Last year, we hiked to the LeConte Lodge several times but, since we never had a reservation, we only ever stayed long enough to catch our breath, eat a snack and refill our water bottle before making the trek back down the mountain. It makes for a rewarding but exhausting day hike and every time we'd visit I found myself wishing we could stay the night. This past Saturday we were fortunate enough to snag a last-minute cabin reservation. We loaded up our backpacks, dropped the dog off with his sitter and set out for our overnight adventure.
The LeConte Lodge sits just below the summit of Mount LeConte. According to their website they are the highest guest lodge in the Eastern United States. Guests who stay at the lodge must do without electricity. Propane heat warms the rustic but comfortable cabins. Kerosene lanterns provide light. There are no showers but each cabin comes equipped with a bucket and hot water is available from a tap outside the dining room. The centrally located privies were recently upgraded and now feature flush-toilets; all things considered, they seem downright luxurious given the lack of other creature comforts. Not that I missed the creature comforts. At all. We actually had cell service at the lodge but I only used my phone to take photographs. I must confess I really enjoyed my brief self-imposed exile from social media. Perhaps I should exercise that kind of restraint more often.
Time moves slowly at the lodge. That's a good thing. Guests can explore the trails, sip hot cocoa while admiring the views from the dining room porch, or visit with fellow travelers in the lodge office, which also serves as a spacious common area. Dinner and breakfast are served family style in the dining room. The dinner bell rings before each meal and guests are assigned tables. Everybody is friendly. Everybody is happy to be there. It feels kind of like summer camp. At dinner time the staff informed us that a bear, who had been hanging around the camp for several days, had been captured in a culvert trap. Guests were encouraged to keep their distance until morning, when one of the park's bear experts would arrive to assess the situation.
After dinner we stopped back in at the office and found it filled with people. Some played card and board games, others opted to sit on their own and read. We sat in rockers near the heater and observed quietly for a few minutes, then retreated to our cozy cabin and turned in for the evening. I think we both woke up every couple of hours (probably owing to the new surroundings and the strong winds that blew throughout the night) but, otherwise, we slept very well.
I had hoped to make the short hike up to Myrtle Point before breakfast to see the sunrise but the mountain top was covered in clouds so it was hardly worth the effort. The weather put a damper on our scenic views but it meant we had time to watch the bear expert perform a health check on the male black bear who'd been captured the night before. This was an entirely unexpected and incredible experience. When bears and other wildlife begin to lose their fear of humans it can be bad for us but it's especially bad for them. The captured bear was sedated, tagged, tattooed and microchipped. The idea is to make the whole experience just unpleasant enough for the bear that he'll want to steer clear of humans. In the past the lodge has had success with the health checks as a form of deterrent. I hope that's the case for this fella.
This was such a satisfying experience. I can't wait until we have another opportunity to stay overnight at LeConte Lodge. I imagine each visit will be unique and wonderful and offer its own unexpected and delightful surprises.