Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Call me crazy! Field trip to Mt. LeConte!

I may have totally lost my mind, but I just received word that my field trip request to take my Microbiology classes to the summit of Mt. LeConte has been approved! What that means is that I will be taking approximately 35 high school students on a 10-mile hike up and back on Alum Cave Bluff trail.

I am so proud of these students. I asked them to do some research on current events in the field of microbiology and several of them began discussing the emergence of the hantavirus out of Yosemite National Park and what a scary scenario that is. Hantavirus is carried by rats and mice; humans are exposed to the virus by breathing in dried feces or urine particles that are in the air in rodent-infested shelters and cabins in Yosemite. According to what I have read recently, this disease is lethal approximately 40% of the time, and survivors may suffer debilitating symptoms long after they have "recovered." My students began making the connection between the rat/mouse infestations in Yosemite Park shelters and cabins with conditions in the part of the Smokies with which some of them are familiar. They wondered if a rodent control program is in place in the LeConte cabins as well as in the shelters along the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee.

My students quickly decided that, as a part of our course work in Microbiology, they wanted to think like epidemiologists and investigate the conditions in Yosemite which have allowed the hantavirus to become such a problem and look at ways to prevent similar conditions from developing right in our own park. From that arose the idea that we would actually visit Mt. LeConte to gather information for their project. While we are up there, I hope to be able to get LeConte Lodge employees to meet with my students and provide some insight to whatever programs are in place relevant to rodent control or explain to my students the impediments that prevent such programs. I truly hope that park or lodge employees will appreciate the real-world relevance that such a project provides for these students and will honor my request.

What else does that mean? It means that I will be able to expose these students to the grandeur and beauty of one of my favorite places on earth. Mt. LeConte is special in many ways. The challenge of the hike up will encourage these kids to get in shape to the best of their ability between now and the day of our hike. The accomplishment they feel when they reach the summit will stay with them forever, as will the views they will experience if we are blessed with good weather at the top. It also means that many of these kids who have never even been to the Smokies, although they are practically in our backyard, will get to take what could turn out to be the trip of a lifetime!

I will be looking for some corporate sponsors to help us purchase things like Clif Bars, bananas, and water bottles. I'll also be looking for a company to provide breakfast biscuits and juice or milk for us to eat on the bus ride up to the trail head. In addition, I would LOVE for someone to donate enough money to purchase each student one of the "I Hiked It" shirts available at the LeConte Lodge store!  I'll let you know who steps up and helps us out with this. The transportation and other expenses are more expensive than I thought they would be when I first considered the idea. If you have any ideas, please feel free to share them with me as I try to arrange a trip these kids can afford and will enjoy. Also, if you don't mind, pray or hope for great weather for us! :)


  1. That is great! I love to get children involved in hiking. We spend alot of time in the Smoky Mountains and with those rats you talk about. God bless you in your trip.

  2. I came across your blog on Pinterest. This is such a fabulous idea. When is your trip planned? (or did I miss that in the details)I am a believer that we have to get the kids away from all the technology and into the great outdoors. Good luck and can't wait to hear all about it. I will be adding your blog to my list to follow

  3. Melissa, thanks for the interest! I cannot wait to get this great group of kiddos into the wilderness, and the only electronics allowed will be cameras! You did not miss the date of the trip in the details. For the privacy of these minor students I haven't released the date of the trip. I will definitely post details when we get back though. However, in all honesty, I should post the date for the good of all those folks who would rather NOT hike LeConte with a large group of 16-17 year old budding scientific minds! :)

    1. We did it! Check out the latest entry of Hiking to the Heights blog.