Well, I would walk eighteen or nineteen miles, five hundred might be a stretch. That would take a while. Over the weekend I went on a hike I had organized, at the Gorges State Park in North Carolina. There were only three of us total, which made it easy to ride up in one car.

Getting ready to go

At the state park, we parked on Frozen Creek Road access, and filled out the mandatory self registration. There was another group of people that left ahead of us with a big bloodhound-looking dog. As we headed up into the woods we passed a second group of twenty-somethings coming out, and those would be the only people we saw in the park.

Registration and maps

We went up for quite a bit, and then went left onto Cane Break trail. It wound around and down into the gorges and finally reached the headwaters of Lake Jocassee.

One of many of these stone cairns we saw along the trails.

Looking down into a gorge.

Stopping for a look around.

The “trail” which is really a forest service road.

Trailside waterfall… maybe five feet high.

At the intersection – Cane Break and Foothills Trail

We stopped and had lunch on the edge of a creek feeding into the lake, and found the Bloodhound Gang from the parking lot. This was apparently as far as they were going. After a brief confusing moment from out directions, we turned around and got going the right way west on the Foothills Trail.

Not the bridge we were supposed to cross.

Water under the bridge

The Foothills Trail is a 77 mile trail through South and North Carolina along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. It normally takes a week to walk the whole thing. We were only doing four miles of it. It was definitely a different style trail. The state park trail was an old forest service road. Wide, gravelly, and generally not too difficult or twisty; the sort of thing you would drive a 4WD vehicle on. The Foothills Trail is a hiking path only. We nicknamed it the Footstairs trail for all the little wood steps in the soil leading up and down the sides of steep hills.

Looking up the creek by the little bridge.

The suspension bridge we were supposed to cross… much larger!

The climb out of the lake was one of the toughest of the trip. It was up up up forever, gaining back the elevation we had lost all day, in the space of a mile. At the end of the climb we were all sweating, tired and needed refreshments.

View from the bridge – Lake Jocassee Headwaters

View upstream

Jim coming down the “Foot Stairs Trail”

We continued around the trail and up and down the hills and along the ridge line until we left the park boundaries. There we had a confusing moment. We were supposed to avoid the Auger Hole trail, and go on along the Foothills Trail for another mile to camp.

What are the odds of this happening? One tree falls on an old stump and stops.

Going around the bend on the way to camp

Rock overhang

We didn’t see the Auger Hole trail, and since we had to go down the Foothills Trail anyway, we just kept going. We went about a half mile down into a gorge, and found a campsite. It was right next to a small creek in a clearing, with a fire ring. All day long we had taken it easy with walking, thinking we had plenty of time. It turned out to be longer than we thought, and when we found the empty site, we decided that was camp, no matter where camp was supposed to be. GPS coverage sucked at this point, and it couldn’t find us.

David setting up the stove

After setting up tents, we started gathering firewood and preparing the evening meal. David had his Cat-Can stove and windscreen, which worked rather well. Jim had a Jetboil system, which I have seen before. They are fast and efficient, but a little heavy. I went middle-of-the-road this time and brought my Snow Peak Giga Power and titanium mug. I had packed myself a special woods treat, two brown-n-serve rolls and my roll-cooker system, which goes in the titanium mug, turning the mug into a miniature oven. It took a pack of rolls to perfect the system.

Yes! Finally…. I made brown warm crusty rolls in the WOODS. Add some “butter” and any meal is all the better. The RollCooker 4000 system is a success, and weighs less than a nickel.

We make fire!

Hoping the big ass dead trees (“widowmakers”) don’t fall on us overnight.

The campsite came with running water. The hot water wasn’t working…

After the food was consumed and the rest of it packed into the bear canister, We stirred up a fire. It took a while, but finally we had a decent fire going, and we waited for dark to settle in. It didn’t take long, and we tried to stay up to a decent hour, so we weren’t all ready to get up at four in the morning. So by 8:30 we were in bed.

Jim’s Tarptent… these look pretty nice.

My hammock setup… complete with accessory bags all over the place.

My hammock may not save on weight, but it sure is nice to be off the ground. And the lines provide a convenient place to hang all my crap. If I could ever get organized maybe I wouldn’t need to hang stuff all over the place. The blue blob under the hammock is my pack in it’s rain cover.

Breakfast time!

Breakfast wasn’t nearly as fun as supper. With no fire and colder air, it was time to eat, pack and head out. It was going to be a shorter day, but with lots of up.Thankfully fighting my underquilt and my sleeping bag back into their sacks warmed me up.

Mushrooms on my hammock hanging tree.

 

Our camp view. Pretty impressive hill next door.

There we are!

After the half mile walk out of camp back up to the sign, we find the park and begin our 500 foot climb in half a mile, which is a pretty steep grade. Then we spent most of the rest of the day going up, up to 800 feet up in a single stretch. The views got pretty nice, and we knew it was coming from before the trip, but the sheer amount of up was really surprising to me.

View from the sign area.

David looks over the hills

Looking north east?

Strange tree… most of them were very straight and vertical…

More pretty views before slogging back down into the valley to start all the ups over again.

 

The resiliency of nature is sometimes very impressive. This pine clings to the side of the cliff.

Same pine tree – the root system is incredible.

 

an unidentified creek

Four miles from the car we had to cross two creeks – Bearwallow, and Toxaway. The first was narrow and swift, the other was wider and swift, both below knee level. Crossing the river was a little scary, but the rangers had said it wouldn’t be a problem. These two crossings were the only places in the park with “warning” signs.

After crossing bear wallow creek

 

Upstream

After crossing Toxaway river. The sun was shining off the water really hard, so pictures were hard to take.

Upstream from our crossing.

So our trip came to an end. A couple more miles of gentle punishing up, and then a harsh downhill slog to the cars. My thighs have just forgiven me, a day later. But I feel better, and had a great time. I’m kind of glad it was fall and the cool weather made it comfortable, but this is probably my last overnight until spring. The idea of waking up to frozen water bottles does not appeal to me, and due to family and work requirements, I don’t think I’ll have time for another weekend trip. So I must look forward to March and April.

This was my first time organizing a trip, and thanks to David and Jim for putting up with me…