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.