My friend Matt and I started out from my house in South Central IN at 5 AM the morning after Thanksgiving. My wife had decided to sit out our annual Thanksgiving trip to spend a rare weekend alone at home. We made a quick stop in Bloomington to pick up another friend –Justin— and we were on our way. We made it to Cades Cove by mid-afternoon, got our permits and started hiking up the Anthony Creek Trail. The cove was hopping. The picnic area was nearly full and we encountered at least a couple of dozen hikers during the first ½ mile. It was nice to see so many people enjoying such a beautiful day in the woods. Our plan for the weekend was short mileage and plenty of relaxing in the woods. The sky was clear and the temperature at the trailhead was in the mid-forties. After the first couple of creek crossings, the crowds thinned out and we only saw two more people before the intersection with the Russell Field/Leadbetter Ridge Trail. The path to this point climbed fairly gently and all of the creek crossings had bridges or footlogs. We turned onto the Russell Field Trail and the path steepened a bit until we crossed the Left Prong of Anthony creek twice and arrived at Campsite 10. The site is nicely situated near the creek, but there were not many level spots for tents and the best one was directly under the food hang cables. The temperature dropped quickly as the sun went down. We ate, made a small fire and enjoyed a pleasant evening with bright moonlight.
I woke up to a surprise as there was a new tent in the campsite. Three people had arrived and set up quietly after I had fallen asleep! The temperature was in the low 20s as we broke camp but it warmed up quickly as the sun came up. The climb up from Campsite 10 was steeper and if the ground had not been partially frozen, the mud would have been deep. By the time we reached the Russell Field Shelter it had warmed up nicely and we stopped and chatted with some horse riders who had passed us on the way up. The rest of the walk to Spence Field was pleasant. There was a fair dusting of snow on the northwest facing hillsides and we did not encounter any more people until we reached the shelter at Spence Field. We spent the afternoon exploring the area around the Spence Field Shelter and enjoying the fabulous weather. As the sun set we had supper, and startled a bear who was bedded down about 50 yards below the composting privy. After sunset we noticed headlamps on the ridge descending from Thunderhead Mt. sure enough at about 8:30 PM, 3 guys who had started out at Tremont stumbled into the shelter. They looked pretty beat up, but were in good spirits. After going to bed, the bear we heard earlier came into camp to investigate. He spent about an hour rooting around under the food hang wires and eventually left disappointed.
Days Three & Four
On the morning of day three we ate a leisurely breakfast, re-hung our packs and hiked up Thunderhead Mountain. There was a little haze but the views were still spectacular. We had the trail and the summits of Rocky top and Thunderhead to ourselves. In fact we did not see anyone until late in the afternoon. After spending some time on Rocky Top and taking some photos, we headed back to the Spence Field Shelter, grabbed our packs and began descending down the Bote Mountain Trail toward Anthony Creek. As we reached the Anthony Creek Trail intersection, a light drizzle began to fall. We debated heading back to the car as the barometer was falling and heavier rain was forecast for the following morning. We decided to stick with our plans and stay at Campsite #10, and get one more night in the woods. The campsite was quite nice and shortly after we got set up the sun came back out. The temperature only dropped into the mid-forties overnight and we had a very pleasant evening. About 3:30 AM the rain started in earnest. We broke camp in a driving rain and began hiking out shortly after sunrise. The rain stopped as we reached the Cades Cove parking lot. It was a great trip –my first time backpacking in the park and I look forward to coming back –possibly for a late winter trip. I’ve never seen the park with snowcover.