Thunderhead Training Hike

In case you didn’t see my previous post on the plan for this hike, we did this in preparation for our upcoming Grand Canyon Backpacking Tour. Most of the motivation was just to test our conditioning although we both have some new gear that needed to be tested.

My wife and I made it a weekend by renting a condo we like in Gatlinburg, TN. We drove up the day before and had a nice evening in town. Daryl drove up the night before and camped in Cades Cove. On the day of, I had an hour’s drive over to Cades Cove and we met promptly at 07:00. Given that this is the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and early in Daylight Saving Time, the sun was just coming up at that time. The route begins at the Cades Cove Picnic Area, which only opens at sunrise (to motorized traffic anyway.)

Daryl readying his gear

Daryl readying his gear

Anthony Creek Trail

You enter the Anthony Creek Trail at the picnic area and it is wide and paved with crushed gravel for a half mile or so.

Anthony Creek Trailhead

Anthony Creek Trailhead

Up the trail a bit, there are provisions for horseback riding with four camps having places to tie and feed the horses. As you move on past this area, the trail becomes less civilized. However, it is extremely well marked and maintained throughout.





Bote Mountain Trail

The Anthony Creek Trail dead-ends into the Bote Mountain Trail, which goes between Laurel Creek Road (the road between the Galinburg area of the park and Cades Cove) and the Appalachian Trail and you enter it somewhere in the middle. Here the trail becomes sunken (at times up to four feet) and the commentary on suggests that this is the result of a combination of erosion and driving cattle. Quite interesting.





The Bote Mountain Trail dead-ends at The Appalachian Trial just east of Spence Field. Here we are at that intersection…

Once you get to the AT, you’re up on the ridgeline and you begin to see the balds (man-made for cattle grazing), although the climbing is not over.


We also began to see a LOT of thru hikers on the AT. One couple we talked to who were from Oregon said it was a traffic jam at Spence Field the night before with at least 20 campers. It really surprised me that the demographic of the thru hikers was so varied. I expected most to be men in their early 20s. We saw couples, young and old. Groups of men, groups of women, young and old. Single women in their 20s and men of all ages. The gender balance was tipped slightly toward women.

This is looking out onto the three peaks of (right to left) Rocky Top, Rocky Top Two, and Thunderhead…

Looking out on the three peaks of Rocky Top, Rocky Top Two, and Thunderhead

Looking out on the three peaks of Rocky Top, Rocky Top Two, and Thunderhead

Approaching Rocky Top with the white blaze of the AT…


Rocky Top



The views from Rocky Top are great. You can see into the North Carolina side of the park including a hint of a lake. Plus, you get a great view of one end of Cades Cove. Here’s a panorama…

Panarama from the summit of Rocky Top

Panarama from the summit of Rocky Top

While Rocky Top has great views, Rocky Top Two is uneventful and Thunderhead is even worse.


It took us about four hours to reach the summit of Thunderhead including three short breaks. The summit is overgrown and the only thing to greet you is a medallion by the U.S.G.S. stating the height at 5527 feet above sea level.


This is what the summit of Thunderhead looks like; a real anti-climax…


We didn’t dawdle and decided to hike back to Rocky Top to sit for lunch, which turned out to be a mistake since there was no protection from the cold rain and wind. We were quite chilled by the time we choked down the last of our lunch and made for a quick getaway.

The Descent


The rest of the descent down was uneventful. Here’s some video I shot on the Bote Mountain Trail. (Yes. I realize I got it wrong in my commentary when I say that we’re on the Anthony Creek Trail.)


Altogether, it took us 7.5 hours to do this hike. It took us 4 hours to get to the summit of Thunderhead with a few, short breaks. We had lunch after that so it probably took us 2.5 to 3 hours to descend. I wish we had timed it a little better;
neither of us had a GPS unit so we’ll have to go with the stats published on of 13.9 miles and 3665 feet of ascent.

I’ve got some thoughts in retrospective about my training and the new gear I was testing on this. I’ll go ahead and queue up a couple of posts on those.

By the time I get this post published, it will be 19 days until we leave for Phoenix and our Grand Canyon Hike. That means only about two weeks of training time left so I’d better make the most of it. That also means I need to start getting organized on my food. I’ve got a meal plan that I feel pretty good about so I’ll post that shortly. I’ve also had my gear list figured out for a while so I’ll post that.

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One Response to Thunderhead Training Hike

  1. Pingback: Grand Canyon Backpacking Tour – Gear Retrospective | Bike Lane Ends

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