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Early hikers of the SMHC March 16, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, history, Smoky Mountains.
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The first outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, October 1924

On this outing October 18-19, 1924, hikers agreed to organize the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Photo by Jim Thompson. (Click for zoom)

The photo above was taken at Cliff Top on Mt. LeConte. The group had a guide, Jim Eslinger, to help them find the way up the wild, rugged slopes of the mountain. From Knoxville, a trip to LeConte was generally an overnight outing in those days. Bear in mind this was well before the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the birthdate of the park is generally considered to be 1934, but land acquisition was not actually completed until 1938, and the park was not dedicated until 1940.

I don’t know which route the SMHC pioneers used to climb the mountain. My guess is they went up Bear Pen Hollow. I do read in Ken Wise’s book* that the founder and builder of LeConte Lodge, Jack Huff, used the Bear Pen route when he and his wife Pauline went up to the top. They hiked up the West Prong valley, forded the stream at Fort Harry, and spent the night at the hollow before climbing up.

Up at Cliff Top on that October 1924 trip, the hikers discussed and agreed to form a club that would work for protection of the “natural beauty” of the mountains. The names of the individuals on the outing are given at the bottom of this post. The SMHC was to become an important group in advocating for the creation of the park.

The first scheduled hike of the newly formed club was another trip up LeConte on December 6, 1924. I’m not surprised they chose to go up LeConte again. It’s an endlessly fascinating place.

I have a pamphlet that describes the 1926 SMHC program. The year after that, the club would begin to produce the multi-page handbooks that have continued to appear every year since then, even during WW2 when the hiking program was curtailed by gas rationing. During the war years, hikers were advised to take the Gatlinburg-Asheville bus, which went over Newfound Gap. Along the way, the bus could let them off at various points of interest—including Huggins Hell and Anakeesta Ridge!

Photo from 1942 handbook taken by Fred Beckman.

Photo from 1942 handbook taken by Fred Beckman. Names of hikers unknown. Situation very well known….

In 1926, hikers carpooled from Saunders System, 204 W. Church Ave., next to the Sentinel newspaper building. This appears to have been a car rental place that was succeeded by Dixie System for many years.

I’m going to quote a few paragraphs from the pamphlet. “Carry your canteen on all hikes. No fire arms allowed on hikes. All trails are being marked and numbered with our official emblem. [In bold face type:] Don’t expect the other fellow to carry your pack.

“Leaders should start slowly, and gradually work up to required speed. They must see that lunching places and camp sites are made clean. Burn all garbage and rubbish before leaving. Appoint some one to gather fire wood. The leader shall be in command of the party from the time of leaving until its return. The majority shall rule in case of storm or emergency when leader is undecided as to the best thing to do.”

“It is advisable to take a light-weight rain coat, and possibly a sweater, on all hikes. In cold weather it is best to wear a coat over your sweater, to give protection from the hard winds that are usually encountered on the mountains. Gloves and wool sox are also advisable. A study of the following equipment list may prevent your forgetting some important item of equipment: Canteen; Mess kit; Knife, fork and spoon; Matches, in air-tight tin; First aid kit; Axe; Lantern or candles; Compass; Nails; String; Field glasses.”

A list of recommended foods included: “Bacon; Bread; Butter; Cocoa; Cheese; Eggs; Ham; Evaporated milk; Chipped beef; Malted milk; Figs; Dates; Potatoes; Pancake flour; Jelly; Prunes; Sugar; Salt; Lemons; Apricots…”

There are many ways in which these recommendations differ from our present-day hiking and camping practices!

A sample hike from the 1926 pamphlet: “Alum Cave. Trail No. 1, 2 and 3. Circle trip from Gatlinburg via Mt. LeConte and returning via Indian Gap Trail. Total distance 15 miles of hard hiking. A trip only a few persons have made. Leave Knoxville Saturday at 9:00 a.m. Spend Saturday night on Mt. LeConte. Sleeping accommodations on top of mountain.  Bring food for three meals. Leader, Albert Roth, old phone 6173-J.”

* Kenneth Wise, Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996.

The hikers in the topmost photo are, left to right, Charley Barber, Frank Wilson (seated), Baxter Gass,  Guy Barber, Charley Kane, Charley Lester, Marshall Wilson, Louise Smith, Caesar Stair, Douglas Smith, Besse Geagley, George Barber, W.H. McCroskey, and Carlos Campbell. Also on the trip were T.S. McKinney, A.L. Chavannes, Neal Spahr, Hugh White, Jim Eslinger (guide), and Jim Thompson (photographer).

Photo titled "Getting a close-up of a flower" by Wylie Bowmaster. The name of the pictured photographer isn't known. From 1938 handbook. photographer

Photo titled “Getting a close-up of a flower” by Wylie Bowmaster. The name of the pictured photographer isn’t known. From 1938 handbook.


1. Kent Hackendy - March 16, 2014

Love the old photo from Cliff Tops. I love to stand up there and look out at the beauty and imagine how many people have been enriched by the view before me.

Question: Was there ever a plan to build a road up to the summit of LeConte?

Jenny - March 16, 2014

No one was crazy or stupid enough to propose that, but there was a proposal in the 1930s for a “skyline drive” that would have roughly approximated the route of the Appalachian Trail in the western part of the park. Harvey Broome, Bob Marshall, and Benton MacKaye were the leading opponents. There was also a proposal to flood Cades Cove to create an artificial lake!!*#?!!
It should also be mentioned there was yet another road-building proposal in the 1960s. It would have gone up Hazel Creek, across Buckeye Gap, and down Miry Ridge, connecting Bryson City NC with Townsend TN. Harvey Broome once again fought this idea with the “Save Our Smokies” campaign. Ernie Dickerman was also involved.

Kent Hackendy - March 16, 2014

I didn’t think so. That WOULD be utter madness. I am familiar with the skyline drive project. Flooding Cades Cove? That one is mind-boggling.

2. Al - March 16, 2014

In 1947 or so I found a note torn from a paper sack. It was on a sign at the upper end of the Sunkota Ridge on Thomas Divide. It mentions a Wes Barber and was left by an “HB”. I asked Herrick Brown about it some 27 years later and it was a note he had left. For years they discussed why the note was not found. I did not know the note was left the same day that I had wandered by as it had only 2PM and no date. It was a souvenir to me. Maybe Wes Barber was kin to the Barber’s in the photograph. I still have the note. It still looks like new.

Jenny - March 16, 2014

In the 1947 handbook, Charles and West Barber are listed as at the same address, David and Dean Barber at another address, and George and Ruby Barber at a third address.

Al - March 17, 2014

Yes, I’m remembering now, it was West not Wes…was there a hike around there in that time frame ? It could have been later than 1947 but had to be before 1950 as I left BC for the Army in Dec, ’49.

3. Jenny - March 17, 2014

Al, I’m missing the 1948 and 1949 handbooks (I have a few gaps, especially in the earlier years). The 1947 handbook doesn’t have anything in that area. Most (but not all) of the SMHC hikes were on the TN side in those days. Maybe something those guys did on their own?

4. Jim Cornelius - March 17, 2014


Love this blog.

I found Endless Streams and Forest while researching Deneys Reitz for my work-in-progress “Frontier Partisans: The Adventurers, Rangers and Scouts That Fought the Battles of Empire.”

Your work is just outstanding. Is Transvaal Citizen available for purchase?

I invite you to visit my own blog at http://www.frontierpartisans.com. It would seem we have a common interest in the ABO and woodsrunning, etc.

Jenny - March 17, 2014

Thanks very much for your appreciation. “Transvaal Citizen” is just a private project of mine, not published, but if you are interested in a particular person described there, such as Reitz, Bouwer, De Wet, Schikkerling, Smuts, I could send you info. (You may well have researched these folks yourself and may well know more than I do.) I looked at your website and it looks great. I’ve recently decided to focus intensively on history and started another blog, but that is an offshoot of this one that has many articles about the Boer War. I was about to describe my specific interests in the Boer War, but I decided that was beside the point. It all has to do with understanding the terrain—that is the point in common between these obscure Boer War writings and my own exploration of streams in the Smoky Mountains.

5. Ferris - March 17, 2014

Hello once more Jenny.
Wonderful post, again. Those old time photos are great. The UT library collection has kept me for hours some days. Two questions:
What happened on LeConte in September 1972? The Sierra guide cites 125 people camping up there which, as the book foretells, resulted in reservations and limits on number of people staying there overnite. Perchance the catalyst to restricting sites and so on and so on. I’m not pro or anti fee, just wondering if you could, history and you like one another, shed some light on what happened that night that so many people decided to camp atop mount LeConte.
And one more question: What happened to griztrax? It was just gone one day. Info appreciated. Thanks, can’t wait for the next post, F.

Jenny - March 17, 2014

Hey, Ferris. Glad to see you back. How many serious hikers are also fans of Nabokov?

Regarding September 1972, I don’t know of anything specific, but if you look at the old “Blue Book” Sierra Club guide to the Smokies (which has VALUABLE information about old routes), the introduction speaks of a heavy influx of visitors and the inability of the Park Service to cope with backcountry campers. The intro says: “In 1972, during the writing of this guidebook, the Park Service began a new policy of rationing back country use in the more popular areas of the park. The number of back-country campsites almost doubled this past summer.” I think one of those convergences might have occurred in which the new awareness of Earth Day and Woodstockoid “getting back to the land” resulted in overuse of certain areas. Just a theory.

Regarding griztrax, apparently Dave had a problem with people hacking the website. He got tired of dealing with it (the problem had occurred several times) and decided to do his communications via Facebook instead of attempting to restart the website. I sympathize with Dave’s problem and appreciate all he did for the hiking community. At the same time I think it was a serious loss for the hiking community and it is a permanent loss for me since I refuse to deal with Facebook, but I don’t mean that as a criticism, that’s just me being weird and not liking Facebook, which is a fine social tool for many folks.

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