One Bear of a Hike

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You can call it a slog, a grind, or even a death march, but our hike up to Rocky Top this past Saturday was definitely one bear of a hike.

Kathy and I paid a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this past weekend to do a little hiking. On Saturday we made the 12.6-mile roundtrip hike up to Rocky Top. It would be the first real hiking adventure we’ve done since our trip to Glacier National Park last August. We were both pretty shocked to discover how tough this trail really is. Last time we hiked it, back in 2008, we had no problems. Although we both ride bikes when it’s warm enough, and walk when it’s colder, we obviously got out of hiking shape pretty quickly. Since I walk at least 3 or 4 miles per day, 6 days a week, I thought for sure that this would have been enough training for this spur-of-the-moment trip. Obviously I was wrong. I guess having added a couple of pounds over the winter didn’t help either!

By the time we made it up to Spence Field our legs were already shot. And we still had 1.2 miles and another 550 feet of climbing left before reaching our destination. Even after reaching Rocky Top we still had more climbing ahead of us. In between Rocky Top and Spence Field are two short, but steep climbs, that left us completely spent. Three days later, my calves were still sore! I know, pathetic…

Below are a couple of photos from our hike.

This photo was taken along the upper portions of the Bote Mountain Trail. Notice how the trail has sunken a couple of feet below the ground on either side of the trail. Prior to the establishment of the Park settlers in Cades Cove used the trail to drive cattle up to Spence Field for the summer. This allowed them to use the fields in the Cove for growing crops. My guess is that the sunken pathway is the result of trampling by cattle, and the subsequent erosion over the years:

Rocky Top is a rock outcropping on the western side of Thunderhead Mountain. The true summit of Thunderhead (elev: 5527 feet) is roughly two-thirds of a mile further up the trail. Due to tall shrubs growing near the summit, Rocky Top provides much better views. This photo is looking towards Clingmans Dome and Mt. LeConte from Rocky Top:

Panoramic of the North Carolina Smokies and the Nantahala Mountains:

Looking towards Gregory Bald just below the 5379-foot summit of Rocky Top:

Kathy, on our way back down, near one of the saddles between Rocky Top and Spence Field:

For more detailed information on hiking to Rocky Top you can click here.



Erin @ Brownie Bites said...

This is one trail that we have yet to try! I've heard stories about how difficult it is. We meant to do it last fall when the colors are ripe, but never got the chance.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Erin - no doubt this would be a great hike in the fall - but you might want to consider doing this in mid-June when the mountain laurel is in full bloom on Spence Field. It's by far the most I've ever seen - it's quite a spectacle!

D said...

A friend and I did this hike last summer on a day when it was in the 90's. Unfortunately it was too hazy on top to see very much. It's definitely a hike that I want to do again under better conditions.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

D - you should definitely do it again when it's clearer. In my opinion, it's the best hike in the park....

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that it's one of the best hikes in the park. The Mountain Laurel is spectacular when in bloom, but a late winter hike will probably give you better views!