According to staff employees, the date for the annual LeConte Lodge helicopter resupply will be on Monday, March 16 this year, weather permitting.
Restocking the wilderness lodge atop Mt. LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires some fairly unique solutions. With no roads anywhere near the mountain, the Lodge uses llama pack-trains to carry certain supplies throughout the season. However, just prior to the beginning of each new season, the Lodge is resupplied by helicopter with the heavier equipment and cargo that can’t be transported by llamas.
During the annual airlift, a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter will ferry roughly 200,000-lbs. of supplies and equipment for the upcoming season, including items such as propane tanks, maintenance equipment, canned foods, wine, t-shirts and other souvenir items.
The supplies are ferried over from a staging area at the Luftee Overlook parking lot, 3/4 mile from the Newfound Gap parking lot. The helicopter roughly follows the Boulevard Trail as it makes its commute back and forth to Mt. LeConte.
The Sikorsky helicopter, operated by Construction Helicopters out of Ypsilanti, Michigan, is roughly 59 feet long, and has a rotor diameter of about 62 feet. The twin turbo engine can lift about 7000 pounds, and flies with two pilots, each of which has a bubble window that they use to peer out to see where their load is hanging.
After dropping off its load, the chopper returns to the staging area with trash or empty propane tanks from the previous season.
After each drop-off, the palettes are quickly emptied. Lodge employees form bucket brigades to move the new supplies into different buildings while others move the cargo nets and empty pallets, and ready them for the next flight. For anyone interested, the Lodge always appreciates volunteers for the bucket brigade. It’s a great way to spend some time on the mountain.
You can visit this page for more information about hiking up to the top of Mt. LeConte.
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