Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Once two strangers climbed old rocky top looking for a moonshine still." For most of my life, I've just thought that was a catchy lyric in the Tennessee Volunteer fight song, it wasn't until more recently that I discovered Rocky Top is a real place. The song was inspired and I quote "by a beautiful spot just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee." I'm not sure if people were tougher then but "just outside" Gatlinburg is a stretch, about 14 miles worth to be exact.
I didn't have the nerve to tell Amy her shoes didn't match. She's at that age where those kind of things can be devastating to her. I never thought I would see parking so easy to find in Cade's Cove but tornado threats will do that.
The early stages of the trail are pleasant as you can see by Amy's smile.
The famous Smoky Mountain single rail bridges.
Many people refer to these bridges as scary. I just like the photo ops they present.

Fresh off my conquest of Mt. Guyot with John my confidence was at an all time high. With Jesus unavailable to hike on my next off day, I resorted to recruiting my arch nemesis Amy to fill that void and told her that we would be hiking to dear old Rocky Top. I can't remember how it came to be now, but not only did she agree to go, but she volunteered to drive. I even included her on my normal routine of Smokies hiking by having some Dunkin Donuts coffee and a stop at Yoders Country Market for sandwiches for our packs. I was already hungry by the time we got to Yoders so I ate my sandwich on the porch and bought a second one for later. I'm confident in telling you this now, pimento cheese sandwiches and coffee do not digest well, especially when you are climbing a mountain, but more on that later.
Up we go. Climbing begins just a little over a mile into the hike and never really stops.
Colorful plant life along the trail.
A beautiful patch of trilliums on Anthony's Creek.
The trail becomes a stream.

The ride down was peaceful and I settled into telling stories of our youth and how we hated each other, while Amy fumed over slow drivers in front of us. I bet some folks could tell you how many leaves are on certain trees approaching Cades Cove. The weather was not very pleasant, in fact, the afternoon forecast called for possible tornadoes, and a light drizzle was falling when we reached the Cades Cove picnic area. The hike began at the Anthony Creek Trail head and not surprisingly, we had it to ourselves. I really hated to start the hike in my rain jacket but I didn't want to be soaked all day either so I slipped my pack cover on and begrudgingly strapped it on over the coat. I struck off up the trail while Amy finished some last minute packing at the car.
I think this was the only blue sky I got to see all day.
Once we reached Bote Mountain the climbing didn't stop.
The  moss along the trail was photogenic.

The trail begins as an old road and is wide as it follows Anthony Creek upstream. You cross several bridges but nothing incredibly noteworthy exists in the early portions of the hike. The elevation is tame as well just barely climbing for well over the first few miles. Just before the Russell Field trail intersection we entered some impressive wildflower area with the trail being lined with trillium. I stopped to take pictures and it was sometime during the bending and standing repetitions that I noticed my stomach was going to explode within a few minutes as all my pressure gauges were on high alert. I excused myself from the trail and became one with nature, a process I would repeat on several more occasions throughout the day. When I caught up with Amy I told her I didn't know what was up with my stomach but I was struggling. The sneaky grin on her face made me doubt her concern as well.
The Appalachian Trail at Spence Field.
Very muddy and slick hiking on this stretch.
Views of stormy skies from Spence Field.
And we were still a long way from Rocky Top!

Not only was my stomach in agony, my legs soon joined as the trail turned rocky and steep. The occasional switchback helped but we were climbing higher in a hurry. The rain had subsided and I was able to stash my coat to keep cool for the climb to meet Bote Mountain Trail. I'm not going to spend a great amount of detail on this section but what I remember it was steep, muddy, and a few sections of the trail were actually a small stream. When we reached Bote Mountain I was tired but excited to know we would soon be at the Appalachian Trail and could have a break at the Spence Field Shelter. Bote Mountain turned out to be slightly more difficult than Anthony Creek with the trail climbing relentlessly until it met the Appalachian Trail. The sound of partying resonated from the shelter and Amy and I decided to keep moving toward Rocky Top.
A large storm approaching as we began the climb up to Rocky Top.
Still more and more climbing.
Zoomed shot of Shuckstack Tower.

The good news was that the trail was now somewhat level even though it was a thick soup of mud. The skies were ominous with clouds blowing in over Fontana Lake but I was happy to be having some views and stopped along several of the clearings on Spence Field to rest and take photos. I knew our easy stretch of trail would be short lived because on the horizon was Thunderhead Mountain and near it's summit I could see the boulders that bear the name, Rocky Top. Even more cruel than the climb ahead was the valley that separated Spence Field from our destination meaning we would be losing elevation before the last stretch of climbing. The thoughts of lunch was a powerful motivating factor and Amy sprung to life taking a sizable lead on the climb up. I joined her a few minutes later on Rocky Top taking in the view while the winds continued to pick up. Not only were the winds strong but they were cold, so I retreated to the back side of the ridge to dig out my coat and small emergency blanket to cover my legs while I fished out my sandwich. Amy joined me and we both made quick work of our meals. The weather was deteriorating at an alarming rate by this point so we packed up for the hike out. Back on Rocky Top, I paused for some photos and video while Amy continued on afraid of being taken out in the imminent lightning strike.
It's rocky and we were on top, it must be ROCKY TOP!
Amy victorious on Rocky Top.
Such lovely picnic weather.

The views from Rocky Top are nice but hardly the best I've had in the park. The effort it takes to get there though really makes you appreciate it more. I found the clouds sweeping over the ridges to be fascinating and I could see Shuckstack Firetower on the ridge above Fontana Lake. I caught up to Amy on Spence Field and we stayed together the remainder of the hike aside from my few trips to become one with nature. We made quick work of the downhill hiking back to Cades Cove campground and took turns bathing with baby wipes before changing for the ride home.
Amy wasn't going to waste any time leaving me behind as the storm moved in closer.
Almost back to the car and the sun  makes a rare appearance. 

 I always find it hard to wrap up these blogs and especially with this one. I rarely say anything nice about or to Amy but the fact that she hikes far less than me and was able to handle a hike as difficult as Rocky Top should be commended. Now that I'm thoroughly disgusted with myself, I'll leave you with this, happy trails!