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"walls of the city" logo conceptualized by Oleg Volk and executed by Linoge. Logo is © "walls of the city".

i sweated a lot to bring you this situational irony

To get to Mount Le Conte Lodge – the establishment we recently spent the night at – one must first traverse somewhere between 5 and 8 miles of single-track trails through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As with all National Parks, the trails and area are remarkably separated from the rest of the world, to the point where you are much farther from civilization than the "as the crow flies" distances would indicate, and, as such, you have to prepare and pack accordingly.

A lot of those preparations are little things – bringing enough water, wearing the right kind of shoes, having the right backpack, etc. – but the honest truth is that if you get hurt back up in those trails, the only way you are getting back to someone who can really help you is probably under your own power, so, basically, do not get hurt. Even up at the Lodge itself, major injuries have to be taken down the path by horse, and even that is a multi-hour evolution; their supplies may come by heli-drop, but the bird does not actually land, so it cannot really take on an injured patient. Most causes of injuries are largely the product of hikers making mistakes in some particular fashion, but trail injuries are not always something you personally can control.

Sadly, the Smoky Mountains have the distinction of being the home of the first fatal bear attack in a southeastern National Park (Glenda Ann Bradley was killed by a black bear in 2000), and since then, the increasingly-acclimatized-to-humans black bears populating the park have racked up an unfortunate number of attacks on people. On the one hand, these attacks are a direct byproduct of people constantly trying to get closer to bears to get pictures, leaving garbage and food where bears can find and eat it and then get used to the smells of humans, and other long-term patterns that erode at the animals’ instincts to stay away from us whacky bipedal creatures; but, on the other hand, in some/most of the bear attack cases, the people specifically injured were not the ones causing issues.

By the same token, bobcats and/or cougars are not unheard-of in the Smokies, and as my time in San Diego taught me, they are not above picking off lone hikers/joggers for the occasional snack.

And despite being an invasive species and multiple attempts at eradicating them, wild boar also call the Smokies home, and if there is one creature I would not want to meet on a narrow, dark path…

Do not think I am trying to put you off visiting the Smokies (though damn they are getting crowded, and we visited during the "shoulder" season in the middle of the work week), but just as a single misstep on the trail can put you in the hospital (once you manage to drag yourself down the mountain), being unaware of other natural hazards can be just as dangerous to your health.

And this is all without even addressing the very real possibility of two-legged predators in National Parks, what with Park Rangers offering rewards for information on "drug activity" and the possibility of stumbling across a marijuana farm and… receiving a less than warm welcome. Even the FBI is getting involved in murders in National Parks, which is not surprising with apparent booby-traps being strung up on trails. (Note: not all those events transpired in the Smokies.)

While happily naive folks continue to believe that National Parks are the very picture of safe, secure communing with Nature, the honest truth is that criminals do not give an acorn for arbitrary, invisible lines on the ground, and some of them actually prefer privacy to perpetrate their illegal activities.

So all this said, you can bet your arse I was lawfully carrying a firearm in the Smoky Mountains, and openly at that*. I somehow managed not to poach any of the Ninja Red Squirrels at Alum Cave, and none of the hikers we passed probably so much as noticed it, so it was not really a problem… until we got to the top of Mount Le Conte and were confronted with these two signs:

IMG_4399**

I swear to God, I changed nothing before taking that picture; I did not even "I’m Feeling Lucky" it in Picasa – those two signs were, and still are, posted on the side of the Mount Le Conte Lodge Office, right next to one another.

If there were a desk nearby, I would have laid my head upon it. Forcefully.

Even better (?), the cabins (which, thankfully, were not posted) we stayed in had no means of securing the door without someone inside, but the dining hall also had an identical "gunbuster" sticker. So when it came time for dinner and breakfast, either one of us had to skip a meal, I had to leave my firearm in the cabin unsecured, or I had to break state law and carry my firearm – concealed – past that sign to eat. Apparently my family heirloom was A-ok by the staff, though, since there is not much "concealing" that once I got done peeling off my various coats, which just further goes to show the logical inconsistency inherent in "gun-free zones" victim-disarmament zones – some potential weapons good, other potential weapons bad.

Yes, I most certainly will be writing the management of Mount Le Conte Lodge and politely expressing my displeasure with the fact that they would (1) prefer that their customers break state law, (b) leave an unsecured firearm loose in the presence of strangers, or (iii) abandon their means of self-defense for a 6-12 hour total hike (up and down, depending on how fast you go) through uncontrolled wilderness.

And let us abandon all the political and sociological pretenses wrapped up in the notion of "gun control" – if someone actually dragged themselves up the trail to the Lodge with the express intent of causing malicious harm to the Lodge patrons and/or employees, do you honestly believe that those stupid little signs will stop him? Really?

(* – In other news, I now completely understand the utility of drop-leg holsters. Backpack waist straps and outside-the-waistband holsters do not mix well.)

(** – It is worth noting that the signs do at least cite the correct chapter and verse of Tennessee State Code (which I would link to directly, but LexisNexis is being difficult), though I have no idea why they are citing North Carolina state law, when the Lodge is around five miles from the border.)

13 comments to i sweated a lot to bring you this situational irony

  • When hiking, I like to carry crossdraw. I’m not generally a fan of it otherwise, but I’ve found it gives best access and least interference. I’ve got a full flap cross draw paddle holster for my hiking sidearm. I’m not sure who, if anyone, makes a similar model, as I build my own, but I imagine they are out there.

  • Joey

    Are the SAR/EMS folks up there that bad of pilots? Our guys routinely do helicopter evacs sans landing. /Phoenix area

  • @ Wolfman: Would it not still interfere with the waist strap? Or are we cross-drawing from a shoulder rig?

    @ Joey: I dunno. I can say that there were no open areas with unbroken, level ground I would feel comfortable even touching a helicopter down on, much less landing one, and judging from the pictures of their yearly air-drops, I surely would not want to be the weight on the end of their cable should they decide to winch me out…

    All of the recent debilitating injuries/sicknesses I have heard about recently were horse’d out.

  • Mike V.

    Joey, None of the medical helicopters in the area are equipped for SAR work, they are medflight only. So if there isn’t a level area large enough to land a jet ranger, you’re getting packed out. Also (as I understand it) NPS rules for carry in the Great Smokies specify the weapon is supposed to be concealed at all times http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

  • For clarification purposes, when carrying on National Park property, you are required to do so in compliance with the laws of whatever state you are in.

    Tennessee does not have any laws specifically (or unspecifically) outlawing the open carrying of firearms, and the assumption is that if it is not outlawed, it is tacitly allowed (an Attorney General’s opinion supports this assumption). That is why we have “handgun carry permits” instead of “concealed carry permits”.

    The NPS’ use of “Concealed Firearms Regulations”, honestly, is just indicative of ignorance on their part (and the prevalence of the notion of concealed over open carry).

  • Linoge- Actually, I have a dedicated holster just for hiking. It’s a paddle style full flap holster, so I just attach it to my pack when hiking, then migrate it to my belt when the pack is off. Other than that, I have not found a lot of other options for comfortable carry with a heavy pack. Shoulder rigs aren’t bad, but it winds up being a LOT of rigging running across your shoulders. Just my experience.

  • Ah, yeah, a paddle holster to use in the backpack waist strap makes sense… Had not really thought about that.

    I may still stick with a drop-leg in the future – I wore one in the military, so I have a little familiarity with them… The only trick will be sporting one without going all “Tacticool Terry”.

  • Rey B

    Might consider one of these. Disclaimer I am not in anyway affiliated with the company. http://shop.simplyrugged.com/ecommerce/Chesty-Puller-Conversion-System.cfm?item_id=160&parent=672

  • Windy Wilson

    This is why I did not go camping in Alaska with the Sierra Club last year. Alaska has BIG bears, and Sierra Club prohibits firearms on activities, so I wanted to ensure I stayed safe while entering the food chain in Alaska.

  • @ Rey B: Saw those a while back when I was shopping for holsters, and I was intrigued, but it does not solve the “too much rigging on your shoulders” problem.

    Plus, that might be a bit “in your face” for even me ;).

    @ Windy Wilson: There is no way on God’s Green Earth I would step into the bush of Alaska without at least a stout .357 by my side. I do not blame you at all.

  • Frenchy

    Well the sign was not there in 2010 when I stayed at LeConte but that was because there was no park carry. Anyway…
    I grew up on the edge of an eastern national park and always worry about people and feral dogs/coydogs worse than bears. And park carry didn’t really change anything I did.

  • Well, there is that… I certainly was not disarmed on my way up or down ;).