Tale of Two Thompsons

Mini Backpacking Trip – Frozen Head State Park

As a way to celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary and also for just a fun, last minute overnighter, we went on a mini backpacking trip in Frozen Head State Park.

We knew about Frozen Head from the famous Barkley Marathons documentary (totally watch this on Netflix if you haven’t already) but had never been hiking or camping there before. The park is only an hour from where we live and a friend recommended we camp at a site with a beautiful view of the Cumberland Mountains where she had camped before.

Daniel and I purchased some backpacking gear at the REI garage sale last year, so we were eager to put it to use and get an idea of what else we would need for future backpacking trips.

We arrived at Frozen Head early Saturday afternoon and stopped in the visitor’s center to check in. The staff was friendly and helpful and gave us a park map that came in handy throughout the trip.

From there, we drove up a short way to the trailhead. The hike to the campsite was only a smidge over two miles. It was my first time carrying a loaded pack and it took a second to get my balance while hoisting myself up and over fallen trees along the trail.

During our hike we only saw a few people along the trail. It was a nice change of pace from the almost-always busy trails of the Smoky Mountains.

Soon enough, we spotted our campsite marker and saw that the site was set off the trail on top of a rocky peninsula. As far as backcountry sites go, I was very pleased with the amenities. There were several flat areas to set up our tent, a fire ring surrounded by some fallen tree trunks that someone had corralled for seating, and a beautiful overlook that provided the perfect spot to watch the sun sink behind the mountains.




We set up our tent and ENOs and spent the rest of the afternoon gathering firewood, exploring the underbelly of the “peninsula” and soaking up the sun in our hammocks.











After the sun set, we started a fire and Daniel boiled some water on his Pocket Rocket for our dinner and tea.





We sat by the fire until our firewood supply dwindled. By now, we could feel a drastic change in temperature from earlier in the day. The wind blew up some occasional harsh gusts, and since our site was perched on top of this rocky overlook, we weren’t very well protected from it.


Once the fire was out, we huddled in our sleeping bags. We tossed and turned and attempted to fall asleep, but the moon was so bright that night and I was growing increasingly frigid in my sleeping bag. I looked over at Daniel who, for the most part, seemed to be warm and somewhat comfortable. By this point, my feet were freezing, and my butt pressed up against the back of the sleeping back was getting rather chilly as well. I burrowed myself way down in my sleeping bag and curled up in the fetal position. I could only keep my head tucked into my sleeping bag for a short amount of time because it got too hot to breathe, so I had to come up for air, like a whale.

I couldn’t handle the cold anymore, so I turned to face Daniel and starred wide-eyed at his peaceful, sleeping silhouette. I was hoping my dagger-like gaze would magically wake him so that he would see me shivering and have pity on me. He did indeed wake up to my shivering and demanded we switch sleeping bags (We didn’t realize it at the time, but his Big Agnes sleeping bag remains toasty all the way down to 20 degrees. Mine is only good down to 37 degrees. We suspect it got into the mid-20s that night, which we did not anticipate).

The next morning, we discovered our toes had succumbed to frostbite. Just kidding! 🙂 They were really freaking cold, however. We quickly scarfed down some oatmeal and gathered our things back into our packs. We had planned to hike to the lookout tower that morning but decided against it since we only got 2-3 hours of sleep that night.

Next time we go backpacking in March we will better prepare for unexpected cold nights, or invest in another sleeping bag that stays cozy down to 20 degrees like the Big Agnes.

Despite our restless night and frozen limbs, we thoroughly enjoyed the campsite and our first mini backpacking trip together!

Backpacking gear we recommend:

Nemo Hornet Two Person Tent

Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad

Big Agnes Upper Slide SL 20 Sleeping Bag

Pocket Rocket Stove

Kelty Redcloud 90 backpack

Kelty Redcloud 110 backpack

We purchased most of our gear at our local REI garage sale (with the exception of some items we received as birthday and Christmas gifts) where prices are marked down significantly. Backpacking gear is definitely an investment, but you can save on some pricier items by snagging them at the garage sale!

The next item on our list is a water purifier for multi-night trips. Have any suggestions for us?


Happy camping!

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