Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Jack Huff may have climbed Le Conte 2,500 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, it's possible that he eventually tripled that total.
When I first compiled the Le Conte Log, I estimated Huff's total at 3,000. Since then, I've learned that he made fewer climbs after 1949, when he stayed in Gatlinburg more often to manage his family's hotel. His wife Pauline continued to lead the mountaintop lodge until they sold it to Herrick and Myrtle Brown in 1960. Because of this, I revised my estimate and now list Huff at about 2,500. 
 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 establish 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.
LOOKING FOR THE HONOR ROLL? If you are reading this on your phone, you will need to switch from the mobile view to full screen (iPhone users click on "View web version" below) to see our list of the dozens of men and women who have climbed Le Conte at least 100 times.