This past weekend I organized a hike to North Carolina. If you’ve been following the news at all you know that last year’s drought is pretty much a thing of the past, and rain has not been in short supply. In short, everything was hot, wet and lush.
See the stream down there? No, me either… Maybe it’s Twin Falls. More on that later…
The area chosen for the hike was the clawhammer mountain loop, found in a book on Backpacking Overnights in South Carolina. It seemed like a good place to go. I’ve been to the area a few times. Looking Glass Falls is right around the corner. Our group fell to three by the time Saturday rolled around, and I drove us up there. The parking area was nice enough, with four bathrooms (REAL bathrooms with flush toilets, not those awful pit latrine things. Our route was supposed to take us 14 miles around a loop, up to around 4000 feet.
The GPS track of our route more or less matched what the book said we would be doing, except for all the squiggles at the top. Those involved our search for the elusive Twin Falls.
First of all, I really wasn’t prepared for the bugs. I sprayed on some Deep Woods Off (the 40% DEET kind) before leaving the car, greasing myself up nicely. It had a slight effect. The bugs would come up and buzz around me, but they were hesitant to land.
The second thing I wasn’t prepared for was the HEAT. I’m thinking, “Oh – it’s the mountains, it will be cool.” We start walking into the bush at about 10:00. By 10:15 we are in the dark twisty uphills, pushing through vegetation like some Panamanian Army Corps; by 10:30 I’ve soaked by ‘do-rag’ bandana with sweat and it’s dripping off of me. It was approaching eighty degrees, which doesn’t sound bad, but there around the creeks and in the brush the humidity was so bad, sweat wouldn’t go anywhere.
We tended to spread out a little. Mark would disappear ahead of me, and Mike would disappear behind me. The world shortened to the six feet in front of me, step-step-step. As we got higher, there should have been some good views, but the plants got so thick there wasn’t much to see. Finally we broke out of the top and could see Looking Glass Rock to our west. The flies buzzing around the plants sounded scary, like hordes of angry bees, but they didn’t bother us, other than land on us because all the other free spots were taken. Mike gave us an impromptu geology lesson. I would explain what he said, but (although I took Rocks for Jocks in college…) I have no idea really what he said, and only understood about every third word.
Looking Glass Rock is back there somewhere. Damn pine tree.
Fifteen yards after the first view, it finally opened up. Surprise! The face of “Looking Glass Rock”. You can hike to the top, I just haven’t had the chance yet.
It’s amazing what you find when you stop to take a pee. One of the scarier events was as we walked along the trail, Mark said, “Don’t step in the Bear Poo.” Great, Bear Poo. On the trail. The same trail I’m now walking on. I’m not concerned about bear poo. I just want to know where the bear is. Mark said it was old. Not being a student of poo, I’ll take them on their word.
Although the blackberries at home are pretty much gone, the ones here in the woods at altitude are just coming in. These were tasty, and much appreciated since I left some of my trail snacks at home.
We were very disappointed to learn there would be no cash at the shelter. One of the stranger things we saw on this trip was all the mountain bikers. We’re huffing and puffing up hills and around switchbacks, stepping up rock ledges two feet high, and here come all these crazy fools down the damn thing on bikes. The we get up to where they came from, and find even more strenuous and dangerous-looking terrain.
My house for the night. Its a little weedy around. By this point it’s 3:00, and we all lie down for a brief hour nap. After that, we searched for “Twin Falls”. Twin falls became the joke of the trip. There is supposed to be a set of little falls. I have seen pictures. The book included the falls on the map, and showed some trails, but as they weren’t on our route, the trails weren’t marked either. We walked three miles extra around the place looking for them. We got within probably a quarter mile, but the quarter mile included a 500 foot drop, so we weren’t about to bushwhack it down the side of the mountain.
Mark readies his TarpTent. We got back to the shelter and finished with camp chores, and sat and ate. I know – you’re asking, “Why not just sleep in the shelter?” Mice tend to enjoy the shelter, and I like staying in the tent. The shelter is a good backup in case you have an unanticipated rain-related gear failure. There is also the likelihood that you will set up in the shelter and other people will want to come in and share. No thanks. I like to spread out, so when the snoring symphony in C Minor begins, I’m far enough away that I don’t start wondering how to make a convincing “accident”.
Our view in the morning whilst cooking breakfast. I slept rather well overnight. Nothing tried to eat us, and I woke up just a few times to turn over and adjust the covers for temperature. I never got cold, just a little cool here and there, which was quickly remedied. No rain either, thank goodness. It was much cooler in the morning, and we were packed and off by 8:30.
I loved this fungus. It looked like sponges growing along the side of the trail, where the trail wasn’t covered with poison ivy or stinging nettles.
From Clawhammer mountain. If you look close in the distance you can see Looking Glass Rock. The little peak this side of the rock, to the left of it’s hump, was our other viewpoint. It was pretty amazing to me we walked around the whole valley between here and there.
A view without Mark’s hat.
Finally at the bottom at one point before leaving – this view was actaully only about two miles from the end. WordPress likes to mix stuff up.
We spent Sunday walking down from Clawhammer. It was mostly down from the dry ridge tops into the watery hollows and dense forests. All morning along the ridge we had a cool breeze chilling the sweat off our brows. Once down into the valley, the ridges blocked the wind, and it was time to sweat again.
Me pointing something out, at our first overlook.
Mike on Clawhammer
Two good views of Mr. No Shoulders the Timber Rattler. He did NOT want to move off the trail. We had to go around off the side. Thankfully at this point it was still cool and early, and he was full. He didn’t move much, other than to shake his rattles at us.
The final push out was a strenuous 900 foot hike up the last ridge and back down, which took a lot out of all of us. By the time we got back to the car we were hot, smelly and ready for lunch. This would be a great place in early spring or late fall, or even during a light winter. The bugs, plants, heat, and obstructed views made this one tough, but there were parts I really enjoyed. The long unbroken trail sections (sometimes for over a mile) made it easy to spread out and enjoy the hike at your own place. You didn’t always have to be up someone’s butt for fear of getting lost. Water was plentiful for the most part, although I ran out just before the shelter. It was so hot I drank two liters on the way up over 6 miles.
Now – for the stats:
From the GPS software. I let the GPS run the whole time we were hiking. It did very well on one set of batteries. Overall hike length, including the side trip to look for the falls was 17.5 miles. Total ups… 5811 feet! For me that was incredible. I walked a MILE up into the air. That’s like walking up the Empire State Buildings stairs from top to bottom over five times. I know that for a lot of hikers that’s not a big deal, to me it was pretty amazing.
Time to go take some Skelaxin and Ibuprofen.