Day 3 began a bit earlier than the other two… at 7:15 a.m. the last of the torrential downpours began and we were already awake, so we decided to have some tea and coffee along with a snack and get off the mountain, especially since we didn’t know what the weather had in store for us!
Elise and I set out from Russell Field at 7:50 a.m. and began making the trek in some light rain. After about 20 minutes the rain finally let up. The views from the AT were nonexistent on Sunday. At about 5300 feet, we had nothing around us except for the mist the Smokies are famous for. The stretch from Russell to Spence Field was easier after resting all night and definitely made for an enjoyable walk. We made it the 3 miles to Bote Mountain Trail in 55 minutes and it was truly the ego boost we needed after the hard second day we’d had. After a small celebration of our awesomeness, we set off down Bote Mountain Trail.
Bote Mountain Trail is an old road built in the 1800s and is truly in wonderful shape for about 75% of the trail. It’s definitely worn in with the ridges around you at least waist high from years of people herding cattle to the balds in the days before the park. The run off system for the top part of the trail is also in really excellent condition, making the rocks and mud almost bearable in the nasty weather. We reached 1.7 miles at the Anthony Creek Trail very quickly and kept on moving on down. From there, it was 1.2 miles to the Lead Cove Trail and what is normally a pretty amazing view of Defeat Ridge and Rocky Top. Today, however, there were no views to be had. The sun was starting to peek through a little bit and it was about 10:05 a.m. I’d hiked the section of Bote Mountain from here to Finely Cane Trail before and I knew the real fun was about to begin. This stretch of Bote Mountain is nice, fairly level for about 1 mile. In the 2.5 miles to Finely Cane, however, the trail begins a good downhill section with rocks as far as the eye can see (and usually further ahead than you can see is a safe bet as well!) This section of the trail started to take it’s toll on our feet and our balance. We did lots of tripping and stumbling with a bit of cursing as well :) I had remembered that this section of trail plays tricks on the mind as well. Every time you come around a curve you think “oh I bet the trailhead is right up there.” A safe bet for me was to give it 2-3 more curves.
After reaching the Finely Cane Trail at 11:15 Elise and I did some celebrating. We’d made it down from Russell Field so quickly that we knew we’d be out by 12 p.m. Well, noon couldn’t come fast enough for us after those rocks! Luckily, from here on out we’d have smooth trail and it’d go quickly. We reached the West Prong Trailhead in 0.3 miles and booked it on down the trail. The remaining part of Bote Mountain from this point is a short and easy 1.2 miles on a very gentle, very smooth roadbed. Honestly, it was nice to not have the rocks, but the smoothness of the trail was really beginning to make my feet ache. I guess I was so used to the unsteadiness of the rocks that it was bizarre not having to watch the ground.
About 0.75 miles from the terminus of the trail, I saw a close to 40-pound bear cub leap across the trail. After calling out to it a few times and making sure we didn’t hear or see a momma bear around, we continued quickly down to the end of the trail. We heard the road at nearly the same moment it became visible. All of a sudden you see cars whizzing by and a trail sign. I yelled out “I SEE THE ROAD!!” and we were yelling and skipping! It was a short 200 feet or so back to the parking lot at School House Gap where we’d left Elise’s car on Friday morning. When we reached the car at exactly 11:42 a.m., the sun came out and the sky turned blue.
After we’d reached the parking lot, people were pulling in wearing church clothes and carrying bags and bags of fast food. We cleaned ourselves up and headed on home after a wonderful and ass-kicking weekend of hiking in the Smokies. We’d hiked 10.9 miles on that last day, bringing our total to close to 43 miles for the weekend.