A Night on Top of a Mountain

Harvey Broome, a Knoxville attorney who helped found The Wilderness Society, once said, “I have never wanted to leave the top of a mountain.” I was thinking of Broome’s comment last week while on Mount LeConte in the Smokies. Of all the mountains I’ve been on the top of, LeConte is unique.

Like any mountain worth its salt, the only the way to LeConte’s summit is by foot, the shortest route being about 5 steep miles. But what makes LeConte unique is that there’s a hotel up there! Well, not a hotel like you’d find in Gatlinburg at the mountain’s base, but instead a rustic lodge. It features everything you’d need for spending the night on top of a mountain, including safe drinking water, toilets, gas heat, and delicious meals. And what it doesn’t have, you don’t need: electricity, Internet connections, and reliable cell phone coverage. (Come on, you’re on the top of a mountain. You can give that up for one measly night!) As charming as the lodge is, though, I have to admit that it’s not really my cup of tea. If I’m gonna hike 5 miles to get to the top of a mountain, I’d just as soon be alone when I get there and not hang out with a bunch of strangers.

Dining room for LeLonte Lodge in the Smokies
LeConte Lodge Dining Room

That said, being the sometimes hypocritical person that I am, I took advantage of LeConte Lodge while there. Dinner for the lodge’s guests was a couple hours before dark, but the dining room remained open for about 30 minutes after sunset. I asked the manager if it would be okay to light the kerosene lanterns and photograph the room. No problem, as long as I was finished by 9pm sharp. The only problem was that it was still fairly light outside even at 9 and I’m not crazy about the exterior lighting in the first pic. Both shots are HDR blends, but in the first pic, you can see outside to what was nothing but a blank washed-out sky. Even with the HDR, the rendering is not ideal. The second shot, which doesn’t look directly outside, works better from a lighting perspective.

Dining room at LeConte Lodge in the Smokies

LeConte Lodge Dining Room

For the light on the cabin, I light painted it using an LED flashlight covered with an “Urban Vapor” Rosco gel filter, attached with a GelGrip™. Before I started shooting, I asked the guests in the cabin if they would mind lighting the kerosene lanterns inside. They were happy to so and this is what gives the golden glow in the windows.

Night view of LeConte Lodge in the Smokies

Nighttime at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After I completed the exposures for the shot, the guests retired to their cabins and slid under warm wool blankets while I spent the rest of the night out in the cold. Early the next morning, the International Space Station flew directly over the mountain, providing a great photo op. (Haven’t processed those yet.) At sunrise, I left the top of the mountain, but like Harvey, I didn’t want to.  

Oh, in case you’re wondering, on one day at the beginning of the season, supplies for LeConte Lodge are flown in by helicopter. After that, weekly supplies are brought up on the trail by a llama train.

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