The clouds moved in and threatened a down pour, fortunately, we were never rained on. Chris took this photo last night. I though he captured the spirit of the tree very well. We learn to find the beauty even when the storms are looming. The weather guys are calling for a hot one today. I bet we will reach above 70. The low last night was 51 with a high of 65. Tomorrow will officially be summer and I think the heat is coming in with it.
The sun has returned to the mountain top. The catawba rhododendron is in full glory on the top of the mountain. The blackberry bushes are starting to bud and the coneflowers are coming along nicely. It won't be long until the mountain is in full bloom again. I am predicting it will be around the first or second week in July. Everything seems to be a couple of weeks ahead of schedule this year. The lows are in the mid 40s with a high yesterday of 64. It is still a little chilly for June. I am ready for some temperatures in the mid 70s. I know it is only a matter of time.
Some one was asking about the traffic we get on the blog. We average around 4500 to 5000 hits a day, with about 500 hits being repeats through out the day. We joke that our readership spikes when we get a good snowfall. I know if I get snow in October I will see about 14000 hits for that day. People love to see pictures of the white stuff. I don't blame them. I love taking pictures of it as well.
Time to go enjoy this sun while it is gracing us with its presence. I hope everyone is having a fantastic summer.
Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Northrup
We are so excited for our fellow crew members John and Bonnie Northrup. Saturday was a beautiful day for a wedding in Pigeon Forge. The couple had family and friends from as far away as Michigan down to Atlanta, Georgia. It was great to meet their families and see some past LeConte crew members. I know they will enjoy their few days off before they have to return to the mountain to resume their crew duties.
Hello to everyone. We're all excited for crew members John and Bonnie as they will be married this afternoon. There will be several folks from LeConte Lodge past and present in attendance. Even though the rest of us will be up High on LeConte running the lodge, we're sending warmest wishes to our friends on this wonderful day. I took the above photo about midday Saturday; it's the closet we can come to sending John and Bonnie wedding flowers from the mountain (we surely don't pick them up here and neither should anyone else in the park).
I know Allyson profiled some of John's and Bonnie's courtship and engagement last year. However, I did want to pass along a few happy recollections I have of the first day they met. Just to set the stage, John and I had just started our first season on the LeConte Lodge crew in March 2010.
That year marked one of the most brutal airlift and opening periods in lodge history. I had just finished a wrangling job in Alaska and the top of LeConte boasted more snow on the ground than Anchorage. We ended up hiking up Alum Cave Bluff Trail on March 13 (I think) in two feet of unbroken snow as we reached the steep sections nearing the top. In some places the snow had drifted so deep on those dangerous sections of trail that the safety cables were buried beneath.
Up at the lodge, the regular crew and our airlift workers were digging trenches between cabins as we tried to get ready to open on time in spite of the tough conditions (we accomplished that goal thanks to some great help). Within two days after hiking up and reporting for duty, we were buried with an additional foot of snow--piling up to three feet in places around the lodge. Even the graybeards, who've been hiking LeConte longer than many crew members have been alive, conceded that this was the most difficult season-opening weather they'd seen. There were places around the lodge that had more snow on the ground at that moment than we received all last winter of 2011-12.
As part of our rookie chores, John and I were sent out to work on the most dangerous sections of the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Most of these spots were not for the faint of heart--the depth of snow drifts often sloped down to a perilous dropoff. Where the snow didn't present difficulty, ice marked the Alum Cave Bluff Trail's carpet of choice. It was tough work shoveling thousands of pounds of snow and chipping ice until your bones ached, albeit under some bluebird beautiful skies. None of it bothered John, though. The Michigander kept right on shoveling and swinging--like John Henry, the steel-driving legend, instead of John Northrup.
At that time, we were short one crew member and all of us unloading box after box of t shirts and bags of flour in the snow were looking forward to adding the 10th and final person. Bonnie hiked up to interview to become the last piece of the 2010 LeConte Lodge crew puzzle. None of us knew anything about her. My first recollection was that at least she had some grit. Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population would have even been physically able to brave the conditions and interview during such a demanding day hike. She seemed thoroughly undaunted. Bonnie had lunch with us before interviewing. She ended up being hired with a report date later in the spring.
I remember John and I headed back out into the white to work on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail some more after lunch. I vividly remember how pretty the view of Clingman's Dome was on that crystalline day. Following her interview, Bonnie headed back down the difficult trail toward Georgia. When Bonnie passed, John was no longer paying much attention to the view of Clingman's Dome.
We were all glad to have Bonnie finally report to the lodge. To make her feel at home, we'd invite her up to watch sunset on Cliff Tops with us when we'd finish our supper chores. She would usually graciously accept. She did sit a little closer to John than the rest of us.
While I didn't predict a wedding immediately, by late summer 2010, you didn't have to be a crystal ball-toting fortuneteller to see where things were headed for John and Bonnie. They still do plenty of fine work for us in their third season on LeConte, and we're happy for them. We also pass along our regards to their families, who we've had the good fortune to meet up at the lodge. Allyson and Chris will attend the wedding and may pass on some good news of the festivities next week when they return to LeConte.
Switching gears a bit, I also wanted to pass along the story of Ben Connally, a day hiker from Gadsden, Ala., I met a few days ago. Ben counts 82 birthday candles on his cake now and still climbed the Alum Cave Bluff Trail in under four hours. He first started hiking LeConte about 64 years ago when he attended Auburn. On his most recent trip, Ben made reservations for a sit-down lunch in the dining room with his son Mark and grandson Michael--three generations of Connallys under the LeConte Lodge roof.
Ben also told me of a time many years ago when he arrived in Gatlinburg later than he planned. After inquiring about a room at a sold-out local lodge, the proprietors began calling around to their friends in town. Finally, Ben landed a bed on a screened-in porch of a private home. Gatlinburg operates a little differently now.
As for the weather, we're still living in the cloud with rare patches of blue opening above us. It rained lightly Friday evening, only 0.03 of an inch. The thermometer topped out at 62 Friday and remained a mild 50 degrees for the low.
Happy trails and a wonderful wedding day to John and Bonnie.
Good afternoon to you. There's plenty going on here at LeConte Lodge this Friday. I'll try to run down some of the news for you. First, we celebrate two important birthdays on LeConte today -- the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and crew member Chrissy. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created 78 years ago by a June 15, 1934 act of Congress. I think the Smokies and my Tennessee mountain home (thanks to Dolly Parton for the song title) rate about the prettiest 78-year-old I've ever seen.
Chrissy was not created by an act of Congress. Being a good Southern boy, I'll not reveal Chrissy's age, but will tell you she's a powerful long way from 78 years old. Chrissy serves as our assistant cook, who takes over lunch and dinner preparation duties, a huge chore, when Allyson (our head cook and site manager) is off the mountain. We eat like kings thanks to Allyson and Chrissy.
Since you're reading you get the exclusive--revealed here even before Chrissy finds out at dinner. Through various acts of secrecy and subterfuge, we've made a group effort to make a birthday mixed berry cobbler without Chrissy finding out. Keep in mind that Chrissy spends a powerful lot of time in the kitchen during the day taking good care of us and our guests. So it's tough to construct any surprise in the kitchen.
After finding out what desserts she likes through some vague and odd questioning, we had crew member Walt (who was down on off days) pick up our ingredients in town and pack them up. After a group consultation on how to go about it, we had Alan take Chrissy out for an afternoon birthday hike to keep the secret alive. That's when we made the cobbler. One of her favorite animals is a dolphin, so I cut one out of the pastry and added it jumping over some waves on top of the lattice. I added a chocolate chip for the dolphin's eye. I like the way it looks (but I haven't tasted it yet). I've included a photo of the cobbler before baking below.
Our beloved Mt. LeConte got some good publicity in a couple of news stories in the Knoxville News Sentinel the last week. I think you can read both stories for free at www.knoxnews.com.
Morgan Simmons, who writes a hiking column for the News Sentinel, wrote about the classic ascent of Boulevard Trail and descent of Alum Cave Bluff Trail as a day hike in his story "Smoky Mountain High: Mount LeConte Hike Is a Cool Way to Avoid Mid-Summer Temps." Morgan hikes up to visit us from time to time. I was fortunate to meet him in March during our airlift. He's an awfully friendly and knowledgeable person about our mountains.
I recommend his article, though I do caution that you should be in good shape to attempt the Boulevard-Alum day trip. On a pretty day, the scenery will astound you (if you still have enough energy to pick up your head--don't undertake the hike on a whim). Pay particular attention to Morgan's line that the "Boulevard is by no means flat." Although you begin at Newfound Gap, the highest starting point for any LeConte trail, there's a lot of up and down during the strenuous eight miles. Write this down: you wouldn't believe how often one of our guests drags into supper late because they chose the "easy" Boulevard Trail. It's a wonderful trail, but it can test you if you're not prepared. If you're hiking it the first time, start earlier than you think you need to. One last thing about Morgan's story, our new llama wrangler Mitch tends to arrive at the lodge about 10:30 a.m. and depart about noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday--a little earlier than in past years and the time reported in the story (that's a recent change and not Morgan's fault).
If you're a fan of athletics, then you might also want to read John Adams' article "Mount LeConte Could Be Step Up for Vols." The article concerns the group hike some members of the University of Tennessee football team and head coach Derek Dooley took up LeConte last weekend (also profiled on this website on Sunday).
As for the weather, we've not enjoyed a clear day since last Friday--a pretty long gray stretch even for LeConte. Yesterday about eight minutes after I wrote on the update that at least it hadn't rained Thursday, it began raining. We received a short bout of pea-sized hail about 5 p.m. Thursday, but nothing too bad outside of a little thunder. We ended up with a high of 63 and low of 50 Thursday. We accumulated 0.15 of an inch of rain. Friday has been mostly cloudy and, dare I say it, dry. It's not been a great clothes-drying day on the clothesline, but nothing yet like the second rinse from Thursday's showers.
I'm planning on writing a few words about tomorrow's wedding for crew members John and Bonnie in Saturday's High on LeConte update. Also, I had a good visit a couple of days ago with one of our day hikers who is older than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I'll include a few of his insights Saturday unless plans change. So please visit again and read on Saturday.
Hello and happy Flag Day to everyone. I'd also like to wish crew member Austin a happy birthday. This is an eventful week for birthdays on LeConte, as Allyson (Sunday), Austin (Thursday) and Chrissy (Friday) all celebrate their entrance to the world. Those are pretty long odds that three of our 10 crew members share birthdays within six days of each other. By lunch, I'd already visited with an additional two hikers who were celebrating their birthdays today. Perhaps June 14 is double-coupon day at the hospital's delivery ward.
We were pleased to welcome Girl Scout Troop 387 from Winter Haven, Fla., to LeConte Lodge Tuesday night. The scouts and their leader seemed to be friendly and engaging folks. The young ladies from the Sunshine State held garage sales and sold a whopping 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to help fund their trip to the Smokies. These globetrotting scouts have also traveled to Switzerland and the Grand Canyon on troop trips.
After some hard-hitting investigative journalism and tough questioning, I got the scoop. Among all the cookie choices, the Girl Scouts from Winter Haven like the Samoas best, followed by Thin Mints. I will say with some pride that the scouts were enamored with crew member John's LeConte Lodge chocolate chip cookie bars, served as dessert for our guests after dinner. That's a stout testimonial from ladies who rank as experts on the topic. The scouts told me that their favorite things about LeConte Lodge were the hospitality, food and the view (although the weather didn't really allow them to see the full show of scenery). We'd be glad to welcome them back on a clear day.
As far as the current weather goes, we've been hemmed in a cloud again almost all day. We've seen the sun briefly, but not as much as I expected after listening to an optimistic forecast this morning while cracking eggs for breakfast.
Sometimes pursuing the sun on Mt. LeConte during a cloudy spell is a little like trying to date the homecoming queen; you hope she'll be happy to spend some time with you but she's often more elusive than you hope. The high reached 59 degrees Wednesday with a low of 47. We didn't record any rain, however, and that's progress.
Good afternoon. Periodically I'd like to introduce you to some of the fascinating people on the LeConte Lodge crew. They work hard to maintain LeConte's long history of being a hospitable outpost on a special mountain. By the very nature of working up here, most crew members happen to be pretty interesting folks. A LeConte Lodge story swap is not to be missed.
Alan Householder starts us off with the most years of service to LeConte Lodge. Alan first worked on the LeConte Lodge crew in 1994, but began hiking the mountain in 1980. In 2001, Alan served as co-manager of Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork before returning as LeConte Lodge llama wrangler from 2002 through 2011. Osteoarthritis forced his retirement from his llama wrangling job, so we're fortunate to have Alan back on crew in 2012.
Possessing a strong passion for long-distance backpacking and off-trail bushwhacking, Alan has been an avid hiker and walker for 35 years. He completed the Appalachian Trail in 1988, the Pacific Coast Trail in 1996 and North Carolina's Mountains to the Sea Trail in 1997 (among other long trails in the U.S.).
Alan has trekked extensively in the United Kingdom, Australia, Tasmania, the Patagonian Andes and Nepal. He hopes to be back in action in the future to complete New Zealand's long-distance trail--Te Araroa. In the early 1990s, Alan worked three seasons as the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner in the Smokies.
Myrtle Point ranks as Alan's favorite place on Mt. LeConte, while he counts the Bullhead Trail as his favorite to the lodge.
On a personal note, upon meeting Alan to open the 2010 season on LeConte, I was most impressed with his obvious concern for his llamas. In all kinds of weather and situations, Alan endeavored to safeguard the LeConte llamas--and they still know him when they hike up to resupply us. I also admire his encyclopedic knowledge of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Now for the weather update. We've been living in a pretty thick cloud for most of the day. However, we did receive some welcome sunshine and patches of blue sky during brief periods in the morning. Tuesday's high was 63 with a low of 47 and 0.03 inches of rain. The forecast for the next few days sounds favorable.
Hike on up and see us. Have a fine day. Happy trails.
Thank you all for stopping by High on LeConte. In Tuesday's update, I'd like to introduce you to Dakota, one of the best LeConte llamas on the farm, and update you on some repair work being done at the lodge.
First of all, I'll pass along some weather statistics. Our high Monday reached 59 with a low of 53. The nearly omnipresent clouds have kept the temperature within a range of 48 to 60 degrees since Saturday morning. We measured 0.57 inches of rain Monday, though I expected a higher total.
This morning I noticed a bright, yellow circle in the sky for a brief period. It hurt my eyes when I looked at it. Someone said it's something called the "Sun," but I don't know. You know how people make up things. The forecast calls for 70 percent chance of rain Tuesday, but so far it's been dry albeit mostly cloudy. The forecast for the upcoming days sounds quite a bit sunnier.
Dakota ranks as one of the strongest, most dependable LeConte llamas. He doesn't believe in getting hurt, playing sick or pouting. He just works like crazy. I spoke with Alan, who's now on crew here at the lodge but served as llama wrangler for a decade prior. He worked extensively with Dakota and passed along some insight into the personality of this valuable member of the LeConte family.
For many years, Dakota was the alpha llama, not to be pushed around by anything. Alan thinks that time has mellowed the old boy a bit. Dakota was already trained and working in the team when Alan started the llama job going on 11 years ago.
"He's the fullback of the llamas," Alan said. "He's the last to get loaded in the trailer. He bulls his way in and nobody can stop him."
Although we've cut back on his workload, Dakota still ranks as a powerhouse. In 2010, we had to send a small generator down the mountain for repairs. There was no question who would shoulder the load. In fact, Dakota may have been offended had we entrusted the task to one of his "subordinates."
Dakota's not a big fan of people, attention or affection. If he were a human, he very well might have been a cowboy--riding fence all day probably would have suited him just fine. In fact, he doesn't care anything about people--unless they happen to be holding a pancake. He's also a notorious browser (nipping at vegetation while he hikes up and down the mountain), which can be fatal as several plants (like rhododendron) are toxic to llamas. For this reason, he sometimes wears a muzzle-type mask for his safety.
"Dakota's a valuable team player," Alan said. "He's strong, dependable, never sits down [to protest working] or shows any lazy llama behavior."
A while back one of our fine readers asked about the tarp-covered containers located behind the LeConte Lodge office. I mentioned that the containers held air-lifted building supplies to help us maintain our facility, as the harsh weather conditions up top can punish our structures. We don't have any plans to add anything new to the lodge, but we've been pleased to welcome a trio from Lebanon (Tennessee--not passport Lebanon) who are replacing some old windows.
I've mentioned the last few days that the sun has been sparse. That has made it particularly tough to do construction with power tools and no solar power available to recharge them. However, John Crowder, Ben Spicer and Bubba Hill have been troopers--hanging plastic sheets to replace windows in the rain. There's more to do, but they're making headway--and I hear more solar power is on the way.
Unless something changes, I plan to profile the aforementioned Alan Householder in Wednesday's update. He's an interesting individual, so I hope you'll stop back by. Come on up and see us. Have a fine day. Happy trails.
Hello to everyone. We're managing just fine here in Seattle (also known as a soggy Mt. LeConte for the last few days). I did manage to catch a brief glimpse down into the valley this morning, a sight so rare the last three days that I stopped to make sure I wasn't seeing things. The insulating cloud layer kept Sunday's temperatures stationary--a high of 55 and low of 48. We registered 0.36 inches of rain Sunday and we'll be adding to that total Monday. Tuesday also sounds like it could be wet, so take some good rain gear if you're coming to see us (a good idea even in a drought). As I've often said, LeConte doesn't care what the forecast says.
As Allyson has mentioned in previous posts, the composition of our overnight guests shifts some in the summer as families set out on adventures. We do tend to see more kids in the summer than in the bookend portions of our March through November operating season.
I loved the following exchange I heard on my rounds through camp a while back.
Parent to kid: "What are you doing?"
Other parent to kid: "Pretending to a superhero?"
Kid: "I don't have to pretend."
That's life on LeConte for you. After you've mastered the trail and made peace with the mountain, your chest puffs out a bit more and you become more likely to share your dinner table with Batman and Robin.
I was out hanging some laundry to dry a while back and heard another memorable exclamation from some weary-legged youngsters nearing completion of the Trillium Gap Trail. The boys were in the vanguard, leading their family up the 6.5-mile route. Ringing out down the trail, I heard "I see it! I see buildings!" delivered with no less enthusiasm than the lookout on the Mayflower nearing the end of its daunting voyage.
Although we're sometimes fused to all our newfangled technology (and I do happen to be typing on a computer with no wires at the top of a mountain without electricity, so yes, I may be a hypocrite), I think most kids who are physically prepared for the hike (and have the luxury of good weather) really enjoy their stay at LeConte Lodge. True, we have no video games or televisions and your smart phone may not be so smart up here.
There are exceptions, but most kids end up finding a way to entertain themselves--often not much different than the youngsters who braved this mountain in the 1930s and subsequent decades. Kids play freeze tag and hide and seek, which is exclusive to their age group. This marks my second season at LeConte Lodge and I've yet to come across anyone eligible for Social Security start a rousing game of freeze tag after their hike. Kids play board games or cards up in the office by light of a kerosene lamp. They listen and practice the ancient art of storytelling on one of Tennessee's best stages (with the possible exception of the annual Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.).
I think it's refreshing. I noticed the same thing when I was a wrangler on a wonderful guest ranch in Colorado that--like LeConte Lodge--lacked some of the amenities that take up too much of our awareness. After a day or two, the kids quit looking at their useless phones and became enamored with the great nightly show in the heavens. They knew their horse's name and cared how their four-legged partner was feeling that day.
The kids are all right--if we let them be.
Red squirrels, known locally as "boomers," on Mt. LeConte even know how to read--sometimes upside down. This squirrel, Alex--named after one of Tennessee's finest, Roots author Alex Haley--looks like he's planning a day hike down Trillium Gap Trail (or maybe just heading to wet his whistle at the spring).
I hope everyone is enjoying a fine Sunday. Life at LeConte Lodge rates just fine, although the weather isn't very pleasant. We spent most of Saturday living in the clouds. The main difference Sunday is that the clouds we are living in happen to be dowsing us with rain periodically. The forecast for today and Monday looks pretty damp. I expect we can shelve the sunscreen for a few days. Saturday's high topped out at 60 with an overnight low of 49, not a huge amount of variation.
I pass along happy birthday wishes to LeConte Lodge resident manager Allyson, who is off the mountain celebrating with Chris in the Empire State.
We enjoyed meeting the Hendersons of South Carolina last night. These friendly folks from the Palmetto State packed up some fresh fruit and produce as a thoughtful gift to the crew. They said they got the idea from the writings of Gracie McNichol, a LeConte legend who climbed the mountain into her 90s. Gracie used to bring up treats for the LeConte Lodge crew. I am happy to have met the Hendersons. Gracie would be pleased to know that kindness grows exponentially.
Although they didn't stay at the lodge, we were pleased to welcome members of the University of Tennessee football team, head football coach Derek Dooley and head football strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery on their first day hike to Mt. LeConte--one of the unquestioned treasures of the Volunteer State. Seems like the Vols fared just fine coming up our fair mountain via the Alum Cave Bluff Trail (good thing as their strength and conditioning coach was along to take notes if anyone was huffing and puffing). There is a photo of the whole group assembled on Cliff Tops available at www.utsports.com.
I've often heard coaches use striving to achieve the mountaintop as a metaphor for a championship season. These Tennessee Volunteers got plenty of practice at the real thing Saturday. I can guarantee you no team in the Southeastern Conference, of which Tennessee is a member, boasts a more beautiful mountain than LeConte to make that point. Good for them that they are wise enough to come to the Smokies and soak up some of the best things about living in East Tennessee--I just hate they didn't get a better view over all the terrain they covered. While I wish all of them a fine semester academically, the mountains have much to teach us in a more beautiful classroom.
Disclaimer: I don't pretend to be dispassionate about the Tennessee Volunteers. I worked in the University of Tennessee Athletics Department in the media relations office from 1994-2006 and wish the 2012 Vols a wonderful season (as I do every year). I was extraordinarily fortunate to meet some of my favorite people working at Tennessee in those dozen years drizzled with victories and good times.
I hope that the 2012 Volunteers live up to the lofty standards of their historical namesake. The first Tennessee Volunteers, the Overmountain Men, mustered near Elizabethton (before Tennessee was even a state) to march east over the mountains and best the British at Kings Mountain to turn the tide of the Revolution in favor of the fledgling nation. After the White House had been burned, the Volunteers showed up again to save the nation at the Battle of New Orleans to punctuate the War of 1812 (I know technically the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed). Under Andrew Jackson, the Tennesseans joined with freed Haitian slaves, Jean Lafitte and his pirates and a New Orleans ragtag militia to throttle the Redcoats--the finest fighting force in the world--just outside the Big Easy.
At the Alamo, the price of Texas' independence proved steep--paid by the sacrifice of the heroic David Crockett and his fierce Tennesseans. Before World War I, Sgt. Alvin York didn't care much about fighting. But when the Tennessean arrived in theater he became the most acclaimed soldier on the European continent through bravery and fortitude. In World War II, from the Manhattan Project to the shores of Normandy on D Day, Tennesseans did their share.
Any time the nation needs to brush back the dark shroud of desperation and tyranny, the Tennessee Volunteers are called. If hard times bring out the best in Tennesseans, then that makes the good times even sweeter at the top of the Volunteer State. Come join us on LeConte.
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!