June 8, 2014

Good Ole Rocky Top

(Photograph courtesy of summitpost.org) 

We're all familiar with the song, Rocky Top.  Did you know there is an actual spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) for which the song is named? At an elevation of 5,441 feet, Rocky Top is one of three summits on Thunderhead Mountain. It is located on the Appalachian Trail and provides spectacular 360-degree views of Cades Cove and the surrounding mountains.  It is a popular destination for both day hikers and Appalachian Trail thru hikers. 

Hikers represented three state:  Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. 
Ten hikers from the Chattanooga Hiking Club set out on a 15.7-mile day hike to Rocky Top on a beautiful day in late May. There are many reasons to hike to Rocky Top including bragging rights for University of Tennessee fans as well as hikers attempting to hike the 900 miles of trails in the GSMNP. No matter the reason, it was the hike of a lifetime and one we won't soon forget. 

The hike began on the Anthony Creek Trail in Cades Cove. 
We began hiking at 9:15 a.m. after greasing ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray. Backpacks were loaded with plenty of water, Gatorade, food, and snacks. It was going to be another exhilarating day on the trail.   

Hike leader Wayne Chambers is a "900-miler" which means he has hiked all of the trails in the GSMNP. 

Wayne had selected a challenging "in and out" route for us. Below are the trails we hiked to the summit of Rocky Top:    

  • Anthony Creek to Russell Field - 1.6 miles
  • Russell Field to Appalachian Trail - 3.5 miles
  • Appalachian Trail to Spence Field - 2.9 miles
  • Spence Field to Rocky Top - 1.25 miles

The first trail intersection was at Anthony Creek and Russell Field Trails. 
Beautiful flame azaleas along the Russell Field Trail. 
Rest stop along the Russell Field Trail. (Photograph courtesy of Linda O'Neal.) 

After hiking 5.1 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, we arrived at the Russell Field Shelter on the Appalachian Trail, a good stopping place for lunch and spending a few minutes talking to Appalachian Trail thru hikers.  It was now time to regroup and continue our quest for Rocky Top.  (Photograph courtesy of Linda O'Neal.) 

The Appalachian Trail provided some beautiful flora and fauna and another 1,000 feet in elevation gain.  


Continuing on the Appalachian Trail to Spence Field.

 The view from Spence Field.

From Spence Field, it was another 1.25 strenuous miles to Rocky Top.   This was the toughest climb in my opinion. 

We made it and were rewarded with magnificient views of the Smoky Mountains.  (Photograph courtesy of Linda O'Neal.) 

It was time for photographs, singing, rest, and savoring the moment.  (Photograph courtesy of Linda O'Neal.) 

Another view from Rocky Top. (Photograph courtesy of Linda O'Neal.) 

With any hike to a grand summit, the descent is usually uneventful, but the return hike took a different route and included the following trails:

  • Rocky Top to Bote Mountain Trail - 1.25 miles
  • Bote Mountain Trail to Anthony Creek - 1.7 miles
  • Anthony Creek to trailhead - 3.5 miles

At 7:15 p.m., we arrived at the Anthony Creek trailhead with aching feet, sweaty clothes, and empty stomachs. That's ten hours of being on the trail! We removed our boots, changed into clean clothes, and headed for a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant. After celebrating our conquest, we parted company and headed for home with a ton of memories and wishing we were back on Rocky Top. 

The song Rocky Top was written in 1967 by Felice and Bouleaux Bryant, and here is a link to the lyrics.  


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