When Clarence, Mary and I arrive at LeConte Shelter, the first thing I notice is the dumpy old faded green port-a-potty (groan). It is the same one we had last year and apparently hasn’t been cleaned since Annette wiped it down 16 months ago. Somebody must use it, but no one in our group does, and from the look of the immediate area around the shelter, we are not alone. This shelter really needs a decent composting toilet.
On our last visit, Clarence and I did not locate Myrtle Point. He is determined to correct that failing. The three of us head down the Boulevard Trail. Our first stop is High Top. Mary has her picture taken with the pile of stones people have assembled in a vain attempt to make LeConte the tallest peak in the park. At about four feet, the pyramid of rocks is a tad over 46 feet shy of the mark.
Much of the herbaceous growth on LeConte has already succumbed to a killing frost leaving tan clumps of grasses and withered fern fronds. Mosses and lichens offer touches of color, such as the tiny but bright red fruiting clusters of British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella). The equally red fruit of Mountain Ash is another spot of startling color in a natural palette now primarily reduced to greens, grays, and browns. There are spots of snow and a few tiny icicles in protected grottos. In one clump of moss, dripping water has frozen into a collection of ice stalagmites.
After Myrtle Point, we walk to the lodge to use one of their composting toilets and get water for tonight’s dinner. We stop by the office to check out the 2011 LeConte t-shirt. Mary buys a bandana. Back at the shelter, we are joined by two young guys who also came up Alum Cave and plan to hike out on the Boulevard. It’s time to fire up the stove for a warm meal and prepare to hang our packs. Once all chores are finished, it’s simply a matter of waiting for darkness to climb in the sleeping bags. Just as night falls four men stumble up the path wearing headlamps. They came up Trillium Gap, the trail we are taking in the morning. They have already eaten and simply prepare for bed, put up packs, and climb to the top platform.
Nights on LeConte can be brutally cold, but we are lucky. The overnight low is only 30 degrees, and there is no wind. I am very comfortable in my warm base layer clothing and down sleeping bag, and I fall asleep right away. I awake during the night and am sorely dismayed to find it is only 10:00 p.m. I rest fitfully trying to hold off a trip to the bathroom. Finally, at 1:00 in the morning, I arise stealthily, relief myself, and return quiet as a mouse to sleep until 5:45 a.m. when a watch alarm stowed in one of the latecomers’ packs starts beeping. Damn! It sounds repeatedly for 10 minutes, pauses for five, then starts again. After 45 minutes, Clarence awakes and others begin to stir a bit, so I say perhaps a little too loudly, “Some f***er’s watch alarm has been beeping for the last 45 minutes!” One of the guys above us climbs down, silences the watch, and goes back to bed.
The three of us and the two young guys begin morning chores – dress, deflate and roll sleeping pads, stuff sleeping bags, retrieve packs, and fix breakfast. While I’m out back changing clothes, I get a whiff of frying bacon and envy the lodge guests’ hearty breakfast. The aroma gets stronger as I walk back to the shelter, and the two young guys are cooking up strips of bacon and trying to make pancakes. The bacon works great, but the pancakes turn out more like a casserole — a bit of a churned up mess. The guys have fun with it though, and we have fun watching…and sniffing!