Sipping hot tea while swaddled beside a propane heater, warmth beaming as wind whips snowflakes around the mountaintop outside. A stack of books beside the bed, well-worn titles alongside new adventures, a self-replenishing treasure trove of stories illuminated by kerosene-fueled light. Outside, darkness obscuring what dawn will reveal to be an ocean-like view of mountains upon mountains, frosted with snow and seeming to bow before the 6,594-foot peak of Mount LeConte, the third highest summit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It’s a romantic image, an idyll about which a society steeped in virtual reality is still wont to fanaticize. But for the past four winters, those cozy evenings and frostbitten mornings have been J.P. Krol’s life.