April 30, 2014
Good afternoon to you. We've been plenty busy taking care of folks up here, so the update is a little later than usual today. However, I'm going to reveal a couple of closely held LeConte secrets to make up for the tardiness (but I'll make you wait a paragraph or so for that).
I ended up working 21 hours yesterday, which is a record I don't care to break anytime soon. As Chris LeDoux, the great world champion rodeo cowboy and singer, once sang, the crew has been "goin' and blowin,'" even more appropriate with the omnipresent wind the last few days. We have sent lots of guests home happy which is important to us.
I had occasion to be on Alum Cave Bluff Trail late last night and was amazed to see so many salamanders in the path. Of course, the trail was shedding plenty of water, which certainly helps attract salamanders. I saw mostly black salamanders, but also an orange one and the striking Jordan's red-cheeked salamander. They're some of the best neighbors on the mountain.
I also have a correction to make about the location of the tree down on the Trillium Gap Trail I mentioned yesterday. The large downed tree fell only about two miles down from LeConte Lodge near a switchback--not lower down the mountain near Grotto Falls as I originally heard. At any rate, if the weather improves Thursday, the park service trail crew is expecting to hike up and clear the path. They've got a tough job, and we appreciate their help. If so, the llamas will make a rare back-to-back Thursday and Friday pack (though we'll swap out teams to make it less taxing on the llamas, the stars of the 2014 LeConte shirt design).
While the winds kept roaring at us, we didn't end up with too much rain Tuesday, only 0.37 inches. The high temperature was 56 with a low of 47. It's been fairly gray with little precipitation on the mountain Wednesday as of 4 p.m. We were able to see into the valley most of the afternoon, but the clouds have enclosed us lately.
It occurred to me that there were a couple of secrets that might help you enjoy a LeConte sunset more next time you visit. First and foremost, the best place to watch sunset on the mountain is at Cliff Tops, which is accessed via a 0.2-mile trail just off the main staircase of the lodge. You should always carry a good light with you to safely negotiate the rocky path back down from Cliff Tops to the lodge. Also, know that the wind always blows at Cliff Tops at sunset. I've seen numerous people shivering up there in July, so bring a jacket, hat and gloves most of the year.
As you complete about two-thirds of the short trail leading from LeConte Lodge to Cliff Tops, you'll come upon a thinned spot where the adelgids have decimated the mature fir trees. At that spot about 15 minutes or so before sunset, turn around and look at High Top, the actual summit of Mt. LeConte. There should be a shadow line covering most of the mountain at that time, but sometimes the tip of High Top forecasts the primary colors of the sunset that evening. If you're going to get a spectacular sunset, sometimes (not always) the mountain gives you a hint before you get to Cliff Tops.
Also, the second sunset secret is a little more pedestrian. I notice every time I go up for sunset that people leave too early. Unless there is a thick cloud bank on the horizon to the west (which smothers the after colors), the best colors usually occur 15-20 minutes after sunset. As soon as the last pinpoint of sunlight disappears below the horizon, the mass exodus from Cliff Tops back down to the lodge begins. However, that's usually when the best show begins. Dress warmly, carry a dependable light and you'll be able to stay for the "aftershow," usually superior to the main event. It's also nice to watch for the first stars to blink to life above the spine of the Smokies. Most people will be long gone from Cliff Tops, so you'll have the best "rock recliners" to yourself.
April 29, 2014
Good afternoon from a soggy Mt. LeConte. The wind is howling and spitting rain on us periodically, but things could be much worse. Yesterday proved awfully nice for a day with an 80 percent chance of rain. We didn't see our first raindrops until about 10 p.m., long after all our guests were off the trail, fed and tucked away warm and dry in their cabins.
We ended up with a high-low of 63-47 and 0.90 inches of rain for Monday. The forecast isn't very promising for today either, with rain a possibility all day and a chance for more severe weather tonight. Just in case you didn't read yesterday's post, I'd steer clear of Rainbow Falls Trail if we have heavy rains due to some stream crossing issues guests had last year. There's also a large tree down across the Trillium Gap Trail above Grotto Falls. I've been told that hikers will get across it fine, but it will be a dealbreaker for the llamas until it is cleared.
The wind really ramped up about 10 p.m. last night. You could still see Pigeon Forge down below, but as the cloud deck lowered you could also see tendrils of clouds (not funnel clouds) wisp down toward the valley. That reminded me of the clouds bearing bad news for the Egyptian first-born in the Passover scene of the classic movie "Ten Commandments" (which always got my attention as the oldest son in my family). We made out all right, as all of the oldest sons made it to breakfast this morning.
We saw a little filtered lightning through the cloud cover overnight, but nothing too close. The gusty winds were the biggest issue of the night. I looked outside my window and saw the outlines of trees gyrating like Elvis on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I'm sure some of those bare, weather-bleached, dead fir trees lost their battle to remain vertical as graceful sentinels on LeConte. Between blasts of the ferocious wind, I could hear frogs singing in the basin near the spring for the first time this year. The amphibians sounded glad for the extra rain, though I shouldn't translate for them as I don't speak Kermit.
The rain picked up in intensity about 4:10 a.m. (I know because I didn't sleep a wink last night). Most of the time we get fairly gentle rain at the lodge. However, this rain hit my cabin with such force it was as if John Henry was driving it home with a hammer.
While we had no reports of guests having any problems with the weather overnight, sometimes the conditions affect you in ways you don't expect. For instance, the change in weather made this my worst pancake-making morning in three years of preparing breakfast on a fill-in basis at LeConte Lodge. It didn't matter how much non-stick spray you used, the pancakes welded themselves to the griddle. Fully one-third of the flapjacks didn't meet the LeConte standard and were incinerated (and there were no llamas up today to polish off the remainder). Also, the biscuits were even hunkered down, cowardly refusing to rise too far above the baking sheet.
We persevere and remember our brothers and sisters across the Southland with real weather problems. Happy trails.
April 28, 2014
Hello, this is Nathan from LeConte Lodge. Our weather has been better to this point in the early afternoon than I expected. I hope our guests will be able to arrive before the worst of the rain begins. I'd much rather them hear raindrops on the wood-shingled roof of their cabin than pelting the hood of their raincoat out on the trail.
Sunday turned out to be another beautiful day. The high temperature of 67 degrees marked the warmest day of 2014. Our low was a mild 46 degrees. We measured 0.11 inches of rain, with the first drops starting about 10 p.m. on Sunday.
Since then the winds have really picked up in spurts. I've enjoyed seeing the stratification of the clouds atop LeConte this morning. I saw some cumulonimbus storm clouds brewing in the valley mid-morning. The most interesting clouds were the ones zooming directly over the top of the mountain, somersaulting from one side to the other. However, the upper layer of clouds appeared relatively stationary. Since 9:30 a.m., we've been mostly sunny at the lodge.
However, I hear that copious amounts of rain have been forecast for East Tennessee for the next few days. Please prepare accordingly if you come up to see us. In that vein, if we receive heavy rains I recommend you do not attempt the Rainbow Falls Trail for your ascent or descent. Not only is Rainbow one of the rockiest trails (and also quite slippery) to LeConte, but it carries a torrent of water after significant rain. Last year we had guests who made it the majority of the way down Rainbow only to find they couldn't safely make the stream crossing, which had swollen violently after a deluge. They had to hike all the way back up to the lodge.
In much more pleasant news, I met some relatives of the late Rev. A. Rufus Morgan this morning. Rufus Morgan (1885-1983) is one of the legends of Mt. LeConte. He climbed the mountain into his 90s for a total of 172 trips. The last few trips he was nearly blind and relied on good friends and family to help him return to the top of the mountain he loved so much.
Rufus was an Episcopal priest from the Franklin, N.C., area and founded the Nantahala Hiking Club. He single-handedly maintained more than 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala Mountains, according to Alan, one of our llama wranglers. Our overnight guest's mother was Rufus' cousin, and, while in high school, she hiked up to LeConte with him in his later years. "He couldn't see much in his final years, but he didn't like to slow down much either," she said.
Perhaps the greatest compliment is that Rufus Morgan is the only person for whom a table is named in the LeConte Lodge dining room. The other table names are rather vanilla (Big, Door, East, North, West and Map tables), but Morgan stands out. Now you know part of the story behind the man.
Our thoughts are with our neighbors from Arkansas who had such a tough time of it in the storms. I hope better days are coming. Happy trails.
April 27, 2014
Good afternoon to you. I hope you're capping a fine weekend. We've enjoyed chamber of commerce beautiful weather up on top of LeConte again Sunday, though the forecast calls for change early in the week.
On Saturday, we topped out at 59 degrees. Our official overnight low was 34, but that actually came about 7 a.m. on Saturday. The real low for Saturday night into Sunday didn't drop much, as we bottomed out at 47 degrees. The 47-degree reading marked our warmest temperature at observation (about 6:30 a.m. when we call in the LeConte weather conditions to the park service) in 2014. The thermometer has already cracked 60 degrees, so it must be an unseasonably warm April Sunday in the valley.
Spring is marching its way up the mountain. I saw the bright green of new growth most vividly as I drove up Highway 441 toward the Alum Cave Bluff parking lot last week. A moat of verdant chlorophyll surrounds Castle LeConte and grows skyward.
Speaking of the Alum Cave Bluff trailhead, we received word that the park service will close the upper of the two lots for some construction work. We expect the closure will last about a week. Thus, competition for spaces in the lower lot will be tight for a while.
I visited with a frequent dayhiker this morning who reported that, for the first time in his trips up the mountain, his was the first car in the Rainbow Falls parking lot. He chose to ascend Bullhead Trail and didn't see another human until he arrived at LeConte Lodge. Depending on your perspective (and I frequently hear both sides of the story), that solitude is either the favorite or least favorite thing hikers list about the Bullhead Trail.
I had the pleasure of seeing another couple of dayhikers who are annual overnight guests, as well. They did a dayhike up and down Alum Cave Bluff Trail Saturday. They returned Sunday with a dayhike via the Boulevard Trail, building up to 16 miles roundtrip. These nice folks are training for a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike next month, and using our fair mountain to build strength. We wish them a fine adventure to one of the greatest sights in the world, and will be glad to welcome them back to LeConte.
Thank you all for reading. If you have any ideas or questions for future posts in the months to come please comment and let me know. I'm sure I won't know the answer to some of the questions, but maybe there will be something I can shed some light on for you. If you're planning on coming up in the next few days, make sure you plan for wet weather (always a good idea when scaling LeConte). Happy trails.
April 26, 2014
Good afternoon to all of you from the sun-kissed crown of Tennessee. This is Nathan, filling in for a piece while Allyson takes some down time. We won't enjoy too many days this year prettier than Saturday, April 26--been stellar since before sunrise.
We paid our dues on Friday, however, with 0.44 inches of rain. To be fair, we probably needed the rain as we're slightly below average in the precipitation column in East Tennessee this year after a soggy 2013. The high temperature reached 54 with an overnight low of 32.
Last night, a choking fog enveloped the lodge after the rains abated. The fog made the paths between the cabins tough to navigate as the gray swallowed the paltry illumination from headlamps. Sunrise proved spectacular. Several guests got up early to scout out Myrtle Point for sunrise and were richly rewarded. The movement of their headlamps in the predawn darkness looked like lightning bugs flitting around camp. The sun has been our constant companion since.
There has been a flood of dayhikers visiting the lodge Saturday. They're donning smiles, wisely aware of their good fortune and enjoying perfect conditions for a hike. The good folks in the corporate office below will be glad to know we're selling more than a few t-shirts today, which should pay for plenty of llama chow.
On my drive back to work after recent off days, I like to travel by the river between Townsend and Elkmont, then over to Sugarlands and up LeConte. Just after a steady rain, the Canada geese patrolled the shoulders of the road, as the worms had to make the fateful decision to face drowning or surface and try to evade hungry beaks. Our guests will eat far better than the geese tonight.
The forecast for Sunday is also favorable. Come on up and see us. Happy trails.
Wonderful Historical Photos
I thought today would be another great day to share some more vintage photos of the lodge. Friends of the Smokies shared these wonderful photos by Herbert Webster and I just add to pass them along. Check out the Univeristy of Tennessee's Digital Library.
We have a few old photos hanging around the lodge. The kitchen photograph was one that is hanging in our dining room. Someone asked the order the buildings were built. I know that the first lodge was Lodge #1 and it was built in the 30s. I am sure there are a lot of folks who have done research and will be happy to add their knowledge to the comments. I know the office was built in the 70s. Any other information would be great.
As I sit and type this post, it is extremely windy and rainy. It is a great day to study the history of the lodge. The high yesterday was 54º with a low of 41º. Chris and I will be heading down the mountain this evening. We have family to visit. Nathan will be taking over for a bit. I am sure he is saving some great tales to tell. Have a great weekend and happy hiking.
From Fire Pit to Commercial Stove
I don't even know where to begin in regards to this photograph. This image brings up many feelings inside of me. The loudest one being that I thank my lucky stars that I am not still cooking in that kitchen. I do, however, feel that this woman is a much stronger person than I am. I am used to my six burner commercial stove and all of the appliances that make life much easier. I am not sure I could have lasted 12 years if I was cooking over an open flame. The crew immediately started wondering about bear problems. How did they keep bears out of the food? Did someone sleep around the fire pit? Seems like some legit questions. It is amazing to look back at the past 85 years and see how this lodge has evolved.
It is another beautiful day up here. The high yesterday was 46º with a low of 26º. The sun is shining and I have seen more bluets pop up over the last 24 hours. I will be giddy when I see our local trillium make their appearance.
Now, time to go clean our big stove. I guess that is one good thing about cooking over a fire pit, you don't have stove part day. That is the day we clean everything on our stove. It happens twice a week. I better stop procrastinating and get to cleaning. Happy Hiking. f
Mid Morning Snack for Llamas
Sorry for the delay today. Sometimes lodge duties can over run us, such as making sure Pete and the other llamas get their pancake dessert. The llamas made it up on this lovely day. They are enjoying hanging out in the sun and eating their alfalfa pellets, llama chow, and pancakes. I think the llama wranglers are just happy to be able to have a normal schedule. It gets tricky dealing with bad weather and making sure the trails are passable.
It is a bit cool up here today. The low last night was 27º. It was a brief shock to the system this morning. The high yesterday was 46º. It is warming up the longer the sun is out. I am hoping we get the warmer temperatures that are supposed to grace the lower elevations this week. We can usually count on being about 20º cooler then the low lands. They are calling for high 70s down there, hopefully that will bring high 50s for us.
I have been keeping my eyes open for new growth around the lodge. The buds are coming out. It is great to see green on the bushes on a day when the sunrise was not an option. We are currently under a thick cloud layer. A few sprinkles have tapped on the windows. It is going to be a chilly day up top. The high yesterday was 56º with a low of 38º. It sounds as though the next few days could be breathtaking. I hear the lower elevations could reach almost 80º. That will put us in the sixties. Time to find my shorts and sandals. I will be on the lookout for wildflowers and junco nests. It is that time of year when life returns to the mountain top.
"Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky"
Easter Sunday turned out to be phenomenal. Chris and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and soaked up some rays. We seem to be seeing a lot more of the sun this year. I hope it is a trend that continues. After last year's rainy season, we need a drier season. Yesterday's high was 53º with a low of 32º. The weather guys are calling for warmer weather over the next few days. I would dare to guess we might see some buds on our trees. As you can tell from the picture, things are still a little brown on the mountain. I am ready for some color to set off those gorgeous blue skies. Once again, it is going to be a lovely day for a hike up. We hope to see you on the top.
Welcome to the official blog of LeConte Lodge. We hope you find the information provided here both helpful and enjoyable. Thank you for visiting the site, and we hope to see you on the mountain!