Column: Tale from on top of a mountain

By By Austin Bishop/EMG regional sports director
July 18, 2004
There are a lot of beautiful things in the world of sports.
Over the years I've had an opportunity to see my share of them.
I saw Hank Aaron hit a home run, Marcus Dupree run with a football, Jerry Rice catch a pass, Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a race at Daytona, John McEnroe play tennis and Jack Nicklaus win the Masters, just to name a few.
But a week ago, I got a chance to see something even more beautiful than all of the aforementioned a sunset atop Mt. LeConte in the Great Smokey Mountains.
I've been an avid sports fan since I was 12, some 33 years ago. There are a lot of things I imagined I would be doing when I turned 45, but hiking nearly four hours up the tallest mountain from top to bottom in the Smokey Mountains was not one of them.
And, quite honestly, had I not married Barbara 17-plus years ago, it is something I likely would have never done.
Before meeting Barbara, I had never even been to the Smokeys much less hiked anything of any significance.
But it didn't take long before I fell in love with the mountains, in fact, the Smokeys are where we spent our honeymoon.
Several years ago Barbara became interested in us hiking Mt. LeConte, which features a lodge at the top.
This is not your everyday lodge. There is no electricity and no indoor plumbing and bears are known to roam around the compound at night foraging for food.
Just in case you can't add all of that up, let me explain it to you you get to go to the bathroom in the dark, outside, with the bears. Sounds like fun, huh?
Well, it really was.
About five years ago we decided to go ahead and take a shot at staying at LeConte Lodge, but when Barbara called she found out that you had to make reservations a year in advance and people stood in line to do that.
In otherwords, it was almost impossible to get in.
She decided to try back last year and found out some rule changes had made it a little easier to get reservations. When the reservations for the following year opens in October, a lottery is held to determine who gets to stay at the lodge. You can send in a letter with your preferred dates and when your name is drawn, they will check the dates and see if there is an opening.
The Lodge can hold 45 guests at a time.
Actually, the place you spend the night is more like a smokehouse than a lodge, but it is an awesome experience.
Our cabin, which housed four of us, was a little bigger than a nice walk-in closet and had three beds, two of which were bunk. There was a nightstand that held your kerosene lamp and wash basin which in this case also served as the closest thing you were going to get to a bathtub or shower.
At precisely 6 p.m., supper was served in the dining room, and after hiking up a mountain you can believe people were standing in line. The next morning we had breakfast at 8 a.m.
It was at supper when they announced that sunset would be at 8:54 p.m. and sunrise at a little after 6 the next morning. Barb, the boys and I decided to try and catch both.
We took the short hike to Clifftops to watch the sunset a little after 8. After nearly 40 minutes of not seeing much more than the clouds rolling in front of our faces, most of the crowd left.
There were only six of us still standing there when the clouds suddenly dropped and the sunset broke through. It was incredible.
Straight ahead was the orange glow of the setting sun behind blue-hewn mountains, while a thunderhead complete with lightning hovered in the distance to the left.
The remaining wisps of clouds that seemed to crawl over the mountain as they collided with the rocks made for a spectacular environment.
That made the five-mile hike earlier that day, which included stretches of hanging on to cable wires as you navigated narrow wet ledges, well worth it.
The whole experience was incredible. The views along the way up, the adrenaline rush of making it to the top which included thrusting my arms into the sky Rocky style when we could finally see the cabins beginning the descent down the mountain in a drizzle, and making it back to our car in one piece, all combined to burn memories into my family's mind that won't easily be erased.
Will I always remember Hank Aaron's homers, Marcus Dupree's speed in the open field, Jerry Rice's hands, Dale Jr.'s win, John McEnroe's intensity and Jack Nicklaus' class?
Sure, I will.
But I will also remember Mt. LeConte. After seeing something like that, how could you ever forget it?

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