We strode up in the mist undaunted
To capture a prize we all wanted
Despite portents of doom
We marched through the gloom
So now we can say we’ve “LeConted”.
By Rob Howard
I spent the past two days with sixty friends at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I didn’t know I had that many friends, other than on Facebook. Friends of the Smokies had organized a trip to LeConte Lodge and we took over the whole place. Friends came from Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Asheville to be on this trip.
Remember that the Smokies is a national park.
LeConte Lodge is a full-service lodge at the top of Mt. Le Conte at 6,593 feet. Technically, that is the top of the mountain; the lodge is a little lower. The lodge offers cabins with sheets and blankets; so you don’t have to carry a sleeping bag. The stay includes dinner, breakfast and unlimited coffee. This is luxury. But, everyone, guests and staff, has to walk up and down. There’s no road. But the effort is worth it.
Anna Lee Z., the development and outreach associate at Friends of the Smokies, worked out all the details, with the help of Holly Demuth, the North Carolina director. It’s not easy to organize 60 people of varying hiking abilities.
Several Friends staff came on the trip. Dana Soehn, the press officer for the park, came as did Karen Chavez, the outdoor editor for the Asheville Citizen-Times.
We hiked up the Boulevard Trail from Newfound Gap. I led the “moderate/a little faster” group of 30 up with the help of Holly Jones and Beth Ransom as sweeps at various points in the line. It was hot and humid, but the rain held off. So, to me, the weather was perfect. My group arrived about 3:30 pm or so and settled in our assigned cabins-another detail that Anna Lee worked on.
The second group dribbled in later and by 5 pm, almost everyone was enjoying a social hour at the picnic tables. People brought boxed and bottled wine, cheeses, and dips. We could have made a meal out of the offerings. But at 6 pm, the LeConte Lodge crew struck a triangle, round and round, to call us for dinner – soup, stew, mashed potatoes, … It was a hardy meal, probably much more than we needed for the eight miles we walked.
By then, the last few folks made it and had a late dinner. We gathered at the office/library for fun and games – literally. Anna Lee (again) had organized a social planning committee, that worked on the evening program. We had to draw a pig to figure out our personality. I turned out to be a “optimist/realist, analytical and a good listener”. I thought I was just terrible at drawing. Rob read a few limericks, one which is shown at the top.
Dana, the voice of the mountains, spoke about what national parks, and especially, the Smokies means to her. Unlike most career national parks people who move around a lot, she came to the Smokies as a college intern in 1989 and stayed, working her way up. The Smokies continues to be a source of discovery for her and for many of us.
The leaders were concerned about the well-being of the hikers who had come up late and tired to the top. Were they going to be safe to go down at a reasonable speed? Who was going to shepherd them down the slippery Rainbow Falls trail?
Dana called Mark Eckert, a medic ranger, to help sweep the second group down. Mark showed up at 8:15 am, while we were having breakfast. He must have run up the trail, with a large backpack and whistle at the ready. I continue to be amazed at the care and thought that the park showers on its visitors.
Now don’t think that you’ll have Ranger Eckert at your side on your next hike; you have to take care of yourself. But in this case, it was the right call.
I led 15 hardy hikers down Rainbow Falls Trail back to the cars. By the time we got down around the falls, the trail was crowded with visitors wearing flip-flops, without a pack or water.
All sixty friends came down safely, on either Rainbow Falls or Trillium Gap.
Thank you all who came and contributed time and effort to the success of this trip. Our next hike will be on Tuesday August 11 on Big Creek, a much simpler and easier hike.
To sign up, contact Anna Lee Zanetti at email@example.com at Friends of the Smokies or on 828.452.0720.