Today's post is going to be a little different. I just wanted to remind everyone about our online store. If you have a family member who loves Mt. LeConte, we have some great options for Christmas gifts. Don't worry, you don't have to hike five miles to do your Christmas shopping. We will mail it to you. While you're at it, throw a pair of our toasty flannel pants into the cart for your Christmas morning outfit. I bought a pair and they are awesome. We have everything from fleece jackets and vests to a really nice jacket that is wind proof and water resistant. I actually own the jacket and have used it for hiking. I will say that I am a fan. Don't forget the groovy tie dye LeConte shirt that you can not purchase at the lodge. You can buy one to wear while your "I hiked it" shirt is being washed.
As for lodge news, we are starting with a sunny morning. It is still cold up here. The low was 20º with a high of 39º. The weather forecast is calling for snow this weekend. We could have a white ending to the season.
I have one request. I would love to hear from you about what you would like to see in our store. This includes our online store and our store at the lodge. We are looking for ideas and would love to hear yours.
It was a wet day, but the guests hung out and watched as the park biologists weighed, measured, and tagged the bear. I new this bear was the biggest I have seen around the lodge. I was right. Joe, the biologist, believed him to be a little over 200 lbs. We are used to the little guys coming through camp. They usually weigh in around 75 lbs. This big boy had been eating his fair share of mountain ash berries. When all was said and done, Joe laid the bear at the edge of camp and administered the wake up drug. He moved back a ways and watched as the bear awoke to make sure the big guy was safe and went on his way. He did just that. He woke up and got out of dodge. We have not seen him since. Hopefully this experience will keep him foraging for acorns and berries. One thing the biologist pointed out was that the bigger bears can cover a good distance in one day. This being said, it would not be unusual for him to end up Gatlinburg as a dumpster bear. We hope with this experience that he will fear humans and not end up as a dumpster bear. We want him to continue being a tree hugging, organic food eating bear.
On to weather. We are currently seeing rain. We received a little over an inch yesterday. The high was 52º with a low of 37º. The trails are in good shape. No reports of problems with ice.
Chris and Bethany set the bear trap for our neighborhood bear. He was caught last night. As of this morning, the park bear biologist is on his way up to give the bear his "health check". I will say that in the eleven years I have been here, these "health checks" work. Once the bears are set free, they do not return. They want nothing to do with us humans. This program is a good program. I can assure you it has helped save more bear lives then you hear about. I also want to add that the lodge staff does an excellent job at educating our guests and day hikers. We try and teach people why it is important to make sure these animals remain wild and what we can do while being in the backcountry to make sure that happens. It is important for us all to do our part and leave no trace when we are exploring the wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Now on to other topics. You were asking about the rest of the crew and their winter off. I know Nathan has not decided what his plans are. He is still working on figuring that out. Courtney and Beau will be traveling with us and then they are relocating to Colorado where Courtney will take over as General Managers of the Smith Fork Ranch. They are extremely excited about their future plans. Austin is planning on sticking around the Nashville area. Matt and Brad are still hammering out their winter plans. The two of them are planning on returning for season #2. Caroline has made arrangements to spend two months in Peru. She is super excited and has been researching the different animals she hopes to find. And last but not least, Bethany will be hanging out in Knoxville earning some extra cash to help with her Appalachian Trail hike that she will be starting in March. We are so happy for her and feel this is going to be an amazing life adventure for her. So, some memories will be made this winter. We are all counting the days for some well deserved r&r.
It drizzled rain for the better part of Friday. Most of the snow has melted. The only problem we have now is the big bear that has become a "problem bear". He is a rather large bear and over the past week he has gone from roaming around camp at night to hanging out during the day. He is a stubborn bear that runs when we yell at him, but he doesn't seem too concerned. Unfortunately, we are going to have to catch him in our sturdy bear trap and let the Park Service guys do their job. They have been extremely successful in scaring the past bears to the point they do not come back around. That is the main objective for us all; keep the bears wild and scared of humans. Once the bear is caught, the park service will put him under, like at the dentist office. He will then get a health check. The only difference is when he wakes up, he will have a new earring. He will have a little hangover which will hopefully help him to realize he doesn't want any part of those two legged creatures. They are bad news. We will see what today brings. If everything works according to plan, he will be on his way to greener pastures, or should I say, redder ash berries.
The sun does not seem to want to do its job this morning. It is peeking through the clouds in the lower elevations while we are blanketed in a grey haze. Yesterday was a beautiful day for a hike up the mountain. Chris and I came up Alum Cave trail. The trail is very icy in certain sections. We were thankful to have some sort of traction device on our shoes. The high up top was only 45º with a low of 31º.
Chris and I had a little pep in our step on our way back to work. Only two short weeks left of the season and we will be Hawaii bound. I did not seem to mind the cold air whipping around me as I hiked the last mile to the lodge. I knew that soon enough I would be lounging in a hammock while reading a good book. Remember, with the ice and cold temperatures, get an early start on the trail. Make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes to pile on and drink a lot of water on your way up. Even though it is cold, you can still become dehydrated. Be careful and take it slow and steady while hiking around the icy sections on the trail.
It is going to be a great weekend for a hike. Come see us for some of that famous LeConte hot chocolate.
Hello to all of you. First off, I'll provide a trail and weather update before wrapping up the last of the season's crew introductions with my own. Wednesday turned out to be a milder day than we were expecting. The sun shone brightly all day and the winds diminished for a pleasant day on the mountain.
We were lucky to experience a temperature inversion last night, sending the temperature rising rather than plummeting to the forecasted teens. Our high was 35 degrees, which we reached just before sunrise this morning. In an odd note, at 5 a.m., LeConte Lodge and Atlanta shared the same temperature. The official low for the day was 8 degrees, which occurred just after the morning observation on Wednesday. There's still a couple of inches of snow on the ground at LeConte Lodge.
The forecast calls for a nice Thursday as temperatures edge back to a more seasonal norm. The biggest issue will be tough conditions on all the trails leading up to LeConte. Some of the snow melted under Wednesday's sun, and all of that liquid refroze during the night. As you all well know, hiking in snow offers better traction than hiking on ice or packed slush.
While the weather forecast is improving, I'd plan on a few more days of tough trail conditions as the ice continues to make hiking difficult in the top mile to the lodge. Our general manager, Tim Line, who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and likely hiked LeConte more than 1,000 times called to say his hike down Wednesday was more slippery than he expected, not words he uses often. He recommends all hikers use traction devices until the conditions improve. That being said, all the hikers we expected arrived at the lodge in time for supper Wednesday.
With the official business of weather and trail updates complete, I'll finish with my crew introduction. Brevity is not my strong suit (hard to decide what parts of your life weren't important enough to include), so you can skip the rest if you wish.
I'm Nathan Kirkham, the assistant manager of LeConte Lodge. I'm wrapping up my third season on the mountain after also working in 2010 and 2012. I was raised in Rockwood, Tenn., and enjoyed a wonderful childhood growing up on Watts Bar Lake and rambling the ridges. My mom, Betty Jane, and my dad, the late Dick Kirkham, made sure my younger brothers Sam and Lucas and I spent plenty of time outside camping and enjoying life in Rockwood.
I graduated as Rockwood High's valedictorian in 1994. I've visited all 50 states, but Rockwood's my favorite place, though LeConte's on the short list. During my time off LeConte, I like being home and visiting my aforementioned family plus my nephews, Grant (6) and Colton (3). The seeds for everything worthwhile I've ever done were sown in Rockwood by family, friends, the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), teachers and coaches. Rockwood gave me wings and a safe harbor to come home when it was time to land. The Key to the City of Rockwood is still one of my most cherished awards.
I attended the University of Tennessee and immediately began working 50-60 hours a week to pay for my education. I ended up working 12 years (1994-2006) in the men's sports information office in the UT Athletics Department and still help out in the press box on a contract basis for most home football games when my schedule allows me to hike off LeConte. I've read that the golden age of any organization is when you were there, and that makes a lot of sense. However, I really was fortunate to be part of a winning tradition at Tennessee, serving on the publicity team for the 1998 football national championship team and directing media relations efforts for the 2001 NCAA outdoor track and field and 2002 NCAA indoor track and field champions. I was honored to be presented with national championship rings by all three of those title teams in appreciation for my contribution.
I particularly enjoyed my assignment to the Tennessee track and field team (a fine group of athletes and coaches), where I served as the first publicist for future Olympic gold medal winners Justin Gatlin (100m, 2004 Athens) and Aries Merritt (110m hurdles, 2012 London), who is also the world record holder. Also while at Tennessee, I coauthored a book about Tennessee football tradition with Mike Griffith, formerly of the Knoxville News Sentinel, and Peyton Manning (foreword), quarterback of the Denver Broncos and Super Bowl XLI MVP. Peyton was also a pleasure to work with during his days as a Tennessee Volunteer.
I think my professional work also helped me academically because I knew it was paying for my degrees. I earned my B.S. in journalism/public relations concentration, finishing as the top graduate in the College of Communications for spring 1999. If memory serves, Peyton Manning finished as top graduate for my college a couple of springs before and skewed our graduates' starting salary averages. I brought the starting salary average back down to Earth, but living most of it has been plenty interesting. It took a while because I was working lots, but I earned my M.S. in communications/public relations concentration in 2005, graduating with a 4.00 GPA.
Then things really got interesting. After my dad passed away at the beginning of my senior year of high school, I learned the hard lesson that you're not guaranteed a chance to do all you want in retirement. So I hatched a plan to do some of the adventurous things I'd been dreaming of since I was a boy while my body would still let me. It was hard leaving a career track at the university, especially because I worked with some of the finest people ever to grace the Volunteer State.
Since I left UT, I have worked as a horse wrangler in Hawaii (2007), Colorado (2007 and 2008), Alaska (2009) and Wyoming (2011 in Yellowstone). In Hawaii, I most remember a branding we had on the foothills of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Almost everything was a highlight at Cherokee Park Ranch in Colorado, though it's hard to top helping our neighbors round up their cattle on horseback in the Front Range of the Rockies. Riding for Cherokee Park Ranch might have been the best job of them all.
In Alaska, I most remember having to ride with a .44 magnum strapped to my chest (I never had to use it) in grizzly country while taking out moose and Dall sheep hunters on horseback. My most vivid memory in riding for the Canyon Corral in Yellowstone National Park was when a bull bison charged out of the pines after me when I was on the ground trying to repair the reins of my wonderful horse, Raven. Even with no way to steer or stop Raven, I jumped up in the saddle and took off in a hurry. Raven saved my bacon that day (among others). Raven is the best horse I've ever worked, and he deserves his long winter vacation in Montana.
I've taken on a few more adventurous jobs I really enjoyed. In 2009, before I left for Alaska, I spent the spring semester working at an environmental education center for elementary and middle school kids. I did everything from pass around ball pythons in the herpetology class I taught to helping belay and coach scared kids on our high ropes elements. In spring 2011, I worked as a crew trainer at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., teaching space science and teamwork to kids from around the world. I most remember being assigned with another crew trainer to take charge of a group of Puerto Rican students for a couple of days who couldn't get home after the disastrous tornadoes tore through Alabama in late April 2011. We didn't have lights, hot water or hot food, and the rest of Space Camp was shut down, but those Puerto Rican students graduated on time under the space shuttle. I was honored to receive the Right Stuff Award for my winter training class, an award given to commemorate the qualities of the first U.S. space pioneers.
I worked in January and February 2012 at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I worked in the galley doing some rather unglamorous jobs, but I got to spend about seven weeks working at the end of the world. I was happy to be there. I was awarded the Antarctica Service Medal by the United States government for civilians (me) and military members who support U.S. science exploration on The Ice, the most difficult of continents. The medal probably didn't cost $2 to make, but I'm proud of it.
I left Antarctica and returned straight to LeConte for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, where I've been fortunate enough to work with great people and meet the best guests in the Smokies. In between the 2012 and 2013 LeConte seasons, I was happy to return to Yellowstone to work as a winter guide, learning to drive three different types of snow coaches while introducing guests from across the globe to winter in the world's first national park. Like the Smokies, Yellowstone maintains quite a hold on my imagination.
Allyson and Chris should return from off days this afternoon, so this should be my last High on LeConte update of the season. Thanks for reading and for being so friendly when you stop by to visit at the lodge. Happy trails.
Good morning to you. I just wanted to provide a quick, early update for you, since weather and trail conditions are a bigger part of the hiking picture today.
We received 2.5 inches of snow Tuesday, more than the forecast but not a huge deal. The snow depth won't be too big a concern while hiking, but there will certainly be some slick spots on all the trails. Austin, one of our crew members, did a day hike down Alum Cave Bluff Trail Tuesday and was glad he had traction devices for the top third of the trail. He would recommend them for hiking today.
Another big factor overnight is the bitter cold. We bottomed out at 4 degrees this morning. As of 7:45 a.m., the temperature reads 9 degrees. It's a bitterly cold morning complicated by gusty winds, which picked up overnight and are still blowing. We don't have official wind readings at the lodge, but we were surely experiencing wind chills below 0 most of the night and morning.
The good news is that skies above the mountain are currently clear and that the forecast calls for decreasing wind and no more precipitation today. The bad news is that it's likely to remain bitterly cold through Thursday morning.
Also, Highway 441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee was closed yesterday and remains so as of Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. However, park officials were working hard on the road and expect to open it soon.
Also, our llama truck and trailer got stuck on an icy patch near the Trillium Gap Trailhead on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Park officials are also working on that stretch of road and will have it open as soon as they can. As I mentioned yesterday, the Park Service has provided a recorded information line at 865-436-1200. For road closure information, enter 631 at the voice prompt. For a five-day NWS forecast, enter 630 at the voice prompt.
We remain open for business and look forward to seeing you. All of our scheduled guests arrived safely last night, albeit cold. Please be careful, leave early and use good judgment on the trails today. Happy trails.
Good afternoon from a snowy LeConte Lodge. The snow moved in about 9 a.m. and has deposited about an inch of accumulation at the lodge. The winds are beginning to pick up and blow more of that snow around, so I wouldn't count on being able to see five states from Myrtle Point today. However, I will guarantee you can see one state; look down and be grateful you're in Tennessee.
I spoke to hikers who arrived early via the Alum Cave Bluff and Boulevard trails. On Alum, the guests first started seeing snow falling around the Bluffs and reported a few slick spots in the last mile to the lodge. Similarly, the Boulevard hiker said he encountered some tricky slick spots on his last mile to the lodge.
Monday's weather was wonderfully sunny with bluebird skies. Indeed, most of the overnight was clear with a waxing moon working overtime to illuminate the lodge grounds, so bright you may have been surprised to look up and not see a full moon. However, this morning before breakfast you could look down in the valley and see an odd "layer cake" of cloud levels. I guess the only dessert these clouds deposited was the chief ingredient for snow cream.
Monday's high reached 51 degrees with an overnight low of 30. However, the temperature has been falling all day and rests at 22 degrees as of 1:30 p.m. The forecast doesn't call for much accumulation as the system is supposed to be a quick mover. However, the wind is expected to howl as the front moves through, which will make hiking in the higher elevations unpleasant. Additionally, we're expecting bitterly cold temperatures for two or three days. I hope the sun makes a quick return. A sunny 15-degree day beats a cloudy one.
I spoke with the Park Service before beginning this entry. They said that all park roads were open as of 1:15 p.m. They gave me a phone number which may be of some help to those planning on visiting the Smokies this winter. There is a recorded information line at 865-436-1200. When you hear the voice prompt, you should enter 631 to directly access the road report or 630 for a shortcut to the National Weather Service's five-day forecast.
We've also been seeing a bear occasionally the last week. By LeConte standards, he's a pretty big critter, probably the second-biggest bear I've seen up at the lodge. I chased him about 30 yards out of camp the other afternoon and was plenty glad he didn't turn around and chase me. He's up top feasting on the ample crop of red mountain ash berries. We want to make sure that's all he's eating and not on the prowl for human food. If you're hiking up, please help us keep that bear "wild" by being careful about food, beverage and pack storage.
If you're coming up to see us, we're wide open for business and we welcome you. Just be careful and prepared for a winter hike at the top of Tennessee. Happy trails.
Happy Veterans Day to all who've served our country admirably. We pass along wishes that your special day is as beautiful as Monday on Mt. LeConte. As of Monday about 1:30 p.m., we're sitting above 50 degrees under blue, sunny skies. Sunday's high was 44 with an overnight low of 25.
The forecast calls for precipitation to move into the mountains Tuesday with an influx of cold air. That could mean snow or ice, but weather on LeConte is tough to predict. Any hiker should be prepared for tough conditions if we get bad weather, though trails are in racing shape today. Although the forecast calls for a frigid cold snap, the precipitation isn't supposed to last more than a day or so.
Austin Bush takes over High on LeConte today with his crew introduction. All of the previous crew profiles featured newcomers, as we had several this season, but Austin is finishing up his second year at LeConte Lodge. I'll turn the story over to Austin.
Anyone that has been following the blog for awhile knows that this is my second year working at LeConte. I am originally from a town named Kingston Springs, right outside of Nashville, Tenn.
I grew up visiting the Smoky Mountains with my family, yet never hiked any of the trails up to LeConte when I was younger. My first time visiting Mt. LeConte was April of 2011 while hiking with my sister. I fell in love right away with the the idea of working at a hike-in lodge. Not even a year later I found myself working at LeConte, and I have enjoyed every moment of it.
Thanks to Austin for providing his profile. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Happy trails.
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!