. Most of Monday has been sunny, but as of early afternoon a cloud has taken up residence on the top of Tennessee. Last night and most of today we've been above the cloud deck in the valley. We could see the far range of the Cumberlands on the horizon, but Pigeon Forge was invisible, smothered in clouds in our own shadow.
We ended up receiving 0.24 inches of rain up top Sunday, less than I anticipated based on the weekend forecast. However. things are greening up nicely as the deer pictured above surely appreciate. They were taking their supper a couple hours after we rang the dinner bell for our guests. Again, there wasn't much variation in the temperature with a high of 58 and low of 51.
When I hiked down the night of the April full moon to begin my off days, I was treated to a majestic sight on my drive home. I hiked down in the dark, but the full moon wasn't quite ready to make an appearance yet, so I didn't see it illuminate the Alum Cave Bluff Trail scenery (a spectacular sight if you're hiking in the dark on purpose).
However, by the time I was in my car and climbing the Gatlinburg bypass, the moon was just about to rise behind Mt. LeConte, backlighting the mountain with a purple glow. That unearthly glow embracing LeConte's summit that night trumped the neon-fueled light emanating from Gatlinburg by a far sight. It was almost like the mountain was showing off for its urban neighbor below: "Go ahead and put up all the colored lights on every shop you want. Try to top this. Here stands LeConte, mighty and majestic."
Thanks for reading. Have a fine day. Happy trails.
No frozen biscuits on LeConte. Rolling out biscuits by light of kerosene lamp is a daily occurrence at LeConte Lodge. I took this photo without a flash to give you a rough idea of the kitchen lighting during breakfast preparations while our guests are sleeping.
Good afternoon. We've gotten a mixed bag of weather the last couple days. We ended up picking up 0.51 inches of rain Saturday, mostly sprinkles with a few heavy showers. The same seems to be holding true Sunday with a few rumbles of thunder rolling through. We even enjoyed a brief appearance by the sun before lunch. Saturday's high was 52 with a low of 49, only a three-degree swing all day.
I was listening to some music while making breakfast this morning and these songs played in alphabetical order: "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Blue Skies." I always listen to the NOAA weather forecast about 5 a.m., but Willie Nelson provided a pretty accurate forecast for the first half of Sunday, too.
I read recently that Knoxville just finished hosting its International Biscuit Festival this weekend. I'd like to catch that event sometime. I did hear from former LeConte crew member Al Bedinger that Ann Farrar, who's no stranger to LeConte and is married to former crew member Dick Ketelle, is a past winner in the standard biscuit category.
The humble biscuit is a big part of breakfast here at LeConte Lodge. Depending on the number of guests and crew on the mountain, 45-75 biscuits are made fresh from scratch every morning in a kitchen without electricity. Most days Chris makes breakfast. General manager Tim Line makes breakfast when he's helping out at the lodge. When Chris is on days off, breakfast duties fall on the assistant manager's shoulders. In recent history, that list includes Henry Neel, Meredith Freeland and me. I've sampled biscuits from all of them and can attest to their skill.
Everyone likes to make fluffy pancakes and lumpless grits, but assistant managers take pride in their biscuit acumen. Biscuits take more time start to finish than any other item on the guest menu--breakfast or supper. When I'm making breakfast, I get up at 4:45 a.m., and am in the kitchen by 5 a.m.
Just about everyone on the mountain uses the same recipe (Henry used to vary it just a bit), but all the biscuits turn out a little different by the end of the process. That reminds me of the explanation for why they made double batches of solid rocket fuel (the two white rockets bracketing both sides of the shuttle orbiter) for the space shuttle missions. You can take the same recipe, but there's always a little variation when you have two cooks. And if you're headed to space you don't want one solid rocket booster more stout than the other. Thus, NASA's contractors "doubled the recipe" to get our astronauts into space with identically powered solid rocket boosters and fuel made from the same batch.
After you cover LeConte biscuit making theory and space science in one entry, there's nothing left to say. I hope everyone had a fine weekend. Happy trails.
After plenty of churning, stirring, rolling and cajoling you hope the biscuits turn out just right.
A reminder of prettier days. Don't expect this view this weekend. This photo was taken Monday evening as I returned from off days up the Alum Cave Bluff Trail.
Hello to all of you. Happy Armed Forces Day to those of you in the service. We'd be glad to see you up this way when you get some leave.
It started raining about 2:30 a.m. and we've had intermittent showers since. While the rain hasn't been constant, the cloud enveloping us has. Friday's high notched 64 degrees with a low of 48. We received 0.19 inches of rain overnight with more expected. That marked our first measurable rain on LeConte since last Saturday, a veritable drought on this green mountain.
I promised you a couple of Cookie Bowling stories in yesterday's update. For those of you who didn't read yesterday, Cookie grew up on LeConte helping her family, the Huffs, run the lodge. She came up for a visit a couple of days ago and was generous in her accounts of life on the mountain. We discussed secret LeConte Lodge hot chocolate recipes from across the ages (the secret ingredient is elevation).
Cookie recalled a scary injury while working on the mountain. As a girl, she enjoyed catching white-faced bumblebees (they don't sting). Cookie kept her pet bumblebees in glass jars. To make certain her pets could breathe she needed to poke holes in the metal lid of the jars. Cookie accomplished this task with an ice pick, which worked well except for the time she pierced her hand rather than the lid.
Cookie also related her favorite LeConte bear story. Cookie, her mother Pauline and her brother Philip were running the lodge while her father Jack was working down below in Gatlinburg. One night to Pauline's horror she discovered that the bear door wasn't closed and one of the bruins had slipped in and was pillaging her kitchen.
We have an old-school phone in the dining room. It's the real deal, not a prop--even though it doesn't work now. However, it wasn't connecting fast enough for Pauline's liking as the bear rifled through the kitchen. She cranked and cranked until she finally reached her husband Jack in Gatlinburg. She told him about her predicament and, being powerless to resolve the situation as he was off the mountain, Jack told her to "run it off" and then hung up the phone.
Armed with a flashlight, Pauline took a couple of trays and pretended she was playing the cymbals. The racket spooked the bear into heading out of the kitchen for more peaceful environs. Pauline, Philip and Cookie stayed up the rest of the night in the kitchen with lanterns blazing.
Thanks to Cookie for sharing her stories. We've had several dayhikers stop by today, but I think the weather might put a damper on the weekend crowd. We'd still be glad to have you hike up, just make sure you plan for plenty of water on the trail this weekend. Happy trails.
Not a great day for drying clothes. These clothes get the infamous "LeConte second rinse."
Good afternoon to all of you. I hope you all have exciting weekend plans in store. It seems like a journey to LeConte is in the datebook for many folks. We've been plenty busy lately, which keeps the paychecks coming.
We had light sprinkles of rain this morning, but not enough to amount to anything yet. The sun has made its appearance occasionally through the cloud cover. The forecast is for increasing chances of rain later today with the possibility of a soggy Saturday. We shall see.
Last night we were pleased to welcome Cookie Bowling's group, mostly from the greater Gatlinburg metroplex. It's one of the few nights of the season in which a single group occupies the lodge. Being a history buff, I particularly enjoy when Cookie comes up and shares her LeConte stories, which are particularly good because she springs from the First Family of LeConte Lodge--the Huffs. While Paul Adams also played an integral role in the early history of the camp on top of LeConte, the Huffs are recognized as the founders of LeConte Lodge.
Cookie dropped by the dining room yesterday afternoon to share some tales about her youth spent on the mountain. Cookie made her first trip up LeConte at three months. She worked at the lodge until she was 15 years old--heading up to open the season in April and shutting down in November.
Helping cook was Cookie's favorite job at the lodge (keep in mind she was cooking on a wood-fired stove in those days). Cookie's cole slaw recipe was a perennial favorite. She also didn't mind washing dishes and carrying firewood. She, however, never grew to be a fan of making beds--a sentiment she shares with current general manager Tim Line.
It was a treat to have so many decades of LeConte stories on tap with Cookie and Tim (whose employment with the lodge dates to 1977) both up at the same time.
There are too many stories to include today, so I'll offer you a hint at a Cookie Bowling story to come Saturday on High on LeConte--a kitchen, a bear, a problem. Have a fine afternoon. Happy trails.
Terry Tinnell, with the help of 14 strong friends and family, became the first person to reach LeConte Lodge in a wheelchair on his birthday Wednesday.
Hello to all of you High on LeConte readers. This is Nathan, and I'll be filling in for Allyson during her off days.
First I'll catch you up on our weather and then pass along a story worth reading. Wednesday was a beautiful day start to finish. The high topped out at 66 degrees, the second warmest day of the year. The low registered 47. We've not had any measurable rain since Saturday, but the forecast hints that may be changing soon. Today's weather has been fine with mostly cloudy, filtered sunshine replacing the bluebird skies of Wednesday.
I wanted to pass along a monumental achievement we witnessed Wednesday at LeConte Lodge. Terry Tinnell, with the help of 14 strong friends and a service dog named Cocoa, became the only person we know of who reached LeConte Lodge in a wheelchair. Utilizing the Trillium Gap Trail, Terry celebrated his birthday on top of LeConte last night with a dedicated group of friends and family.
A native of Atlanta, Terry first had the idea of climbing LeConte in his specially modified chair 25 years ago.
"We went through lots of detailed practicing with the equipment and personnel," Terry said. "The only way we got up here was sheer determination. With friends, family and attitude you can accomplish any challenge."
We enjoyed having the Tinnell group as our guests and admire their planning and commitment to each other. They seemed like fine folks who enjoyed their stay at LeConte Lodge. However, we don't recommend just anyone try to summit LeConte in a similar fashion. The success rate for such attempts is abysmal in this inherently dangerous pursuit. LeConte Lodge general manager Tim Line, who has been affiliated with the lodge since 1977, can remember no other happy endings when someone attempted the top in a wheelchair. One other note, Cocoa, an Australian shepherd, works as a service dog. No other pets are allowed on any trail leading to LeConte.
That being said, we appreciate Terry and his friends celebrating his birthday with us on the mountain. Along with our other guests in yet another sellout at LeConte Lodge, they were delightful and good company. Happy trails.