Finally, back to hiking…
It’s been a long while since I went hiking, and rightly so I guess. It was cold and rainy and wintery. Generally winter hiking is fine as long as you don’t have snow and ice to contend with on your way in and out, and as long as it isn’t going to freezing rain on you. Last winter was mild in South Carolina and I got away with more winter hikes. This winter has been brutal in comparison. No December or January hikes this time.
But, the stars finally aligned or whatever to produce a fabulous weather event. Blue skies, highs around 55-60, lows right at 30. Perfect “winter” hiking weather. Add to it a group of nine determined backpackers, and a loop supposedly consisting of 19 miles and 2800 feet of ups, and you have a great mix for a weekend.
So, we attempted this:
18.9 miles, 2800 feet of ups. Most of the trip along the Chattooga River. What could be difficult about it?
Well, I’m out of shape, for one. I haven’t done much serious hiking or anything since october, unless you count walking around Walt Disney World. Running on the treadmill has been a hit and miss, so it was with some anxiety that I loaded the backpack and set out on my trek across the state. One of my mistakes was shoe choice. I have these awesome open-sided sandal-like things (some people call them my “Jerusalem Cruisers”) that work well for my misshapen mutant toes (because I have big feet – and when you have big feet, bedposts and door frames reach out and try to rip them off). My other shoe choice are my Keens, which I should have worn, despite the fact they try to rub off my right pinky toe.
I met with some of our group at 7 and we made it to the trailhead by 1015, meeting the other three, for a total of 9 intrepid adventurers. My GPS was being a little stupid at this point, not wanting to find me. In fact, it wasn’t until an hour in the hike after I told it where I thought I was, that it finally locked on. Mental note – don’t drive two hundred miles and THEN switch it on.
So we head down the foothills trail, which really is down. we immediately begin losing elevation, which is generally what we have to do the first day.
Michelle brought her own folding stool, which was pretty nice. I knew I should have taken my hammock lounge chair… Left to right: Kim, Michelle, Todd and Carol.
Rudy hikes along in front of me. The funny thing was I started calling him Patrick. I don’t know why. I was thinking Todd was Rudy, and Rudy was Patrick. There was no Patrick… I’m not sure what happened.
I’m really glad to know that hang gliding isn’t allowed… Just when I was about to drag one through the woods for miles. This sign was right near the intersection of the Foothills and the Chattooga river trail. We headed on down to the river, and ran across a tent city to make the Occupy Wall Street people jealous. I’m not sure what the event was, but there were tents everywhere.
The wild and scenic Chattooga River. Finally. At this point, a few things happened. I found myself near the back of the pack, keeping up with who was last. Kim stuck with me, perhaps due to kindness or maybe we were both in about the same shape. I decided to get some more water, since mine was about out. I take out my Steripen and bottle, and try to sterilize my water. The blinking red light tells me that “hey dumbs, you should have changed the batteries!” I’m thinking, hey, this thing isn’t that old, I only got it… last Christmas. Oops.
Kim pulls out her water filter, we fill my bottle, and she packs her stuff up. At this point we realize her water bladder valve has come off, and her bladder is empty now. So she has to unpack everything again, fill her bladder, and then pack it all up for a second time. Funny thing was, I almost brought my filter instead of the Steripen… It was a last minute weight-saving decision that I only brought one.
It’s funny when you are driving on the interstate, you pass over a river and think, “Okay, next state!” like it’s no big deal. But here it was, we walked 6 miles, and There’s Georgia, right there. We can’t get to it, because the river is cold and wet and dangerous to cross, but there it is. I’m not sure I can convey the feeling in words, but it was strange, not being in a car, just looking over at another state as we walked along. I’m on a little point on a curve… I’m NOT in the middle of the river, even though it may look this way.
As we got closer to our destination for the night, we saw this big rock. This is NOT ellicott rock. Just a cool rock that looks like a big ass turtle. We passed up a campsite right off the river, hoping that the one nearest to Ellicot was unoccupied. As we got close, I became more and more concerned, because the trail was thin and bordered by steep inclines on both sides. No where to camp. Somewhere along this point I stumbled, and my knee began giving me issues, especially going down slope.
Looking up at camp from the small sandy beach. My hammock and rain tarp is covering a lot of the photo…I hung my bear bagging line up the trail from where we were, and discovered my knee was really starting to bug me on the walk back down to camp. I took some ibuprofen hoping that would help later.
Me and “Patrick” chop up a big log. He brought a folding camp saw to take out dead trees if necessary. Some of the dead trees were three feet in diameter, so his little saw would not have been much help. This log, however, was perfect for it. We cooked our food and sat around the campfire. One of the most interesting conversations was about eating people (no, not the good way). We talked about using pork rub and marinades and where the bacon might be. Very strange conversation. A few of us went down on the beach and looked up at the night sky. Orion was watching over us, and it was fun to check out the stars. There’s even an app for that.
Our fire sends up sparks. Enough wood was laid out for the morning, and people started going to bed. I made one final trip into the woods to relieve myself and hang my food bag, hoping not to have to get up, and then got into the hammock.
The first thing I noticed was that someone was still up. “Cowboy”, who got his trail name on this trip by “cowboy camping” (just laying on his ground cloth in a sleeping bag – no tarp or any roof) was dealing with the last of the fire. He turned in, and I felt my butt being cold. No matter what direction the wind is blowing at first, by bedtime it’s going right through the tarp lengthwise. I had to get up and tighten my under quilt and fix my CBS (Cold Butt Syndrome – for you non hammock people). That done I settled in to listen to music and play a few video games on my phone. I didn’t get very far before dropping the phone on my chest. I woke up at 1:30am and turned the music off, and slept until 4:30.
It was at this point that I realized our fire person Michelle, who had announced the previous evening that she would be up at 4:30 to re-light our fire, had failed in her promise. I also noted that I didn’t have to pee, which is odd. That told me I didn’t drink enough the day before. Finally Cowboy was up around 6, and I joined him, shivering. We were able to start the fire, and I went to collect bear bags. I got mine and a few others, and boiled enough water for cappuccino, grits and spiced cider.
We left later than I had hoped, partially because some people were lolly-gagging, and partially because it was cold and no one really wanted to leave the fire. But we had only done 11 out of 19 miles, so there was still a good bit left to go. I’m not sure how cold it got, but anything with condensation on it was cold and stiff and mildly frozen-acting.
People started leaving camp one by one when they got ready. Me, Kim, Carla and Todd were the last ones out. The first thing we had to do was 700 feet of ups. Going by the book description and the GPS reading from yesterday, it appeared that we were going to be done climbing pretty quickly. 2000 feet of ups out of 2800? Sounds great, the rest of the day should be pretty easy going… hahaha. Kim stands at the state line. Our little group of three ran up on this little post at the top of the hill. Nice excuse to rest!
The pine barrens were very pretty. The camera couldn’t go wide enough to get it, I should have done a panorama but I completely forgot about that. 200 feet of vertical gain from top to bottom, at least.
One of four stream crossings, providing ample opportunities for mis-steps. I felt what seemed like the beginning of a blister, and after removing my shoes for a wade across the creek, I barefooted it for maybe 3/4 of a mile. I couldn’t see a blister, but my ankle just wasn’t feeling right. My masochistic trip didn’t last long, however, and I was back in my shoes. After one stream crossing, Kim held back waiting for Carla to catch up, and I went on ahead and ran into Carol, Michelle and Rudy, who was sitting calmly on a log eating his smoked sausage and Chipotle Gouda with Ritz. Now thats a trail side snack…
Finally! after two long continuous climbs, I hit the top of a ridge, signaling to me that it was going to be down from here most of the last mile to the parking area. Carol was coming up fast, which was good, but I hadn’t seen the first four or the final three in quite a while. We made it back to the parking lot in little groups, and finally we were all there and ready to go.
Our final tallies are off. I’m missing about 2 miles off my GPS track. But even then, 5000 feet of ups seems really excessive over the 2880 we were promised. It didn’t FEEL like 5000 over two days. Kim’s GPS seemed to confirm it, however, her track showed somewhere around 5000 feet as well.
Our post hike photo. Wait, Where’s “Patrick”?
Actually, Rudy had to leave early. The rest of us continued to Dimitri’s, a wonderful little Italian place at the corner of Hwy 11 (The Cherokee Scenic Highway) and 14 near I-26. It looks like nothing from the outside, a little hole in the wall cinder block construction, but if you want good food and decent service, and a place that will accept smelly hikers, you’ve come to the right place.
We made it back to Columbia in great time. 92 minutes from Dimitri’s, straight down I-26, and we were back.
After some ibuprofen and heat on my knee, I was better for the most part. I’m sitting here editing this three days later, boiling my foot in my wife’s foot bath, with epson salts that smell like Vick’s Vap-O-Rub, hoping I don’t have future hiking issues. Returning to the foothills trail and doing another section is looking like a great start.