Not for being that kind of special, mind you. But I do get an award. This weekend I punished my body in new and exciting ways. And, I had to take a dump in the woods. More on that later. I know you cant wait.
As a long time follower of mine, you should know that I have been working on hiking the Foothills Trail in sections. The Foothills Trail, for those of you with ADHD or other blogs to read, is a 77 mile (they claim, I think its more like 98, but they just don’t want to scare you) trail that runs from Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, up into North Carolina, and then back down along the Chattooga River (have you seen “Deliverance”?) and south to the Oconee State Park in South Carolina. If you hike the whole thing and join the Foothills Trail Conference, you can get the “Peregrine Award”.
This weekend, I finally finished. I hiked the Chattooga section in the spring of 2014, and intended to do the middle section right afterwards, which I didn’t get to do. In November of 2014 we hiked overnight from Sassafras mountain to Table Rock State Park.
The Chattooga River section was so popular in spring of 2014, our meetup group wanted to do it again, so we set up two trips in 2015: Oconee to Bad Creek Access (about 33 miles, a lot of it along the Chattooga River) in March, and Bad Creek to Laurel Valley in April. The Chattooga River section is still my favorite, and that section went off without a problem in March 2015.
See it here:
For medical reasons I had to delay the middle section again, and finally on the first of May, 2015, we started off on a three day journey to conquer the Foothills Trail.
I had ordered a new piece of gear for the trip. A lot of people like bringing camp chairs or pads to sit on logs. The pads are okay and the chairs are often sort of heavy or bulky. I wanted something comfortable yet light. I happened across a guy on Facebook that makes hiking gear out of tie-dyed nylon, and bought a Hammock Chair. Its light, not very bulky, and uses the trees in the woods to hold it up. It can be set up and taken down in less than five minutes, even quicker if you just jam the thing in your pack without trying to make it all neat.
With perfect weather for hiking in the south forecast all weekend, including 0% chance of rain and temperatures ranging from a low of 45 to a high of 79, we were all looking forward to it.
Friday – May 1:
The group of us met at our usual spot, divided into two cars, and drove up to the Bad Creek Reservoir in the upstate of South Carolina. After we dropped the first car, we drove around to the Laurel Valley access area, a little parking lot just off of Highway 178, and left the other car. After a quick gear check, we headed into the woods.
The bugs were about what I expected, but they really didn’t bother us too much. My big fear was ticks, but I had treated my clothes with permethrin which is supposed to kill them if they get on you. The weather was nice and cool. I found a surprise GeoCache right along the side of the trail, and logged it.
Our lunch stop went rather well. I pulled out the hammock chair for the first time, and strung it up, so I could relax and eat lunch. It worked surprisingly well, and I didn’t fall off or anything. At this point, four other people showed up on the trail, and told us they were from Augusta, and were doing the same route we were. After the lunch break we headed off and I made a tactical error. I tried keeping up with the faster guys in front of me. Thomas, Jim, and Paul all hike faster than me, despite Paul’s usual statement of “I’m going to take it easy today and take lots of pictures”. Paul takes phenomenal pictures using a small camera, but he’s still ahead of me most of the time. Me and Kim were at the back of the group. After several miles we ran into Virginia Hawkins falls, stopped for a rest and to look at the falls. The rest of the day I tried to take it a little easier, but my over exertion already put me at a disadvantage, and I think it made me a bit dehydrated.
After the falls we continued on to Rock Creek. My original intent was to stop for the night at Rock Creek campsite, which is just on the South Carolina state line of the Foothills Trail. In the morning we were going to tackle “heartbreak ridge” and go on around to Bear Camp River. The problem was, we had about three hours of daylight left, and the three guys in front really wanted to get heartbreak ridge behind them. So, Kim and I rested for a minute at Rock Creek (which was where the Augusta guys also intended to stop, I think – so it was good that we went on) and then headed up the hill.
“Heartbreak Ridge” is named that way for a reason. There are over 300 wooden steps on the northern slope, simple 4×4 posts about 18″ wide held in place across the trail with rebar, because the slope is steep and they help with erosion. It takes more than 300 physical steps to go up the slope, that’s just the wooden ones. We were coming up from the south side, with had a heck of a lot of steps. As soon as we thought it was over with, we would round a bend, or top a hill and there would be a downhill and then more up. We finally reached the top, where a wooden bench was constructed. I couldn’t go on, and Kim headed on down. I rested, drank some water, and ate a snack, then headed down the 300 steps to Lake Jocassee. I stopped to filter water.
Normally I am not very bee friendly. I tend to back away from them or swish something at them so they will move on. But sitting on a little wooden bridge across a creek at the lakeside drinking water, a bee landed on my knee. I was so exhausted I couldn’t freak out or back away. So I watched him. He crawled around on my knee and I felt a tickling sensation, maybe from it walking on my leg hairs or sucking up sweat beads, I don’t know. But it did what it wanted and flew off. I walked half dead into camp and set my stuff up. I ate and the rested in my hammock chair for a little bit before going to Sleep. We were right by the Toxaway River in North Carolina, 14 miles down.
Day 2 – May 2.
Morning comes early on spring hikes, and around 6am we were up and eating, and packing up. I was soon thankful we had Heartbreak Ridge behind us. We crossed the Toxaway River bridge, and would spend the next 5 miles in the Gorges State Park. Our first mile was along the shores of Lake Jocasee, and then up another ridge equally as high as Heartbreak, but without all the wooden steps. Now 700 feet above the lake, the remainder of the day was spent going up and down ridges and valleys, and winding through the back woods.
We spread out again, with Thomas and Paul once again taking the lead, with Me, Jim and Kim in the back. With instructions to stop at Hilliard Falls, We only saw the front two at break stops. It is good to stop and see each other during certain points of the day – as it makes sure everyone is progressing, and the people in front get to rest for a while. Our lunch stop was at Bear Creek, where I had camped a few years back on a Gorges State Park Loop, which was good timing since a bee got stuck in my shirt and stung me three different times before I could get him out.
In general the second day was more difficult, with a lot more ups and downs than the first day, so by the time we were around 13 miles in, and reached Hilliard Falls, we were done for the day. It was only around 5pm, so we took our time setting up camp, went to the falls and back, and I spent a LOT of time just lounging around in my hammock chair. It swings with the slightest input, even laying on your side and breathing will set it in motion.
It finally got dark enough to get in the tent and relax. I hadn’t had a cell signal in two days, although I tried a few times on ridge lines. I wanted to send a message home saying I was alive, but it would have to wait. I didn’t even listen to music or anything, just went to sleep.
Day 3 – The mystery day
I had my little hammock tarp set up in “porch mode” – that is, instead of being tent shaped, I had tied it off so it was relatively flat across the top. At 6am I looked out through the netting and saw Thomas up and around and getting a fire going. He said during the night something had run through camp, and even moved his pack a little. Kim would later get up and say something had knocked her trekking poles over. They were convinced it was a raccoon or something a little larger. I’m thinking Sasquatch, despite not hearing any howls or wood knocks, or having any other evidence at all.
The final day of a trip is sort of a relief. On other mornings, you have to pack up carefully, knowing you will be using all your stuff again. On the last morning though, you’re free to just jam stuff in however you want, as long as whatever you might use (like food, water filter and rain jacket) wind up on top.
Today was the hardest day of all. The whole day we were either going up forever, or going down steep inclines to rivers. Steep downs are just as bad as steep ups, since you are wearing 20-30 pounds on your back and trying not to fall over.
It was only 6 miles out, but took just over 3 hours. I made sure to drink lots of water and rest breaks. After thinking that I was getting out of the trip without having to take a real “bathroom break” in the woods, my body treated me to that lovely event pretty early in the morning. This got me behind everyone else. I stopped to make howls in the woods every so often. I never heard a ‘Squatch, but at one point I heard Kim. I rushed to catch up to the group as we went down to the Thompson River, but evidently she thought I was ahead of her, and rushed ahead to catch up to me. So we arrived exhausted at the river side camping area where Thomas, Paul and Jim were waiting.
You can count on a few things backpacking, and one is generally: When you go downhill to get to a river, you’ll have to go uphill an equal or greater amount on the other side, which is what we had to do.
When we finally made it to the Whitewater Falls Area, we started seeing more people, including day hikers out for an easy trip to the falls and back. I stepped up to the falls information sign, and I was done. Sure, I had .5 miles to go to the parking lot, but I had done everything else on the trail at least once. We stopped to wait on everyone to get together, and took a group picture before beginning the last climb up to the parking lot. It says .5 miles but feels like a lot more, since its uphill almost the whole way.
Then it was back in the truck, grab the other car, and off to the best BBQ place in the world, BBQ and More, a little RV food stand on the side of Highway 11 near Jones Gap State Park. On the way home we stopped at REI so we could get a few things.
A prepackaged Pepper Beef and Rice meal. My frozen swordfish steak was an AWESOME first night meal. My beef jerky and mashed potatoes the second night? Not so much. I need to expand my food choices.
Tent pole splices. They are 4 inch by 1/2 inch diameter aluminum tubes, meant for someone to use to temporarily fix a bent or broken tent pole. I intend to use them to replace the 4 inch by 1 inch diameter toggles I have now. Smaller and lighter. I already tested them at home with both the Marlin Spike Hitch knot, and just looping them through the straps. They perform pretty well, although a small strip of duck tape around the ends will help keep them from sliding out of place accidentally.
A new titanium Spork. My old one works fine, but its dull, boring grey like every other spork. So my new one is purple.
A ZRest sitting pad. When I take a quick break or go to eat by the fire away from where my hammock chair is, it’s nice to have something padded and dry to sit on. My old sit pad I made from a piece of double-bubble cloth (basically two layers of bubble wrap with mylar on the outside) was beat. It kept my butt dry on wet ground, but it offered no comfort.
What I learned from this trip:
Take more TP. My one bathroom incident used most of what I had. I thought there was more there… if I had a repeat event, I would have had to sacrifice my bandanna. Gross.
Drink more water. My first day left me nauseous, exhausted, and dehydrated. There was enough water around; drink it and treat more when possible. I like taking the water bottle when I know there will be lots of water, but its hard to drink from because once it’s out of the pack’s holder, it doesn’t want to go back in. My water bladder system is easier to drink from, so I drink more, but takes up space inside and I wind up carrying too much water sometimes.
Don’t try to keep up with the speed demons. It’s nice to see if you can hike fast, but when the hike becomes The Siberian Death March, slow down and enjoy yourself. If I wanted to sweat and be miserable, I would run half-marathons against other people. That’s not my thing.
So, now that I’m done, I get to write up a hiking log (which I sort of just did) and send in my $20 to join the FHT Conference and get a peregrine award patch for my pack. Woo Hoo!
Enjoy my hiking video if you wish: