Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thunderhead and Rocky Top

Appalachian Trail Backpack Weekend – 10/26/08 – Day Three – AT from Derrick Knob Shelter to Bote Mountain Trail/Anthony Creek Trail – 11.5 Miles

I was actually the last person out of the sleeping bag this morning at the remarkable hour of 7:40 AM. (I was awake for a while listening to everyone else moving around.) There was a light frost and it was cold. No peppermint schnapps to start the day, just hot tea (thanks to Mike), and almost before I knew it the five guys were waving goodbye and heading on towards Clingmans Dome, the direction we had come from the day before. Mike and I departed the shelter at 9:00 AM. On today’s menu was a little bit more mileage than yesterday and a lot more elevation change and Thunderhead Mountain was looming large.

For some reason the pack was heavier today. The toughest climb turned out to be up Brier Knob, which was about a million miles long and a million feet steep (actually 700 feet ascent in .6 miles). When left on my own, I would go a little too fast and then have to stop for a count of 12 deep breaths and begin again. But the views were breathtaking, down into Bone Valley on the NC side and down into Wear Valley on the TN side. How cool is that, to walk along the state line at the top of the world?

Then we marched up Thunderhead Mountain to the benchmark stating that we were at 5,527 feet. There is a small pile of rocks to stand on to see above the rhododendron that covers this mountaintop. As Mike was taking my picture by the Thunderhead Mountain sign, a young guy came by, a southbound (SOBO) thru-hiker on the AT. His name was Skeeter and he had left Mt. Katahdin on June 13, expected to finish at Springer Mountain in 8 more days. Skeeter wore shorts and a tee shirt and was moving pretty darn fast. I was quite surprised to meet a southbounder at this time of the year.

Just a few steps from the tip-top of Thunderhead Mountain the world opened wide to a field where mountain laurel blooms in the summertime and we could see down into Cades Cove. A short while later we were standing on top of Rocky Top – yes, THAT Rocky Top – and we decided that there was no better place to have lunch. We sat in the sun and I was sorely tempted to lie down in the grass and take a nap! This was truly a highlight of all my hiking in the Smokies. (Since I didn't have my camera, click here to see a great website and photos of Thunderhead and Rocky Top.)

After eating, we walked on through Spence Field and somewhat reluctantly turned off of the AT onto Bote Mountain Trail. Mike had told me a little bit about the origin of the name and I later looked it up in Hiking Trails of the Smokies, which describes a time in the 1850’s when a road was to be built from the valley in Tennessee up to the state line and the Cherokee Indians were asked for their opinion. “Legend has it that the Indians selected this ridge rather than the one to the east as the best route for the road. They chose by voting (Cherokees reportedly were unable to voice the “V” sound). So they “boted” for Bote Mountain and the other crest became known as Defeat Ridge.”

Today Bote Mountain Trail is a wide, moderately sloped and very rocky horse trail and should have been fairly easy, but the rocks got to me and I was happy to get off onto Anthony Creek Trail. (Maybe I was just tired of carrying a heavy pack.) Anthony Creek winds down until it is a flat creek walk and we finally strolled into the Cades Cove picnic area. The place was packed on this Sunday afternoon with families and groups cooking out and throwing Frisbees.

We walked about a half mile further to Mike’s car at the ranger’s station and I did the happy dance when I put down my pack, took off my boots and put my Crocs on my poor tired feet. We were just pulling out of the parking lot when we saw people coming out of the camp store with soft ice cream cones! So…we got ourselves some chocolate ice cream to fortify us for the drive back up to Clingmans Dome to my car.

At the Clingmans parking lot, we swapped gear, checked under the seats, said our goodbyes and Mike headed home to Charlotte. I had a dinner date with Danny and Lenny in at Calhoun’s in Gatlinburg (they had been hiking in the Smokies all weekend too). Then I crawled into bed at my little hideaway hotel and rested up for one more day of hiking…tomorrow.

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