In today's update I aim to tackle the most consistently asked question of a LeConte Lodge crew member. Every one of us answers this question at least five times a week, and that may be a conservative estimate.
"Do you live here or do you hike up and down every day?"
It's certainly a fair question, and I'll try to explain how that all works from a crew member's perspective. I always enjoy the wonderment on a first-time hiker's face when they reach the lodge and have no inkling that anything would be up here on top of LeConte. Taking in all LeConte has to offer and trying to figure out how these "mountain people" make it work is a lot to soak up after a hard hike.
The quick answer to the most asked question: Yes we do live up here except for eight days a month. We all live in crew quarters. As a general rule, most of the cabins above the dining room are guest quarters. Meanwhile, the cabins below the dining room are crew quarters.
Sometimes we share a cabin, but we all have our own room. You know about the lack of electricity and connected bathroom before you come up to work, so that's not a big deal. We use kerosene lamps and headlamps in our cabins just like our guests. We also use the same restrooms and clean them every mid-morning, though they do see a lot of traffic. They're certainly the nicest restrooms in the East above 6,000 feet.
Considering some of the above limitations dictated by the location, our crew quarters are fine setups compared to housing in many other seasonal jobs. All of us have our rooms decorated with photos, books and different mementos from home. We have our own space, which is something of a rarity in this lifestyle. In Antarctica, I had three roommates in a tiny space. Thus, I really like my room on LeConte. Even after working in some of the most magnificent spots in the nation, the view from my porch on LeConte ranks tough to beat.
We're open from mid-March (March 19 this year) until the day before Thanksgiving. We do have a winter caretaker (last year and this winter that person will be J.P., who does a fine job for us) who stays up during the offseason--December, January and February--to look after the place. However, we are not open and have no guest services available during the winter. The crew usually hikes up in early March as it takes a couple of weeks to get the lodge ready and stocked for opening, especially if we have nasty weather.
Each crew member gets eight days off each month. Almost without exception, we hike down for our days off. As long as there are enough crew members up to run the lodge operations, you can take all your eight days together or split them up, depending on your plans.
While down we try to stock up on some luxuries hard to find on top of LeConte--salad, ice cream, okra and sweet mint tea being favorite examples for me. Some crew members head home to visit family on off days. Others hole up with friends. Others spend time in campgrounds, motels or in the backcountry during hiking trips. Some attend concerts or work limited days on other jobs if you can finesse the schedule. I plan to early vote on my October off days, while others will apply for absentee ballots and some will be down on Election Day in November. Our schedule does force you to plan to maximize your off-time.
I can always tell how hectic my off days are by how much cable news and how many episodes of "Bonanza" I get to watch. If I watched enough to hum the "Bonanza" theme song when I return to the mountain (which irritates my fine coworkers to no end, especially if I also sing the words), then I at least got a little rest on my off days.
In the days when the Huff family ran LeConte Lodge, crew members stayed up the entire season (though the season was a bit shorter with a lower guest capacity). While we enjoy being on LeConte, current crew members want no part of those "good old days." Off days make you better for your "on days."
I hope that answers a few questions. Thanks for reading. Come up and see us. Happy trails.