Day 1 - Cades Cove to Thunderhead Mtn (W4T/SU-009) to Spence Field Shelter - 8.75 miles, 4240’ EG, 1320’ EL
We were originally planning to hike back out to the other end of Cades Cove, but due to a bridge replacement project on Forge Creek Road blocking any access we decided to hike out to the Twentymile Ranger Station nstead. I met my buddy Scott - KW4JM at the Twentymile Ranger Station where we left his car and we proceeded to drive the infamous Tale of the Dragon (318 curves in 11 miles) around the west end of the park. It was early on a Wednesday morning so we didn’t really slow any sports cars or motorcycles down. Here’s a picture of a previous trip that definitely didn’t set any speed records!
High Speed Run on the Tail of the Dragon
When we got to a highpoint on the Foothills parkway, we talked to our other companion, Dean - K2JB on 2 meters. He had already started hiking and told us to go to the overflow parking lot, turn and park behind him. The Cades Cove loop road is closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays so people can walk or ride bicycles through the valley in peace. When we got there at 9:30 there were no more parking spots available and they were turning people away. Dean’s truck was right there at the front of the parking lot and I told the ranger that I was going to park right behind that truck. She said “Oh, you are the other ham radio guys” and let us double park. We were so thankful that Dean had gotten there in the early morning and we didn’t have to hunt for parking.
Cades Cove Parking
We started hiking up the Anthony Creek trail, stopping at campsite 9 for a break and to tank up on water. The gradient picks up a bit after there and doesn’t get any better when you take a right on the Bote Mtn trail.
Bridge Construction on Anthony Creek Trail
Campsite 9 Water Source
We finally got a little bit of a breather when we hit the Appalachian Trail. We turned northbound on the AT and headed towards Thunderhead Mtn. Everybody knows (Good Ol’) Rocky Top, but Thunderhead is actually the high point on the ridgeline. But, you are basically standing in a rhododendron thicket with no views so it is understanding why Rocky Top is the more popular destination. Just before we started the final climb to Rocky Top, there was a bear foraging right beside the trail. He quickly scurried away down the ridge 50’ or so and hung out there while we passed.
Finally on the AT
After meeting Dean on Thunderhead, Scott and I borrowed his antenna that was already strung up and we proceeded to make many contacts. Yeah, I know, it is kinda geeky but it get’s us out and about! On the way down, we ran into a large tom turkey gobbling away. I screwed up the video that I tried to take of him gobbling, but I got a decent picture of him at least.
Dean-K2JB on W4T/SU-009 - Thunderhead Mtn
Trillium on W4T/SU-009 - Thunderhead Mtn
Wild Tom Turkey
The shelter at Spence Field was reasonably busy, but with it still being thru-hiker season and the relaxation of the rules for camping outside of shelters due to COVID most of the campers were spread out around the shelter in tents and hammocks. I wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t for the changes due to COVID and I have been trying to take advantage of that while it lasts. I would be miserable sleeping in a shelter yet feel totally rejuvenated after a night in the hammock. At the end of the day I wonder if my bad knee will make it another day or if I will have to bail out, but I wake up the next morning ready to go. Before I went to bed, it got pretty breezy and I did deploy the trap and used the pole mods. Overnight temps each night probably got down into the low 50s and my 40 degree quilts were really too much so a bit of a breeze helped a bit too.
Spence Field Shelter
Camp at Spence Field Shelter