Thursday, January 18, 2018

Glacier National Park: A Day Hikers Overview

"Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

- John Muir on his visit to Glacier National Park in the early-1890s
Encompassing more than a million acres, Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is home to some of the most beautiful alpine meadows, lakes, pristine forests, rugged peaks and glacially-carved valleys in the world. Its diverse habitats support nearly 70 species of mammals, including grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, wolverines, gray wolves and mountain lions. With more than 740 miles of trails leading to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, Glacier is also a hiker's paradise.

Considering its massive size, most people divide the park into sections in order to focus on one or two areas at a time. The four most popular areas in the park are West Glacier and Lake McDonald, Two Medicine, Logan Pass, and Many Glacier. The following are a few suggestions for day hikes in each of these areas.

Two Medicine

Although not quite as popular as some of the other areas in Glacier, the Two Medicine Valley in the southeast corner of the park still offers some incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the best hikes in this area leads to Scenic Point. This rock outcropping, which sits above an alpine tundra meadow, offers panoramic views of much of the entire Two Medicine Valley. On a clear day you can even see the Sweet Grass Hills rising above the Great Plains roughly 90 miles away!

The most well-known backcountry hike in the Two Medicine area is Dawson Pass. Although this route usually gets most of the attention, I think the views from Pitamakan Pass are much more dramatic. From the knife-edge ridge you can see five cobalt-blue lakes on either side of you. Can’t decide on which one to hike? The two passes can be combined to create one epic day on the trail.

Many Glacier

One of the most popular destinations in the park is Many Glacier. Classic hikes such as Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier get most of the attention; however, there are two other destinations that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you’re seeking a degree of solitude in this stunning valley.

One of these is Ptarmigan Tunnel. The highlight of this hike is passing through a 240-foot tunnel that was cut through Ptarmigan Wall. The tunnel was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's so that visitors on horseback could pass over into the remote Belly River area. After hiking all day in the Many Glacier Valley, walking to the other side of the tunnel is like walking into another world. The views from the other side are simply stunning.

The other destination, Cracker Lake, has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It has the most beautiful turquoise color you could ever imagine. If it were possible to ignore the magnificent scenery of the surrounding mountains, it would still be well worth the 12.6-mile roundtrip hike, just to see the amazing color of this lake. Cracker Lake’s deep shade of turquoise is the result of light refraction through its suspended load of glacial silt.

West Glacier / Lake McDonald

For more than a century one of the things that has made hiking in Glacier unique are its two Swiss-style backcountry chalets: Granite Park and Sperry. The Granite Park Chalet can be reached by taking the epic Highline Trail from Logan Pass, or by taking the 4.2-mile climb from The Loop area on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Unfortunately the historic Sperry Chalet dormitory building was severely burned during the summer of 2017. Fortunately the outer stone structure survived, and as of right now, the park is moving forward with the possibility of rebuilding the lodge. Moreover, the historic dining room survived, although it’s not clear as to whether that will reopen for lunch to day hikers in 2018, nor is it clear as to how far hikers will be able to travel along the Sperry Trail. If open, the 6.1-mile hike from the Lake McDonald Lodge passes through Glacier Basin where hikers will enjoy views of several waterfalls flowing hundreds of feet down the cliff walls that surround the alpine meadow.

From the same trailhead is the hike that leads to the historic Mt. Brown Fire Lookout. The trail climbs 4250 feet in only 5 miles, making it one of the toughest day hikes in the park. The elevation gain is similar to the amount gained on many of the trails leading to the summits of 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. However, at a much lower elevation, hikers will have far more oxygen to breathe. From the lookout the views into the heart of Glacier are simply amazing.

For a much easier hike, but one that still includes stunning scenery that Glacier is famous for, be sure to check out Avalanche Lake.

Logan Pass

To see the best of what Glacier National Park has to offer you have to go deep into the high country. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Highline Trail. In fact, this world famous hike should be on the bucket list of every self-respecting hiker! The views, the wildlife and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. From Logan Pass, high adventure awaits from the start. Just beyond the trailhead hikers are forced to pass
over a six-foot wide ledge for roughly one-quarter of a mile. One false move and your next stop will be on the pavement of the Going-To-The-Sun Road - more than one hundred feet below. Fortunately the park has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail. My advice is to not let this deter you, as this is one of the most scenic trails in America. Almost 99% of the Highline passes through open country, so there's never any dull scenery on this hike. The trail is also famous for wildlife, especially bighorn sheep and mountain goats, which are frequently seen just off the side of the trail. Hikers will have the choice of taking the moderate hike to Haystack Pass, or the extremely strenuous hike up to an overlook along the crest of the Continental Divide which offers stunning views of Grinnell Glacier some one thousand feet below. This just might be the best view in the park.

Just a notch below the Highline Trail on the “awesome meter”, but far less crowded, is Piegan Pass. The trail offers mind-blowing views of mountains, glaciers, alpine meadows and an up-close view of the Garden Wall, a glacially-carved arĂȘte that marks the Continental Divide. Near Piegan Pass, and one of my absolute favorite areas in Glacier, is Preston Park. In the early summer, after the snow finally melts, this incredibly beautiful alpine meadow becomes a carpet of wildflowers.

For more information on all these hikes, and many others throughout the park, please visit HikinginGlacier.com.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
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Monday, January 15, 2018

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 is the last part of a three-part series. You can read part one here, part two here, as well as an introduction on the series by clicking here.

Part Three – Following Traditions

Often recognized as the “grandstand of the Smokies,” Mt. Le Conte commands a central position within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The primary vantage points atop the iconic peak are Cliff Top and Myrtle Point. During the early-1920s, the majestic views provided by these locations inspired a generation of outdoor enthusiasts who helped popularize hiking throughout Southern Appalachia. As the number of men and women who reached the summit of Mt. Le Conte steadily increased, various traditions were established on the mountain. The final post of this series discusses the origins of several of these traditions and explains how they have survived the test of time.

Pioneering Smokies hiker, Herbert M. Webster, took this photo titled, “Old Indian Head at Cliff Top,” on January 12, 1936. Can you spot the outline of a head among the rocks? ©The Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

This present view from Cliff Top shows the rocks that form the “old Indian head” photographed by Webster seventy-eight years ago. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Built near the site of the hiker’s camp established by Paul Adams in 1925, LeConte Lodge is the highest “resort” in the eastern United States. Each year, during the first days of spring, guests begin arriving at the lodge where they spend the night atop Mt. Le Conte in rustic cabins lit by kerosene lanterns. As spring turns to summer, more and more day hikers join guests as they stream up one of the five trails leading to the summit. On warmer days, tired hikers can find refreshment from cups of fresh squeezed lemonade in the dining hall for a small fee. Yet many visitors may not know that lemonade has been served on the mountain for almost a century. This tradition was started by Paul Adams who prepared the drink for hikers who arrived at his camp.

In July 1925, Adams and three local boys began the work of constructing the camp near the summit of Mt. Le Conte. During their first few weeks atop the mountain, the cost of bringing supplies up from Gatlinburg grew to 4 cents a pound. To save money, Adams trained his loyal German Shepherd, Cumberland Jack, to make solo trips from the camp to Charlie Ogle’s store (once located near the present site of traffic light #6 along the Gatlinburg strip). Adams had a leather cavalry officer’s briefcase – designed for use on horseback – custom fitted with a bellyband for Cumberland Jack to wear. Remarkably, at the command of “go to the store,” the obedient canine learned to descend the mountain and follow a shortcut leading from Cherokee Orchard to Ogle’s.

After the dog arrived at the store, Charlie Ogle would place supplies into the pack strapped around Jack’s waist. Then Ogle would give the command “go to Paul,” and Cumberland Jack would return to the summit via the same route. Jack routinely carried 25 pounds of goods back to the camp over an average time of four and a half hours. Along with nails and other small necessities required to build the camp, Jack often returned to his owner with coffee, snacks, and lemons. Adams used the lemons to make fresh squeezed lemonade which he sold to hikers. Basic supplies like Cumberland Jack once toted are now carried to LeConte Lodge three times a week by llamas who are guided up Trillium Gap Trail.

A train of llamas bring supplies up Trillium Gap Trail to LeConte Lodge. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Hikers who head up to Mt. Le Conte around the last week of March might hear the distinct sound of a helicopter flying overhead as they reach the summit. At the start of each new season, LeConte Lodge is resupplied via airlift with goods such as propane tanks, canned foods, and merchandise. Typically, a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter designed to lift 7000lbs will fly to a staging area at the Luftee Overlook parking area along Newfound Gap Road where it will begin hauling several loads of supplies to the lodge. While airlifts of this nature have been used to resupply the lodge for several decades, the earliest recorded airborne supply drop on the mountain occurred while Paul Adams was serving as caretaker of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp.

LeConte Lodge on a beautiful winter’s day. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

As discussed in part two of this series, Adams spent the winter of 1925-26 alone atop the mountain. Conditions were particularly harsh that season, and in his memoirs he noted the difficulties he experienced due to the accumulation of snow. Yet, on a cold day in March 1926, Adams received a blessing from the sky. That day, as Adams recalled, Lt. Bill Williams of the U.S. Army’s Air Division was flying survey trips over the Smokies. As his small plane passed over Adams’ camp, Williams dropped packages containing a week’s supply of Knoxville newspapers, a 10lb bag of flour, 5 lbs of sliced bacon, a side of sow belly, a dozen t-bone steaks, some round steak, two heads of lettuce, a head of cabbage, fresh fruit, and two pounds of pipe tobacco. Adams confessed that he prepared a fine meal for himself later that evening!

Dusk settles over the Great Smoky Mountains. Image captured from Cliff Top, November 2013. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Perhaps the most time-honored tradition that has added greatly to the magnetism surrounding Mt. Le Conte is that of watching sunsets from Cliff Top and sunrises from Myrtle Point. Within the pages of her classic work, The Great Smoky Mountains, published in 1937, Knoxville native and author, Laura Thornborough, recalled her first hike to Mt. Le Conte. After ascending the mountain via the old Rainbow Falls Trail, Thornborough joined other hikers assembled at Cliff Top. There, a silence came over her as she watched the sun drop below the horizon:
The petty annoyances of life seemed far away, as I gazed at the nearby peaks, which the setting sun was changing from green to blue, from blue to purple. I sat awed, spellbound, lost in the beauty unfolded before me, absorbed in the thoughts the scene inspired, enthralled by the spell of the Great Smokies.
For nearly a hundred years, countless hikers have been held captive by the same spectacle of light and spellbinding beauty Thornborough witnessed during her first visit to Mt. Le Conte. As early as 1924, Le Conte enthusiasts began gathering at Cliff Top in the late-afternoon to await the sunset. After spending the night on the summit, they would rise early and hike to Myrtle Point, the sunrise peak on Le Conte. Before dawn on the morning of August 7, 1924, Paul Adams led a large group of hikers that included two National Park Commission members out to Myrtle Point. Years later, he recalled the memorable sight witnessed by the group at daybreak: “We were small spectators, awe-struck by the vast, primitive beauty of an extra-special Myrtle Point sunrise.”

A dramatic sunrise begins on a moody late-spring morning. Viewed from Myrtle Point, May 2013. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Today, many individuals who spend a night at LeConte Lodge, or in the nearby backcountry shelter, follow the same rewarding ritual begun by pioneering hikers like Thornborough and Adams*. Dramatic sunsets and sunrises viewed from Mt. Le Conte leave a lasting impression on those who are fortunate enough to observe them. For this reason, many hikers seek to repeat the experience by returning frequently to the mountain. For example, beginning at the age of 48, Margaret Stevenson (1912-2006) climbed to Le Conte 718 times. In her hiking journal, Stevenson documented multiple overnight trips during which she had watched the sun drop below the horizon from Cliff Top and rise again the next morning from Myrtle Point.

Dating back to the early-twentieth century, several generations of hikers have ascended the slopes of Mt. Le Conte. Since that period, clothing and outdoor gear worn by hikers, along with the trails used to access the summit, have changed significantly. Likewise, the rough tent camp created by Paul Adams in 1925 is now a charming mountaintop retreat that accommodates sixty guests per night. But, despite changes brought about by the slow march of time, a number of traditions established on the mountain continue to link the past with the present. These historical connections have endured thanks largely to the perpetual allure of the magnificent peak.


* Laura Thornborough and Paul Adams made several treks to Mt. Le Conte with members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club which will celebrate its ninetieth anniversary this year. Mt. Le Conte was the destination for the club’s first official hike which took place in early-December 1924.

Readers interested in the early days of hiking in the Smokies may find the following secondary sources useful:

Paul Adams, Mt. LeConte, Holston Printing Co. (1966).

Carlos C. Campbell, Birth of a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains, University of Tennessee Press, 2nd ed (1969).

Carlos C. Campbell, Memories of Old Smoky: Early Experiences in the Great Smoky Mountains, edited by Rebecca Campbell Arrants, University of Tennessee Press (2005).

Laura Thornborough, The Great Smoky Mountains, University of Tennessee Press, 1937.


Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his Flickr page by clicking here.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Allure of Mt LeConte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This is part two of a three-part series that will run on this blog through the end of this week. You can read part one here, as well as an introduction on this series by clicking here.

Part Two – A Summit Camp for Hikers

In 1918, Paul J. Adams moved with his family from rural Western North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, the Illinois native and avid outdoorsman made his first hike to nearby Mt. Le Conte. Inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, five years later, Adams set out to “learn every mountain of the Great Smokies.” He began by hiking from the southwestern end of the Smokies range to Davenport Gap located near Big Creek. Adams described his earliest hikes along the crest of the Smoky Mountains as largely “trailless,” and many of his routes were determined by “trial and error.”

Paul Adams explored the rugged high ridges of the Smokies a decade before the creation of the Appalachian Trail. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Adams’ trailblazing experience, and his knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Smokies, soon attracted the attention of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. Organized in 1923, charter members of the association such as W.P. Davis and Col. David C. Chapman of Knoxville played a significant role in the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Adams’ initial duties for the GSMCA was to accompany groups - which at times included National Park Service commissioners - into the mountains in an effort to promote the park movement in the Smokies.

Prior to the creation of the Park, Mt. Le Conte was owned by Champion Fibre Company. Because of problems caused by improperly extinguished campfires, forest officials and rangers from Champion attempted to limit access to the mountain. A move that benefited hikers came in 1925 when Champion authorized the GSMCA to build a summit camp on the mountain. It was decided that a caretaker should be placed at the camp to assist with fire protection, maintain trails, and help with various other tasks performed by rangers. Knowing that a reliable water source would be required for the camp, Col. Chapman sent Adams and fellow guide, Will Ramsey, on an exploratory hike to the summit to locate what Adams referred to in his memoirs as “Basin Spring.” Adams claimed to have camped near the spring in 1918 during his first hike to the mountain.

After searching the summit area, Adams and Ramsey located Basin Spring and proceeded to select a suitable site for the camp near the all-important water source. Upon his return to Knoxville, Adams received a letter from the GSMCA stating that he had been appointed as the first custodian of the camp atop Mt. Le Conte. While living on the mountain, he was to protect plant and animal life, maintain sanitary conditions, and do what he could to make visitors more comfortable. Additionally, he was to charge a reasonable fee to those who utilized the camp. Funds received from hikers were to be handed over to the association each month.

Elated by the news of his appointment as caretaker, Adams began purchasing supplies and gathering materials necessary to build a tent shelter at the camp. Concerned about his safety and wellbeing, his mother suggested that he also purchase a dog to accompany him on the mountain. In Knoxville, a local dog breeder introduced Adams to a 90lb German Shepherd named Cumberland Jack II. Almost immediately, Adams forged an extraordinary bond with the highly intelligent former police dog that lasted a decade.

Paul Adams and Cumberland Jack, Winter of 1925. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

Cumberland Jack proved to be a faithful companion and source of protection for Adams during his tenure as custodian of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp. On July 13, 1925, the pair made the first of many hikes together up the mountain via the old Mill Creek Trail. They were joined by three young boys hired to assist with the construction of the camp. Near Basin Spring, Adams and the boys erected a 24x30ft canvas tent, under which they constructed a lengthy bed made of balsam and spruce. Later that afternoon, Adams cleared a short trail from the camp to Cliff Top. The trail is still used by hikers today.

Over the next few days, Adams and the boys made several hikes up and down Mt. Le Conte in order to haul extra supplies to the camp from Charlie Ogle’s store in Gatlinburg. Their pace of work intensified after word reached the mountain that a large hiking party led by Orpheus M. Schantz of Chicago intended to stay at the camp later that week. Schantz, a former president of the Illinois Audubon Society, enjoyed annual visits to Gatlinburg, and was hoping to study birds during the excursion. Adams and his helpers worked quickly to create a long outdoor dining table with split-log seats and a new bed for use under the tent. Prior to the group’s arrival, the camp staff washed dishes using a cauldron of boiling water, hung blankets out to dry, built two open-air “johnnies” (latrines), and fastened mirrors on tree trunks where a couple of wash basins were placed.

Paul Adams, Cumberland Jack, and Frank Wilson at the Mt. Le Conte summit camp. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

On July 19, 1925, Adams collected a total of $36 from Schantz’s hiking party which included guides Will Ramsey and Wiley Oakley. This is the first recorded payment for lodging on Mt. Le Conte. The image above shows the tent shelter and the makeshift bed that accommodated the group that evening. During the pre-dawn hours of the following morning, the boys prepared coffee for the guests. Then, the entire party set out for Myrtle Point where they watched the sunrise.

In the fall of 1925, Adams began the work of constructing the first log cabin on the mountain. Cut from nearby spruce and balsam trees, the 15x20ft cabin, which no longer stands, was built west of the site of the current LeConte Lodge. The rear 8ft of the cabin contained four levels of bunks to accommodate hikers. For insulation, or “chinking,” Adams spread a mixture of moss and clay between the logs of the cabin’s exterior. When he was satisfied with the new structure, Adams sent his helpers home and awaited the first snows of winter.

In 1925, Paul Adams built the first cabin on Mt. Le Conte. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

With Cumberland Jack by his side, Adams spent the winter of 1925-26 on Mt. Le Conte. As he later recalled, conditions were particularly harsh that season. “Snows fell, one on top of the other,” and because of the accumulation, Adams and the dog became “marooned.” Yet, despite the cold and isolation, Adams explained that he was “too busy to be lonely.” He jokingly remarked that a typewriter allowed him to “communicate with human beings,” and he wrote a number of letters to friends and family when he wasn’t working around the camp.

As the snows melted away during the spring of 1926, Adams readied the camp for prospective visitors by building new tables and additional fireplaces. He also improved several trails leading to the summit. Shortly thereafter, Adams informed the GSMCA of his activities. But despite his positive report, Adams received a letter from Col. Chapman notifying him that he was to be replaced as camp caretaker effective May 10, 1926. In spite of Chapman’s objections, the camp committee decided to place Jack Huff in charge of the camp. Huff’s father, Andy Huff, owned and operated the widely popular Mountain View Hotel in Gatlinburg.

The unexpected news was “disheartening” for Adams. In his memoirs, he explained that he had worked “hard in the interests of the association,” and that he had been looking forward to the 1926 season. After packing up and leaving the mountain, Adams returned to Knoxville and unsuccessfully tried to convince camp committee members to retain him as caretaker. Meanwhile, with financial backing from his family, Jack Huff proceeded to construct a larger cabin at the camp which became the forerunner of the present LeConte Lodge. Adams did not harbor any ill feelings toward Huff after the takeover. But, in his short book titled, Mt. LeConte, published in 1966, Adams reminded readers that the “house that Jack built” started from his “beginnings.”

LeConte Lodge as it looked in the mid-1930s. Note the “observation” platform at the top of the tree on the left. © The Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

A present view of several cabins at LeConte Lodge. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Following his short tenure as caretaker of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp, Adams served as a mountain guide for Andy Huff. Using the Mountain View Hotel as his base, he continued to lead others along trails throughout the Smokies. Years later, he and his wife Maxine moved to Crab Orchard, Tennessee, where they ran a nursery and landscaping business. Additionally, Adams worked as superintendent of fire prevention and safety for the federal Atomic Energy Commission in nearby Oak Ridge.

Paul Adams died in 1985, but his love of Mt. Le Conte never waned. During the course of his life, the allure of the mountain led him back to the summit over 500 times. On July 13, 1975, the pioneering hiker returned to the top of the mountain at the age of 73, possibly for the final time. The occasion marked the 50th anniversary of the camp he worked tirelessly to create. To this day, his legacy has survived through several continuing traditions he and others started on Mt. Le Conte during the 1920s. These traditions will be discussed in part three of this series.


Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his Flickr page by clicking here.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

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 is part one of a three-part series that will run on this blog through the end of this week. You can read an introduction on this series by clicking here.

Part One - Trailblazers

Mt. Le Conte in winter, as seen from Brushy Mountain. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

At an elevation of 6,593ft, Mt. Le Conte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Towering above Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the undulating ridgeline of Mt. Le Conte has had a magnetic effect on hikers and visitors to the Smokies for more than a century. As part one of a three-part series examining the allure of Mt. Le Conte, this post summarizes the trailblazing efforts of early-twentieth-century “Le Conte enthusiasts” whose profound love of the mountain fueled the movement to preserve its awe-inspiring beauty for future generations.

Today, hikers can access the summit of Mt. Le Conte via one of five distinct trails: Boulevard, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bull Head, and the most popular route, Alum Cave. However, during pre-Park years, access to the top of the mountain was limited. Two trails were commonly used by pioneering hikers to reach the summit. At Bear Pen Hollow, located close to the present loop along Newfound Gap Road, hikers trekked up what author and founding member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, Carlos C. Campbell, described as “barely a beaten path” that led to Le Conte’s West Point. This was a rather difficult route for even the most experienced hiker of the period. In his memoirs, Paul J. Adams explained that people would often climb tall trees next to the path in order to read the lay of the land and locate their next objective. After clambering through, and sometimes over, thick patches of tangled laurel and rhododendron, hikers would then follow the ridge from West Point to the summit. Because Newfound Gap Road had not yet been built, one’s journey to Le Conte from Bear Pen Hollow actually began in Gatlinburg. From there, hikers reached Bear Pen Hollow by walking (or riding horses) along the old Thomas Road, the first wagon road over the Smokies, which was located about a mile and a half to the west of the current highway.

Bear Pen Hollow and Mt. Le Conte’s West Point (upper left) as seen from Chimney Tops, ca. 1920-1940. ©Thompson Brothers Digital Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

The second, more accessible early hiking trail on Mt. Le Conte was located southeast of Gatlinburg at Cherokee Orchard. This route began near a barn at the rear of the orchard where a sign post once indicated a distance of four miles from Cherokee Orchard to Cliff Top. There, a rugged path known at the time as the “Mill Creek Trail” (later renamed Le Conte Creek), followed a boulder-strewn route to Rainbow Falls where hikers would often rest before continuing up the mountain.

The old Mill Creek Trail once used by Adams and other hikers has since fallen out of use, but Rainbow Falls remains a popular destination for Park visitors. Today, hikers can head to the top of Mt. Le Conte from Rainbow Falls by following the Rainbow Falls Trail for an additional 4.2 miles. The current trail, constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the early days of the Park, crosses a footbridge over Le Conte Creek and leads away from the 80ft high waterfall. A switchback brings you above the falls where you can continue the steady climb up the mountain. However, in the 1920s, hikers undertook a more adventurous route in order to regain the old Mill Creek Trail above Rainbow Falls.

On August 6, 1924, Adams and Wiley Oakley, the famed local mountain guide from Gatlinburg, led a group of twenty-five individuals, including two members of the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee, to the summit of Mt. Le Conte from Cherokee Orchard. It was the hope of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association who organized the hike, that the two committee members would be so impressed by the grandeur of the mountain that they would support the growing movement to create a national park in the Smokies. Prior to the hike, workers cleared large blow-downs and heavy underbrush along the route in an effort to improve trail conditions. While this may have simplified matters for the group on the day of the hike, Adams recorded the daunting scene that unfolded when the hikers reached Rainbow Falls.
Back then, one needed both strong legs and arms to gain the top of Rainbow Falls. The ‘trail’ went up a leaning [hemlock] tree near the bluff, about 100 feet west of the falls. Helpers at the base of the tree helped some of our less agile guests to reach the first tree branches. Others at the top helped them from the tree to solid ground. But everyone had to climb the middle distance under his own power.
One has to wonder what the Park Committee members from Washington, D.C. were thinking as they scrambled up the fallen tree to the top of Rainbow Falls. Fortunately for the GSMCA, no one was injured and the hiking party was able to reach a rough camp established near Cliff Top.

Cherokee Orchard as it looked in 1933 (Mt. Le Conte in the background). ©Albert "Dutch" Roth Digital Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

Two weeks before the Park Committee hike, the influential leader of the Smoky Mountains national park movement, Col. David C. Chapman, along with Oakley and a dozen other men, blazed a trail on the south-face of Mt. Le Conte which served as the descent route for the group. According to Adams, the trailblazers spread out and began searching for a ridge that connected the crest of the mountain with Alum Cave Bluff. After locating the ridge about a half-mile below Cliff Top, the men began the tedious work of cutting a new path. This they linked with a pre-Civil War trail leading from the bluff to Grassy Patch, now the site of the parking area for the Alum Cave trailhead. The present Alum Cave Trail, graded and redirected by men of the CCC, crosses the old, disused path several times along its length.

Alum Cave Bluff presented members of the 1924 park commission hiking party with another tough challenge as they descended the newly blazed trail from the summit of Mt. Le Conte. On the previous day, the group had to scramble up a tree to reach the top of Rainbow Falls. The next afternoon, they had to negotiate the 80ft high, 500ft wide overhanging cliff before carrying on to Grassy Patch. Campbell explained that several members “climbed down a tree, the top of which reached just above the upper edge of the cliff.” Others, he noted, managed to slide down the “almost perpendicular slope” to the side of the rocky outcrop. As time went on, a cable was secured near the top of the bluff to assist hikers coming down the mountain. Today, however, Alum Cave Bluff makes for a pleasant, rather than intimidating rest stop for hikers heading to and from the summit area. The cable has long since been removed, and the current Alum Cave Trail bypasses any serious difficulties near the popular location.

A narrow section of the Alum Cave Trail leading to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

By the mid-1920s, Mt. Le Conte had become the focal point for influential Smokies enthusiasts who tirelessly promoted the idea of creating a national park in the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Combined with the assistance of experienced guides such as Paul Adams and Wiley Oakley, the trailblazing efforts conducted during this period by the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association and members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (organized in 1924) helped to make that idea a reality. On several occasions, potential park supporters, along with National Park Service commissioners, were led to the summit by means of the old Mill Creek Trail where the lush beauty of the virgin forest and the spectacle of Rainbow Falls “brought high praise” from participants of the hike. After visiting the summit, hiking parties often descended Mt. Le Conte via the newly cut trail on Alum Cave ridge which provided alternative access to Alum Cave Bluff and the viewpoint known as Inspiration Point.

Although they were rough and rugged, the earliest trails leading up Mt. Le Conte allowed an ever-increasing number of hikers to reach the top of the iconic peak. Part two of this series will examine the important activities undertaken by Paul Adams who, in 1925, established a camp for fellow Le Conte enthusiasts near the summit.


Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his Flickr page by clicking here.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Sunday, January 7, 2018

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.

Introduction:

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 HikingintheSmokys.com, 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 HikingintheSmokys.com. 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.

In 2014 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, you can view other photos I've taken in the Great Smokies and beyond by clicking here.

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



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com