Monday, February 6, 2012

Mt. LeConte Great Smokey Mountains National Park

The date is September 2, 1940, a very important date in the history of Sevier County, Tennessee.  The President is coming to town, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  President Roosevelt is coming to town to dedicate the Great Smokey Mountains as a National Park.  There are many important visitors and dignitaries in town,  the schools are closed.  My Mother walks to the Menlo Bridge so she can wave to the president riding in his touring car. 

It has been a long journey!  Efforts to include the Smokey's as a National Park began in 1923.  There were many obstacles to overcome:  the great depression, the timber and pulp companies, raising millions of dollars, the land acquisitions.  Hard work, grit, determination and a stubborn resolve to not give up made it a reality.

My roots are in the mountains.  Great Grandfather Johana Martin Shultz moved to the Smokey Mountains before Tennessee became a state in the 1700's.  Grandfathers, Uncles, and cousins all had homes, farms and lives in the mountains before their property was acquired by the park service.  The family cemetery is in the mountains.  Grandfather Isaac and Grandmother Bessie ran a boarding house and a park official, Arno Crammer roomed at their boarding house for several years. 

Fast forward the date:  the summer of 1998 AppleJack has had quadruple bypass.  We are meeting with the doctor discussing recovery options.  The doctor asks "what is your goal?"  AppleJack says:  "I want to be well enough to hike Mt. LeConte."  I almost fell out of my chair.  "Hike to Mt. LeConte, are you crazy?  You can't even walk from your bed to the bathroom without assistance."  The room goes silent.  Composing myself, I say, "Okay, if hiking to Mt. LeConte is what it is going to take for you to be better, we will begin today."  It was a long, slow process.  The first hike was the back door to the end of the driveway.  I did not think we would make it.  The second hike on the second day was from the back door to the house next door.  I did not think we would make it.  The third day, same thing only two houses away.  Each day, our walks became longer and AppleJack grew stronger.  Many weeks later, the doctor says, "I don't know what you are doing, but it is working, keep doing it.  I think you are going to make it." 

We began to get serious about hiking to Mt. LeConte.  Mt LeConte is a mountain in Sevier County, Tennessee and is a part of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  At 6,593' of elevation it is the third highest peak in the park.  From its base elevation of 1,292' it rises 5,301' in elevation.  The Sierra Club ranks hiking this peak as strenuous.  People who knew we were planning this hike thought we had lost our minds.  The highest point of elevation in Nashville is 1,110 feet.  Alum Cave is the hiking trail we had chosen to get to Mt. LeConte.  The Alum Cave trail is the shortest trail (five miles, ten miles round trip) but is also the trail which gains the most elevation.  We believed we could hike the distance, we were unsure about the elevation.  Walking in the relative flat trails and greenways of Nashville is very different from hiking in the mountains! 
We choose the date October 24, 2003.  We got very serious about the hike, extending our daily walks to 3-4 miles a day during the week and five miles on weekends.  We ate healthier, we lost weight, we shopped for backpacks, and hiking gear.  We read trail reports.

The day was beautiful--warm, sunny, clear blue skies.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  Our plan was to eat lunch at the Clifftops.  We made many rest stops and water breaks along the way.  Took many photographs.  Heard nothing but the wind blowing.  We hiked so high up the mountain, we were looking down on trees and saw birds flying below us.

It was strenuous!  The last mile was grueling!  It never entered my mind to quit.  AppleJack's goal was to hike to the top of Mt LeConte and stopping and turning around was not an option.  We made it!  Tuna fish sandwiches at the Cliftops.  It was breathtaking beautiful, indescribably beautiful.

It took several days for us to recover from our "Smokey Mountain high."  There was no physical recovery, but mental recovery.  Days to adjust to everyday noise, people dumping their trash, no respect for nature and little respect for each other.  We have many wonderful memories about our hike--we often say "it was one of the best days of my life."  One of our favorite memories is the other hikers.  Everyone was so encouraging, offering to share trail mix, or water, or band aids. "Don't give up, you can make it."  Hikers respectful  of the mountain and its beauty.

Over the years, we made more hikes to Mt. LeConte, all beautiful, all wonderful.  There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the Smokeys, we have hiked some of them.  But October 24, 2003 was truly one of the best days of our life.

Yes, the photo in the header was taken on our first hiking trip to LeConte--it is that beautiful!


  1. You've made me cry. A truly beautiful post. My love to both of you and here's to many more years of walking hand in hand through life xxx

  2. You and Applejack set an excellent example of what faith, passion, and willpower can accomplish despite physical setbacks! Thanks for the great story. Following my brother's recent heart surgery this little post is even more meaningful, Betty.