Friday, March 28, 2014

The Allure of Mt. Le Conte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This posting is the introduction to a three-part series that will run on this blog over the course of the next week. As a photographer and an historian, Andy will be providing a historical perspective on hiking to one of the most iconic spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mt. Le Conte. In addition to his own photography, Andy will also be including some rarely seen historical photographs.


Looking west from Cliff Top. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Cliff Top, a rocky outcrop that offers some of the finest views in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is situated about a half-mile to the west of the summit of Mt. Le Conte. Paul J. Adams, who in 1925 established the first official camp for hikers on the mountain, appropriately described Cliff Top as the “gathering point of Le Conte enthusiasts in the late afternoon.” Within the pages of his Mt. Le Conte, published in 1966, Adams recalled that those who made the short walk from the camp to Cliff Top came “to watch the sun sink through clouds shot through with orange, purple and golden fire.” Nearly a century later, the allure of Mt. Le Conte continues to attract hikers of all ages who trek up the mountain and gaze upon spectacular sunsets from this popular vantage point.

Heavenly skies from Cliff Top, the sunset peak of Mt. Le Conte. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

When I began thinking about a possible topic for a series of guest blog posts on, I remembered Adams’ passion for Mt. Le Conte and the special relationship that he formed with the mountain during his lifetime. Adams believed that the high ridge and lower slopes of Mt. Le Conte comprised the most outstanding section of the Smokies. This sentiment is now shared by countless hikers and visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park who are drawn to the summit of Mt. Le Conte by its scenic vistas, its natural beauty, and its charm. Given the mountain’s iconic status among the many peaks of the Smokies, it is perhaps no surprise that the webpage dedicated to the Alum Cave Trail which leads to the top of Mt. Le Conte is one of the most frequently viewed trail pages on Of the five officially maintained National Park Service trails one can take to the summit, Alum Cave Trail is the shortest and possibly the most widely used. Drawn by the splendor of the mountain, every year thousands of hikers ascend this five-mile-long trail. Many return to their vehicles having completed a memorable hiking experience that they will cherish for years to come.

For me, the popularity of Alum Cave Trail begs the question: how many of those who hike to Mt. Le Conte each year are aware of the fact that they are following in the footsteps of pioneering outdoorsmen like Paul Adams whose lives were forever changed by their experiences on the mountain? To shed light on this historical significance, I opted to write a series of blog posts that compare the early days of hiking to Mt. Le Conte with the present. Over the course of the last century, the nature of hiking on this popular mountain has certainly changed. Yet, the captivating allure of Mt. Le Conte remains as strong today as it was for those who once labored up primitive paths to its the summit.

A group of hikers enjoy the views from Alum Cave Trail during the late-1930s. © Tennessee State Library and Archives, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection

Three subsequent posts will follow this introduction. The first examines the trailblazing efforts of early-twentieth-century hikers who fervently supported the national park movement in the Smokies. The second takes a closer look at the role Paul Adams played in establishing a hiker’s camp near the summit. The camp formed the basis of the present-day LeConte Lodge - built by Jack Huff - which accommodates thousands of visitors each year. The final post explains how certain traditions begun by Adams and a host of pioneering Le Conte enthusiasts have survived the test of time.

A number of images captured during the 1920s and 1930s by notable figures of Smokies hiking lore such as Jim Thompson and Herbert Webster will be included in this series. These historic photos showcasing scenes from Mt. Le Conte have been made available to the public through the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project directed by Anne Bridges and Ken Wise at the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library. A special thanks goes to Anne and Ken for assisting me with my research and for taking an interest in my work.

Earlier this year, I started a photography project titled, Scenes from the Smokies: “Past and Present.” As part of this ongoing project, I will be utilizing my abilities as an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer to recreate many of the nostalgic photos that I have located in the UT Library Digital Collections. A few of these recreations will appear in this series. For those interested, future comparisons of past and present images, along with relevant background material, will be featured on my blog at

Lastly, I would like to thank Jeff at for inviting me to write this series of guest blog posts for his very well-designed and resourceful website. Enjoy!



Jeff said...

Looks to be fascinating stuff Andy and Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to do the research. I look forward to the upcoming posts.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Thanks Jeff!

Brian said...

Hey stuff Andy and Jeff.
This is surely helpful and a great research.
These images are great too.

Chuck Allen said...

Can't wait to read it, thanks guys.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Chuck - the first in the series just posted this morning:

Chuck Allen said...

Thanks, found it, great post.