Last year a group of us did a few portions of the foothills trail in South and North Carolina. It was a fun trip, although a little cold and rainy in parts. Someone in our hiking group a few months back mentioned doing this piece again, and we said, “well shit, why not?”
Instead of filling up my blog with lots of pictures, feel free to watch the movie below, after you read the description. After all, I only have so much space on this site since I don’t pay for it, and pictures are taking up quite a bit of room, whereas links to videos are space-free!
Friday – Day 1
The six of us started out from Columbia SC and dropped a car off at Oconee State Park. From there we hit the Sloan Bridge access point and picked up a seventh member, leaving his car there. We piled into an overly large truck and headed around to the Bad Creek Reservoir trail access point. We cheated there: we only took water and snacks in little “day packs”, which was enough to get us the ten miles from the parking lot, over whitewater falls area and down to sloan bridge. I was upset at this point, because my FitBit evidently got a little squished in my pack and wasn’t working. There went my “work week challenge”. I figured walking 11 miles might put me near the top!
Upper Whitewater falls is pretty nice. Its just inside North Carolina from South Carolina, and is pretty impressive as the highest American waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.
The weather was overcast, and a fine fog and mist covered the valley, so the walk in was cool and the views were limited, and everything was damp. From the falls we headed over a ridge line and climbed pretty quickly. The nice thing was, once on top of the ridge, the ground was rather flat and even slightly downhill for a long way. Then it dropped pretty fast back down to highway 107 back in South Carolina. It was only 3pm, but we were done, thanks to the lack of backpacks and being fresh on the trail. Last time, this trip took longer, as it was the third day, and negotiating wet boulders in the rain with 25 pounds on your back and chafed thighs is painful and exhausting.
The fastest two hikers took the spare car from Sloan Bridge, and went and got the truck from Bad Creek with all of our gear. When the rest of us arrived, someone mentioned driving into Cashiers for a steak dinner. Those of us wanting a more pure nature experience (and who brought our own meat), scoffed at the idea, maybe because we didn’t think of that earlier.
We made camp less than a quarter mile in from the road, at a campsite barely large enough for the seven of us. Despite the damp, cool conditions, we were able to get a fire going, cook our food, and have a good time. I had taken frozen swordfish with me, which had mostly thawed out by this point.
My titanium plate and cat food can stove is the perfect thing to cook a piece of meat on, especially with some aluminum foil protecting the meat and plate. I filled the can with alcohol, and let one side cook until the stove went out. Flip the meat, fill the stove again, and cook the other side. Then it’s done. The fish was AWESOME. Slightly overcooked, the way I like it (not mushy inside like some restaurants do it, but cooked through to where you can pull off individual flakes and eat them), and seasoned nicely with a little old bay on either side. While the fish cooked, I got my FitBit fixed. I finally found something to open the back (my Tick Key tick remover fit perfectly). I used my emergency sewing needle to remove the battery, and bend out the battery prongs. It fixed the problem, and I put the thing back together. I was a bit disappointed I apparently left my little cooking knife at home, and somehow I lost my fire starter, which I make from dryer lint and wax.
After dinner and a little Chai Latte, we watched the fire dying and looked at the stars, and went to sleep. Hiker midnight is 9pm. Not only is it dark outside, but there’s not much else to do and we’re usually tired. It was colder than expected, down in the mid to low 40s, and the damp air helped hold in the chill. I didn’t want to get up in the morning, but we had a long way to go.
Saturday – Day 2
We had about 14 miles to walk today, and it started well enough with packing up. Cowboy had relit the fire (he sleeps outside, is usually the first one up, and has a thing with fire), and it was nice to get up and sit by the warmth and have breakfast before breaking down camp. Packing on the middle day of a three day trip is always a challenge. Nothing goes back exactly right, and you have to be careful because you need it all again. On the last day you can just jam it in and walk out.
While packing, Sunshine said, “Who the hell put some weird matches and a moldy cookie-looking thing in my pack?” I looked at it. She had my fire starters! Our packs were side by side next to a tree, and apparently I dropped them in the wrong pack.
Our first walk was to the Fish Hatchery road. While we waited on everyone to regroup, Jim asked, “Is anyone missing a knife?” and held up my black knife. I said it was mine, and he said, “I found it in my crocs”. I guess it fell out of my unzipped pack side pouch and wound up in his croc, while in the truck. What are the odds? I like that knife and would hate to lose it.
Several miles later, we had spread out, and unfortunately the fastest guy in the group didn’t know exactly where we stopped last year. We described the place and the approximate milage, and he was off. After trailing a stream for a bit, we went over and around a few mountains and finally came down along the mighty Chattooga River, which you may have seen in the movie “Deliverance”. Yes, it was set in West Virginia, but the river scenes were filmed right here between South Carolina and Georgia. Along the way we passed King’s Creek Falls, one of my favorites, and in the movie I made, you can see me standing at the base of where the false plunge into the stream.
On many hiking trips, I suffer from an affliction we call “vacation bowel”, where your body doesn’t want to go to the bathroom for some reason. This was not one of those trips. It being early spring, and walking along ridge lines, I was having trouble finding a suitable spot with enough cover and privacy to avoid an inadvertent show of an intimate sort. Thankfully we came upon a backwoods parking lot and trail access point with a pit toilet. I’ve never been so happy to see one.
If you’ve never used a pit toilet, count yourself lucky. Its one small step above digging a hole in the ground and pooping in it. Imagine a large concrete box in the ground with a shed built over it. Cut a hole in the concrete box as big around as a toilet seat and install a metal cone over it, just the right size for the toilet seat and lid. That’s it. The best way to use these things is to walk in, slightly lift the lid to make sure nothing nasty is on the seat, then back onto it. Do not, for the love of God, look down into the pit of Hell that is beneath you. Do your business and wipe, and don’t let the lid hit you on the ass on the way out. They are truly horrid things.
But, for all their bad points, you’re at least enclosed in a shed and not exposed to the world. And, it being cool and early spring, the smell wasn’t bad, and there were no bugs to speak of. August brings another whole level of awfulness to these things.
So back to the trail, and we were treated with some magnificent views along the Chattooga. You can almost point your camera anywhere and just take awesome pictures. After about 14 miles total, we come upon a perfect site. Sandy beach right beside the river, some giant washed-up logs to sit on, a fire ring already there, and plenty of trees for hammock hanging. Right next to us was the rushing river, with just enough rocks upstream to cause a nice roaring background to sleep to. Paradise.
Rudy claimed the spot right before a load of scouts downstream at our spot from last year could claim it for their own personal paintball war. Seriously, who packs in paintball guns? They had BAGS of paintballs with them. We set about making camp, taking pictures, gather firewood, and generally enjoying the awesomeness of the river itself.
Our fire attempt wasn’t quite as good as the previous night. The fire was almost dead by around nine. All the wood we found was either rotten or wet or too green to burn well. It sufficed for burning the day’s trash of food wrappers and such, but other than that it provided only a little heat and excitement.
However, what did provide some excitement was the Toadaly Awesome, Toadus Amoungus frog mating frenzy in the nearby pool in a sheltered rocky area by the river. The frogs were singing like crazy and didn’t care that the humans were walking among them with flash cameras and headlamps. You could walk right up on them and they were croaking and swimming around and mating right there within arms reach. It was crazy, they weren’t even afraid. We left the frogs alone to get their groove on, and went to bed.
Sunday – Day 3
I didn’t sleep well overnight. I’m not sure why not. The campsite was perfect, we were worn slap out, and the temperature was nice, not even really cold. But I didn’t go to sleep well until about 2am, and woke up at 545. I started packing inside the hammock and got up to pee and eat. By 700 most of us were done with our morning chores and some were walking out. I got as good a head start as I could, and wound up being third from last walking out of camp.
I’ve never spent the whole day walking alone. It was a new experience, and kind of interesting. I set my own pace, played around with taking pictures, stopped to filter water when I wanted, stopped at the falls, and had snacks where I wanted. It was really sort of nice to have the peace and quiet of the woods all to myself.
Until I had to poop again. Great. No bathrooms this time… it was time to man up and go like a bear. I found a decent spot up the hill off the trail behind a big ass pine tree and did what I had too.
Then I got lost. I picked probably the WORST spot to get off the trail, since the trail cut back on itself at this point. I tried my best, but couldn’t find the trail. Keeping the poop tree in site, I began exploring the best I could, trying the direction I THOUGHT the trail was in, but to no avail. I took out the GPS, and scrolled my little arrow over to a point where I knew I was on trail, and had it lead me back. I had to force my way through scratchy underbrush and up a hill I didn’t remember, but I came out on the trail, finally, and headed on my merry way. From now on I clip my bright orange bandanna to the tree right next to the trail when it’s time for a bathroom break, and pick a straight section instead of a point.
I saw a few people on the trail on the way out, most of them heading in or near road crossings, but I didn’t see any of our party the rest of the day, and finally got back to the parking lot. The fast guys had gone for the cars, and somehow David had passed me, so we waited on Sunshine to bring up the rear. Our hike had come to an end. I was tired, smelly, and my feet were hot and felt blistered (they weren’t), but 12 miles had gone by pretty quickly.
Next hike, Finish the darn foothills trail so I can get my Peregrine award!
My trail video – make sure you click on the HD version, which will take you to the vimeo site. But it’s better in HD. It’s even better on my computer, but Vimeo only lets me upload 500mb at a time, so you get the crappier version.