We had decided on a different hike for New Year's Day--a hike that would get us new miles, but without Jennifer being with us which we weren't thrilled with. However, I awoke with a nagging feeling that the two water crossings on the trail we had picked might not be smart on a day as cold as this one, especially since they were 6+ miles from the car and we've had a lot of rain and snow lately. So at 5:30 a.m., we decided to change our course and hike up to the Appalachian Trial to Rocky Top, something that had been on my Bucket List for a long time. Oh, I cannot express how glad I am that we did that!
We parked the car at the trailhead for Lead Cove and began the climb up to one of the most spectacular views in the park. I had missed this view last summer when I was unable, because of my knee, to go on the Appalachian Trail multi-day backpacking trip. But today, I would finally stand on Rocky Top!!!
We actually got to the trailhead before daylight and hiked for a very short period of time with our headlamps on. By the time daylight had fully established itself, there was evidence of the snows that had occurred in the Park on previous days--just enough to be pretty. Lead Cove eventually intersected with Bote Mountain Trail and I began ascending on a trail that I had not-so-fond memories of from a previous summertime hike. Bote Mountain is a killer in hot weather for multiple reasons. I remember no views due to leaf cover on the trees, gnats and other biting bugs due to the heat, and lots of sweating due to the steep incline. Bote Mountain is also a rocky trail which makes all of that more difficult to deal with. None of these aspects were true on a New Year's Day hike though, except for the fact that the elevation change was still just as tough. There were nice views on both Lead Cove and Bote Mountain during the dead of winter and sweating was minimal although the quads and glutes still burned due to the incline. That last mile of Bote Mountain as you know it's reaching up for the Appalachian Trail is still a tough bit of trail!
Once we reached the AT, I actually thought the climb was over, but oh boy, was I wrong! There is some significant "roll" as the AT moves south toward Thunderhead Mountain. And during every step of the down hill stretches, you knew you would have to turn around and climb all that distance again before reaching the goal for the day. This is a tough hike!
As we struggled to reach Rocky Top, on that final ascent, Kirsten, who had been on the summer AT trip that I had missed, told me NOT to turn around yet. Once I reached the "sweet spot" and she said it was time, I turned around to the MOST glorious site of my life! I almost cried, it was so breathtakingly beautiful! This was one of those spiritual moments that I get sometimes in my mountains--the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys simply proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a Mighty Creator at work in the world and in our lives.
I can think of no better way to have spent the first day of 2015. Here's to a great year!
How did you start your New Year in the mountains? What hikes do you have on your "bucket list"? Please leave a comment below to tell us about your most special times (past, present, or future) on the trail.