Monday, October 26, 2015

The Le Conte Honor Roll

Gracie McNicol with Paul Dinwiddie in 1983, when she set a record with her 244th climb on her 92nd birthday. Paul eventually 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.

LOOKING FOR THE HONOR ROLL? If you are reading this on your phone, you will need to switch from the mobile view to the web view (full screen) to see our honor roll of hikers who have climbed Le Conte at least 100 times.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where is 'America's most climbed peak'?

Larry Davis (left) has climbed New Hampshire's Grand Monadnock over 6,000 times.
 Click here to watch the video.
     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 listsofjohn.com, 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!