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Climbing Mt. LeConte: LeConte Lodge

May 21, 2013

As we approached the buildings there was no one in sight. We could hear movement in the big building, the Dining Hall, but no people. A sign: Office, with an arrow pointing to the stairs of another big building.

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To say we trudged up the stairs gives much more energy to our movements than we actually had. Opening the door – WARMTH! A large propane heater in the center of the room, rocking chairs all around & 3 people stripping out of wet ponchos, shoes, socks & jackets. We joined them!
They had come up the Alum Cave Trail in 2 1/2 hours (We obviously chose the wrong trail) & were going back down after they dried off a bit & ate their lunch.

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Pouring water out of my shoes, squeezing water out of my socks & laying them on the top of the stove along with my soaked gloves, hearing the moisture sizzle, I stretched out my feet to the heat hoping there was no frostbite. DH unpacked the coconut water from his pack to begin rehydrating as quickly as possible since we had only consumed 1 liter of water on the climb.

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As I unpacked my coconut water & lunch (baked chicken thighs wrapped in bacon – yum!) the Common Room was suddenly filling with teenagers – kids from a Christian School in Michigan who were earning a Physical Education credit by coming to the Smokies for a week. They with their teachers were climbing LeConte to sign the visitor’s book, eat lunch then head back down because the next day they were backpacking 10 miles into the wild for a 3-day camping adventure. I was no longer able to warm my feet at the stove – the kids starting stripping off wet clothes, squeezing out wet soaks, laughing, talking. They were smart, propping a walking stick between 2 chairs & hanging their wet socks in front of the stove until they steamed.

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By this time, Austin had arrived, a Lodge staff member who took us under his wing, showing us the facilities, where to get potable water to refill bottles, telling us where & when we would have dinner then showing us to our cabin.

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That’s me on the porch in dry clothes under my poncho – it was still raining & cold.

One room. One oil lamp. One propane heater in the wall. One wooden hanger rack attached to the wall to dry wet clothes. One bunk bed with full-size mattresses. One galvanized bucket to get hot water for sponge-bathing. One enameled basin for washing ourselves. One box of matches to light our lamp. “See you at dinner!”

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Oh, I forgot to mention that DH surprised me with a bottle of J Sparkling Wine that he had packed up with 2 “glass” glasses! I packed the empty bottle down the next day!

We turned the propane heater to “high” & immediately removed shoes & socks & pants & jackets hanging them on the drying rack, donning dry clothes & dry wool socks, continuing to drink water.

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DH crawled onto the lower bunk to stretch out, hoping to regain the feeling he had lost in his fingers – his backpack had taken it’s toll on his neck. I climbed to the upper bunk knowing that warm air rises – it was like a dry sauna in no time at all. Ahh!

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Not exactly airtight this door…

After we had rested for a couple of hours, we decided to go back to the Common Room to rock in the big chairs & see who else had been crazy enough to climb this mountain in the rain. Folks streamed in a few at a time, all having taken the Alum Cave Trail. (Yep, we definitely took the wrong trail!)
Overnight guests were shown to their cabins & teenagers continued to come & go, except 1 teacher with 2 Asian students.

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The girls were fairly new to the United Sates, one from Vietnam & one from China & had never hiked or done any kind of physical exercise before. We enjoyed talking to their teacher who encouraged the girls to draw closer to the warmth. Being a Mommy, I could’t help it, I asked the teacher if it was alright & begged the girls to remove their sodden shoes & socks. Obviously not accustomed to such a request by a stranger, they finally relented when their teacher insisted, placing shoes at their feet next to the chair. I reached over, emptied at least a cup of water out of each shoe & placed them upside down on the stove.

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They then removed socks & placed on the wooden walking stick I had propped between the chairs as I had seen the kids do earlier. Their poor feet looked frozen. Drawing chairs closer to the fire they began to eat their packed snacks. After about 15 minutes both girls began to thaw & became talkative. When another teacher came in announcing that the main group was heading down, the teacher with the Asian girls said they would wait just a little while longer. Relief flooded the girls faces.

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At 6PM the dinner bell rang & all overnight guests made a beeline for the Dining Hall. We sat at assigned tables – ours was “East” – introduced ourselves to our table mates (one couple was from Ohio, this being their 3rd LeConte Lodge stay, the others a family – young couple who gave this as a Christmas gift to her parents & brother, all from North Carolina, young husband by way of Greenwood, MS who knew DH’s college & medical residency friend from Greenwood! Small world!) & began sipping the Almaden Pinot Noir our Lodge host was pouring generously. The chef had made a note that I requested MSG-free food, so I got my own bowl of beef with no sauce, along with green beans & baked apples. Hearty foods for tired climbers served family-style: roast beef in sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, baked apple slices, cornbread, margarine, cookie bars.
“Sunset is at 8:15 for any optimist who thinks it would be worth some more walking in the rain.” No thank you.
Dinner over. 8PM. The Lodge lives by the rising & setting of the sun with no electricity on the mountaintop. Some folks returned to the Common Room, which stays open 24-hours a day in the event that someone who climbed up but couldn’t climb down could take refuge.

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Coffee & hot chocolate were available until 9PM & coffee again at 7AM. Breakfast at 8AM.
DH suggested we turn in early after the difficult climb, knowing we had to climb down in the morning. We slept for 10 straight hours! The high winds & rain on the roof all night provided a sweet song.

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