Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fewer than 100 climbs? You still count!

     Few of us will ever have the opportunity, the time, or the stamina to climb Mount Le Conte 100 times.
     But that doesn't mean you don't have a place on this blog.
     The Le Conte Log wants to know how many times you have climbed Le Conte, even if it is only once. Just click on "Comments" below and enter your name, hometown, total climbs, and date or year of your most recent climb—plus any other thoughts you would like to contribute.
     If you are somewhere south of 100 climbs, you are still in good company. Renowned Smokies hiker Mike Maples estimates he has been to the top no more than 40 times. National park pioneers Albert "Dutch" Roth and Harvey Broome counted 90 and 65, respectively.
     If you've been up there four times, you have equalled your friendly blogmaster. 

REMINDER: If you're reading this on your phone, you may need to scroll quite a ways down to find the honor roll of Le Conte's leading climbers. It's much easier to find it on a full-screen display, where the honor roll is at the top of the sidebar on the left. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gary White #90: Going the extra mile

Armed with duct tape and head-lamp, Gary White is ready for anything.

     There are 320 climbs up Mount Le Conte represented in this photo of Gary White and Dewey Slusher thawing out in the dining room at Le Conte Lodge. Dewey posted it March 15 with this message:
If you happen to make it up to Le Conte Lodge this week and you see this man, please take a moment to stop and thank him. He's Mr. Gary White, a retired engineer and resident of Alabama who volunteers his time to help get things around the lodge up to speed for opening.This is a huge benefit for all of us who hike up there, not just the guests. The hospitality extended to us day hikers and overnighters at the shelter by the Lodge crew is a wonderful gift. By the way, Gary has hiked up to Le Conte 90 times. Think how amazing that is for someone living in the "Heart of Dixie" state.
     We all owe our thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers like Gary who brave the cold each March to get the lodge stocked up and spruced up for guests. Their work includes unloading and storing tons of supplies that are delivered to the mountaintop by helicopter. This week's late-winter storm has delayed the flights, forcing Le Conte Lodge to cancel reservations for March 20-23.
     The waiting list just got longer!

Friday, February 3, 2017

See 5 state highpoints from Le Conte

The website will help you simulate and identify peaks visible from any point you choose.
This is the projection south/southwest from Myrtle Point on Mount Le Conte. Click on the link and zoom

and pan to see the entire panorama. Click on the name of a mountain to get the bearings and distance.

     Rock City advertises that you can see seven states from Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. The scenery in Rock City is spectacular, but it falls short of the barnyard hype—you'll be lucky to see four states: Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina. A monument at the overlook points toward Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina, but all of those are way beyond the horizon. (South Carolina is 120 miles away, not 80 as the sign says.) And of all the mountains you can see from Rock City, none of them are the highest in their states.
     From Mount Le Conte, however, it is possible to not only see five states, but also to see the highest point in all of them.
     On a perfectly clear day in the Smokies—antithetical, I know—all five should be visible from Myrtle Point on the east side of Le Conte. From right to left, the panorama includes Tennessee's Clingman's Dome (7 miles southwest), Georgia's Brasstown Bald, (57 miles southwest, just to the left of Clingman's), North Carolina's Mount Mitchell (66 miles east), Virginia's Mount Rogers (126 miles northeast), and Kentucky's Black Mountain (92 miles north/northeast).
     The highest points in Tennessee and Georgia can be seen from the Cliff Top overlook on the west side of Le Conte, and the Kentucky high point is visible from Le Conte Lodge.
     It may also be possible to see six states and five state highpoints from the tower at Clingman's Dome. Virginia's Mount Rogers is hidden from there, but South Carolina's Sassafras Mountain may be barely visible 57 miles to the southeast. The computer projections at and are inconclusive, but once the tower is built on Sassafras later this year, we'll put it to the eye test.
     (There is a Sassafras Mountain visible on the horizon southeast of Le Conte, but alas, it is not the one in South Carolina.)
     Can you really see all the way from Myrtle Point to Mount Rogers? It is far-fetched but not impossible, considering the way those peaks are aligned across the upper Tennessee Valley. Looking down the same corridor, I've been able to see Mount Guyot from Elk Knob—a distance of 100 miles. 
     Even if Mount Rogers is out of range, several closer Virginia peaks should be visible on the horizon northeast of Le Conte, including High Knob near Norton, Va. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Le Conte 'cultists' counted in Greenville, S.C.

The Greenville News, Jan. 14, 1974
     Mike Hembree and I were not the first Greenville scribes to be wooed by Mount Le Conte.
     I recently unearthed a 1974 column in The Greenville News written by J.B. Southern, where he described Le Conte's cultish appeal and listed several local hikers who frequented the mountain—even though it was 140 crooked miles from Greenville.
     The Greenville honor roll back then was led by Ed Iler with 39 climbs up Le Conte, R.P. Crumpler with 22, and Marguerite Chiles and J.A. Southern (the columnist's brother) with 19 apiece.
     "There are Mount Le Conte cultists in many other communities too," Southern wrote. "Unquestionably Dr. Rufus Morgan, retired Episcopal minister of Franklin, N.C., is chief among them. He has made an astounding 137 visits to the mountain's crest."

     Rev. Morgan's status was not as unquestionable as Southern supposed. In fact, the preacher had a friendly rivalry going with a retired nurse from Maryville, Tenn., named Gracie McNicol. By the time they were finished, they both claimed records.
     Rev. Morgan hiked up 174 times, which at the time was believed to be the most by anyone other than the staff at Le Conte Lodge. McNicol made 244 ascents, but 103 of hers were by horseback and "only" 141 on foot. Morgan and McNicol both made their final climbs on their birthdays: Rev. Morgan at 93 in 1978 and McNicol at 92 in 1983. As impressive as their accomplishments were, neither of them ranks in the Top 20 today.
     In hindsight, I'm almost certain that by the late 1970s Ron Valentine was already ahead of Morgan and McNicol, but he has been modest about his accomplishments and so far I have not been able to document his hikes. If you can help me get in touch with Valentine, please email TommyL810(at)hotmail(dot)com.

     Speaking of "hindsight," Le Conte was my first and last chance to be a cover model. Mike Hembree shot this picture in June 1985 as we climbed the Alum Cave Trail "on assignment," as reporters used to say (although I doubt that our editors let us claim our expenses), and he wrote about our adventure for The Greenville News' weekend magazine, NOTIONS.

     As for Southern's opening quote, it should be atttributed to ill-fated George Mallory instead of Edmund Hillary. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ernie Pyle on Alum Cave Trail, Hudson Bay blankets

     Here is another newspaper column by Pulitzer Prize winner Ernie Pyle from his 1940 trip to Mount Le Conte. He vividly describes the views, the wildlife, the weather (record high 68 then vs. 81 now), and the accommodations at Le Conte Lodge ($4 then vs. $145 in 2017).
     Note that on the late-October night he stayed at the Lodge, he was the only guest.
     Pyle's guide was Wiley Oakley, the famed "Roamin' Man of the Mountains." They climbed the Alum Cave Trail, and it may have been at Inspiration Point that Pyle had this epiphany: "It was then I realized, for the first time in my life, that there can be as much majesty and stirring beauty in eastern mountains as in the Rockies. Many times on the trail I just stopped and stared and stared. I don't know that I have ever seen a lovelier sight than the onward-stretching undulations of the haze-softened and color-splashed immensities of the Great Smoky Mountains."
     This was one of a series of nine columns that Pyle wrote from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall of 1940. We previously posted his profile of Jack Huff. His columns were syndicated nationwide, and I clipped this copy from the Jackson (Miss.) Daily Clarion-Ledger, published October 29, 1940:

     Want to see more of Ernie Pyle's columns from the Smokies? Explore these clippings that I've posted on If the links don't work, let me know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Jack Huff may have climbed Le Conte 3,000 times

In 1929, 25-year-old Jack Huff strapped a chair to his back to carry his frail mother (and her kitten) to the top of Mount Le Conte. He made the seven-mile hike in five hours, stopping only when she got tired.

     How many times did Jack Huff climb Mount Le Conte? We can only guess, since he stopped counting in 1937 after he surpassed 1,000 climbs in 11 years. Considering that he operated Le Conte Lodge for 34 years from 1926 through 1959, I think it is safe to estimate that he eventually tripled that total.
     What we can document about Huff's hikes comes from this 1940 newspaper column by Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and war correspondent who was killed in 1945 in the Battle of Okinawa. This clipping was one of a series of nationally syndicated columns Pyle filed from the Great Smoky Mountains in the weeks after President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicated the new national park.
     "A mountaineer's strength is in his heart, and not necessarily in a big body," Pyle wrote. "Jack Huff weighs only 150 pounds, and stands sort of folded up with his hands in his pockets. But his walking feats are astounding." By 1940, Pyle figured that Huff had walked over 15,000 miles on the steep slopes of Le Conte—helping to blaze the trails we follow today.
   Jack Huff died Nov. 4, 1985, at age 82. His family still owns and operates a hotel in Gatlinburg named Jack Huff's, and I sent this clipping to them to see if they could tell me more about his exploits. Cyndi Bowling (who married Huff's grandson) replied:
That is a wonderful article that we have not ever seen. I shared it with my mother-in-law, Cookie Bowling [Jack Huff's daughter]. She doesn't know exactly how many trips he made after he stopped counting in 1937. She said she does know he hiked many more times because she was born in 1944, and there is a story of him carrying her off the mountain. She said his last trip was in 1960 when he sold Mt. LeConte Lodge.
     Speaking of President Roosevelt and his 1940 speech at Newfound Gap to dedicate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ... one of the men who was in the presidential honor guard that day ranks among the centurions of Le Conte.
     Dr. John Adler, now 95, built the Cabins at Sandy Mush Bald, another mountaintop lodge 30 miles east of Le Conte. I had the opportunity to meet him when I hiked up Sandy Mush Bald (the highest point in Madison County, N.C.) on July 4, 2016.
     Dr. Adler told me that he used to make weekly climbs up Le Conte to deliver mail to the lodge, and before Huff sold the lodge he considered Dr. Adler as his possible replacement. Dr. Adler is confident that he has made over a hundred hikes up Le Conte, though he doesn't have an exact count.

Jack Huff's family at the Lodge in 2011

In 1953, Huff strapped on the chair for this photo in the Nashville Tennessean.
Today, the chair is displayed at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


I'm a proponent of peak-bagging, but peak-bottling is new to me. This photo of Mount Le Conte was taken by Ginger Rogers Farmer on June 10, 2016, from the tower at Clingman's Dome.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Le Conte Honor Roll

Gracie McNicol with Paul Dinwidde.
 She set a record with her 244th climb on her 92nd birthday in 1983.
He raised the record to 750 with his final hike at age 78 in 1993.
(Photo by Edwin C. Jones)

     Tennessee's Mount Le Conte may be the most addictive peak in America—certainly in the Southeast. When the roll is called up yonder, there are dozens of hikers who can claim at least a hundred trips up Le Conte. A handful have over a thousand.
     As an old sportswriter, I thought they deserved a Top 10.
     Once I began researching them, it became more like a Top 40. So far, I've documented 28 men and eight women who have climbed Le Conte at least 100 times. (In fact, I know of two who have made over 100 trips after heart surgery.) I know there are more, and I hope this blog will encourage them to come forward and join the club.
     Le Conte means "the tale," and I intend to post tales about these climbers. I'll also include random records and legends involving the first, the fastest, the oldest, and the coldest. Come back often. No reservations required.
     Eventually, I'd like for this blog to become an online version of the wonderful logbooks at Le Conte Lodge—only much easier to access. Help me get started. While you're here, please leave a comment with the total number of trips you have made to the top of Mount Le Conte—even if it's only once.

If you are reading this on your phone ...

The honor roll is anchored prominently on the sidebar in the web version of the Le Conte Log but may not be visible in the mobile format. Here's a small-screen version just for you, Siri and Alexa:

Climbs Climber (last updated)
3,800~ Ron Valentine (2008 estimate)
3,000~ Jack Huff (1960 projection)
1,310~ Ed Wright (complete)
1,200~ Tim Line (2012 est.)
1,000~ Graham Dinwiddie Cooper (est.)
0,982~ Dave Scanlon (complete)
0,900+ Alan Householder (2011 est.)
0,750+ Paul Dinwiddie (complete)
0,718+ Margaret Stevenson (complete)
0,500+ Paul Adams (1963 est.)
0,358+ Tom Morgan (2000)
0,345+ Tillroe Smith (2006)
0,288+ Dr. Ed Jones (2015)
0,280+ Jean Lambert (1998)
0,276+ Bill Sharp (1995)
0,263+ Jonathan Fuller (2003)
0,244+ Gracie McNicol (complete)
0,239+ Dr. Jesse "Kip" Miller (2014)
0,239+ Jean Ann Miller (2014)
0,230+ Dewey Slusher (2017-03-11)
0,217+ Betty Jane Barnett (complete)
0,200+ O.K. Sergeant (1998 est.)
0,180+ Henry Neel (1994)
0,174+ Rev. Rufus Morgan (complete)
0,173+ Shirley Henry (1998)
0,160+ Larry Russell (2014)
0,157+ Ron Collins (1998)
0,142+ Nancy Cain (2014)
0,127+ Ruth Ewald (1998)
0,107+ Clifford "Bo" Henry (1998)
0,100+ Dr. John Adler (2016 est.)

0,100+ Will Ramsay (est.)
0,100+ Dave Landreth (2004 est.)
0,100+ John Northrup (2011 est.)
0,100+ Ben Fitzgerald (2012)
0,100+ Jerry Luth (2013)
Have you climbed Le Conte 100 times? Let me know so I can add your name or update your totals. Leave a comment below or email TommyL810(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where is 'America's most climbed peak'?

     Some claim that New Hampshire's Grand Monadnock is the most-climbed mountain in the US—and second or third in the world, behind China's Tai Shan and Japan's Fuji.
     Depending on how you define a climb, Monadnock is not even the state champion. Every year, more than a quarter million people "climb" New Hampshire's Mount Washington via car, cog railway, or on foot. By comparison, Monadnock State Park has only 120,000 visitors per year, and we can assume many of those don't make the daunting hike (4.2 miles climbing 1,800 feet) to the summit.
     Tennessee's Clingmans Dome averages 600,000 visitors per year, according to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. North Carolina's Mount Mitchell State Park counted 398,000 in 2016. Both of those summits are easily accessible by paved paths from the parking lots. Colorado's Pikes Peak had 340,000 visitors in 2014, including 15,000 hikers. New Mexico's Sandia Crest estimates a half-million drive-ups each year, plus another 200,000 who ride the spectacular Sandia Peak Tramway.
     For what it's worth, Le Conte Lodge has about 12,000 overnight guests each year. But that is no limitation on the parade of day hikers. For example, Ed Wright climbed Le Conte 1,310 times, and as far as I can tell, he never stayed overnight at the lodge.
     One way that Monadnock can match Le Conte is in the zeal of some of its climbers. Larry Davis hiked up Monadnock for 2,850 consecutive days in the 1990s and made his 7,450th climb on January 6, 2017. Another climber named Garry Harrington told me he has summitted Monadnock about 1,100 times.
     On California's Mount Baldy, Richard Tufts has logged more than 1,000 climbs, and 78-year-old Seuk Doo Kim is aiming for his 1,000th in 2017.
     Other than Davis, I have found no one in the nation who has climbed one mountain more times than Le Conte's all-time leaders, Ron Valentine and Jack Huff. According to Multiple Repeats by a Member on the peakbagging site, the national leader is Rick Baugher, who made his 1,000th climb of Kelly Mountain, Idaho, on January 11, 2016.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Does the photo-op count?

This is not the summit, but if you get this far I will give you credit. This was my fourth climb, Rick Shortt's 14th, the first for Ralph Phillips and Larry Trivette,  and Mike Hembree's sixth. We hiked up the Boulevard Trail, so we bagged High Top along the way.

     Peakbaggers, as we are called, can be nit-picky about how to count a mountain climbed.
     If you haven't touched the highest natural point on the mountain, you can't count it.
     That seems simple enough, but not on Mounte LeConte. Many hikers go only as far as Le Conte Lodge and pose for pictures in front of the dining hall, where a sign declares the summit elevation of 6,593 feet above sea level. However, the Lodge is actually about 6,400 feet.
     Others continue up to watch the sunset from Cliff Top, elevation 6,555. But that's not the top, either.
     The highest point on the mountain is on High Top, a third of a mile from the lodge, where the official elevation is 6,593 feet and the cairn occasionally tops 6,600. Unless you come up on the Boulevard Trail or go to Myrtle Point for sunrise, it's easy to miss the actual summit, where trees obscure the view.
     Ed Wright was conscientious about going all the way to High Top in 1991 when he set the one-year record of 231 climbs, but in later years he often stopped at the lodge.
     For the purposes of this list, I am making no distinction between hikes to the Lodge or to High Top. Call me a liberal, but if you get as far as Le Conte Lodge (five miles horizontally and a half-mile vertically from the nearest trailhead) you can count the climb on this website.

     In the same spirit, I count those who rode up on horseback. For example, Gracie McNicol's 244 ascents include 141 on foot and 103 on horseback. Gracie also walked down 28 times after riding up. She counted each of those as a half-hike, so she claimed 155 hikes. The difference is irrelevant as far as the Le Conte Log is concerned, because we are already giving her credit for all 244 ascents. 
Bring your own rock to add to the Tower of Babel at High Top. If we can stack it 50 feet high, Le Conte (6,593) will match Clingman's Dome (6,643) for the highest rock in Tennessee. Rocky Top, indeed!