Friday, May 7, 2010
A special hike -- 40 years later
While I usually keep my diary posts strictly related to the goings on at Deerfield, I occasionally take the liberty for personal tidbits. This is one.
On April 27 the temperature in the lower elevations of the Smokies was a balmy 50 degrees with a light rain. The three of us -- my son, Lem; his girlfriend, Alice; and yours truly -- started the ascent to Mt. LeConte at around 11 a.m. Two hours later, the temperature was in the 30s and it was either hailing or sleeting. We couldn't decide which. When we reached the top of Mt. LeConte (6,800-feet elevation), the temperature was 22 degrees and we were hiking in four inches of snow. This is on April 27, mind you, in Tennessee.
Thankfully, Lem and Alice, veterans of Minnesota winters, had talked me into buying a pair of rain pants in Gatlinburg before we left. Lem and Alice made the 10.5 mile hike (roundtrip) in their open Keen sandals. I kept referring to the snow as a "blizzard," and Alice kept snickering. Four inches is merely a light dusting if you grew up in Wisconsin like Alice.
We were one of the first groups to arrive at LeConte Lodge. A propane stove awaited us. (The propane is brought up to the lodge by helicopter. The food and supplies are brought up by llama teams.) We enjoyed a hot dinner of beef tips, vegetarian meatloaf and hot vegetables. We played Scrabble by kerosene lamp in the meeting room and listened to stories from those who had made the climb as many as a dozen times. We heard about the guy who carried his 94-year-old mother up the mountain on a chair strapped to his back.
Alice woke early the next morning to retrieve face-washing water in a bucket. She announced that she was going to jog about a mile or so to the other side of the mountain in the snow in her sandals to catch the sunrise. Lem and I, hardy souls that we are, cheered her on and went to the toasty dining hall for a cup of coffee. We enjoyed the beautiful photos she brought back.
Despite the snow, sleet and/or hail, freezing temperatures and slick mountain trails, the hike was glorious. This was my second journey to LeConte, having hiked it as a student at UT. The first hike in 1970 was magnificent, but 40 years and good company have a way of multiplying the enjoyment exponentially.