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 2012 hike 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 ground 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!

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