Saturday's high reached 69, which ties for hottest day of the year with April 30. The low was 52. As for Sunday, we've seen periods of sun, but we're currently overcast after lunch.
Most of you know that we utilize llamas to help resupply LeConte Lodge, but their arrival is relatively recent in LeConte history. Real horsepower filled the bill prior to the llamas. In another update I may talk about some of the reasons for a switch from horses to llamas. But today, I pay homage to the humble horse.
The first horse on LeConte (as far as we know) was Old Joe. In the photo below, Jack Huff, founder of LeConte Lodge, sits atop Old Joe on Cliff Top (still our favorite spot to catch sunset on LeConte). When Cookie (Huff) Bowling, the daughter of Jack and Pauline Huff, was visiting us a while back she told me she often rode a horse up the Rainbow Falls Trail to report for a season of work on LeConte. However, I don't expect she would have ridden Old Joe (who was already nicknamed "Old" in 1929), as Cookie is much younger. Just the same, it certainly appears from the photo that Jack Huff trusted Old Joe, because riding a horse on Cliff Top (which is illegal now) is not for the faint of heart.
The mountain horse we know the most about is Blackie, who worked on LeConte in the 1970s. I have to thank former LeConte crew members Al Bedinger and Dick Ketelle for their fond remembrances of Blackie. Blackie was a draft horse, weighed in at about 1,600 pounds, colored black (surprise, surprise) with a small white mark on his forehead. Blackie replaced Ambrose the mule, who went on to his reward.
Blackie loved being on LeConte, even the hard work. He despised heading down below. When helping with packing work, Blackie was occasionally kept below at a beautiful, old apple barn at Cherokee Orchard, near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. He hated being away from the top of LeConte so much that he would occasionally escape and make a midnight ride (sans Paul Revere) up the Rainbow Falls Trail to greet the crew in the morning. Al reports that it made Herrick Brown, the LeConte Lodge manager at the time, mad because Blackie had slipped up the mountain without supplies. But Herrick got over it because everyone loved the way Blackie worked.
Both Al and Dick agree that Blackie was a strong, intelligent and hard-working horse. When on the mountain, Blackie's job was to haul old, dead logs out of the woods for firewood. Just a disclaimer, park regulations and ideas about resource management have changed drastically since the 1970s. At LeConte Lodge, we work closely with the National Park Service to follow their resource management plans as they've evolved through the years to protect the mountain we love. While only deadwood was harvested, firewood was the only way to heat the cabins and kitchen stoves then. Since then, we've progressed to kerosene heaters and now propane, each change being better for the environment. Also, keep in mind that now all wood on LeConte, live or dead, is to be left alone for nature to take its course.
"Blackie was a grown up," Ketelle said. "He knew how to handle himself." One time while gathering firewood, Al and Blackie came across a massive, old spruce log. Moving the log would be quite a chore--difficult but in the area code of impossible, but Blackie was hitched to the log. He turned his head around and looked at his massive load, confidently flexed his muscles and moved the log under the power of Blackie.
Blackie stayed in an area off the Trillium Gap Trail near the lodge. It's all grown up now as the mountain has reclaimed Blackie's pasture. One time Al was perched on a roof near the lodge doing some work and looked back into the clearing to behold the powerful Blackie growing his shaggy winter coat. "He looked like a bison grazing in the field," Bedinger said.
"He hated going down," Bedinger said. "You just had to drag him. One day going down he stopped, and I couldn't budge him. One bag of laundry he was carrying fell off and Blackie stopped because he knew we needed it. He was uncannily smart."
However, coming up was a different story. In his 20s when he worked as a crew member, Al could hike up Alum Cave Bluff Trail in about 1 1/2 hours, an impressively fast clip. But he couldn't keep up with Blackie coming up Rainbow Falls Trail in his quest to return to the mountain he loved. Interestingly enough, Blackie wintered at a farm across from the Pigeon Forge/Sevierville Walmart, near the current LeConte Lodge corporate office.
Blackie loved to eat Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies and was known to chew tobacco from time to time.