The Foothills Trail (or FHT) is a 77 mile trail that runs around the northwest corner of South Carolina, and up into North Carolina for a bit, before coming back to rest at Table Rock state park in SC.
Our meetup.com group had planned a trip to the Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail this weekend. Unfortunately, the AT was partially on fire and very dried out. So, we changed our plans to hit a section of the FHT that was not on fire, and not dried out. The thing about the Foothills Trail is, the eastern portion of it runs along a river and you’re never more than about a mile from water at any point.
So myself, Mike, Cowboy, and Michelle left Columbia Friday, at bright-ass early in the morning and drove up to Sloan Bridge (SC Highway 107 almost to NC), dropped a car and headed to Oconee State Park to start walking. The day was nice and cool, with clear blue skies, and we made very good time over mostly flat land. Our planned stop was PigPen Falls, which is nicer than it sounds. Evidently there are two trees you can’t camp next to, because those two trees have “no camping here” signs on them. We were going to avoid those two trees, but it turns out time was on our side. It was only 2pm. We walked another 3 miles, which put us to having a slower, easier, second day.
Our campsite was right along the Chattooga River. There were some rocks sticking out into the water, and we had plenty of flat room to spread out. Despite it only being 4pm or so, I was starving. I set up my hammock in “Porch Mode” because it wasn’t supposed to rain, and then went and laid out my dinner.
Dinner consisted of a previously seasoned, seared, and frozen tenderloin. I cooked it over my Snow Peak canister stove, because there was supposedly a burn ban in place. Accompanying the steak was a piece of bagel, some Chai Latte, and Apple Brandy, courtesy of Michelle. After dinner, most of us tied up our UrSacks. I helped Michelle hang her food bag PCT style, which was a comedy of errors reminiscent of when I used to hang mine. It was good and dark by the time we were done.
Because we weren’t allowed a fire according to several posted signs about a statewide burn ban, by 6:30 everyone was cold and it was dark. I retired to the hammock, intent on staying up as late as possible. I made it to 8:30 before I fell asleep with my phone playing music. I woke up much later and the phone was dead. After plugging it into my charger, I discovered it was 3am, and needed to sleep more. It was quite chilly, but I slept rather well, even after deciding maybe “porch mode” wasn’t the best choice for laying in a hammock in 30 degree weather. “Close and tight” would have been a better use of the tarp, to keep some wind off. But the river sounded good. Someone’s snoring did not, but it was on the edge of my hearing and I slept pretty well.
It really amazed me how well the mosquito net kept out the cold wind. I mean, it’s a net, you’d think the wind would blow right through it. But apparently there’s enough drag on the fibers that it slows down a lot of breeze. The few times I opened the net to adjust my underquilt or turn off my ENO lights, I was greeted with a blast of cold air. It was during the middle of the night I decided to go ahead and sew my “Taco Wrap”. Based on the Hennessy OverCover, the “Taco Wrap” will be a zip-on covered top, sewn from 1 ounce fabric and bug netting. It will cover up to my torso in solid fabric, and my chest and head area in a combination of solid fabric and mosquito netting – which will let out moisture and prevent me from suffocating.
Saturday morning we got up late and hung around taking it easy. After all, with our increased walking distance the day before, we were going to be way early for our rendezvous with Leslie. We got to King Creek Falls a few minutes early, and stopped for a snack. Then we headed up the hill and had a conundrum. The junction of the Foothills Trail and Chattooga Trail apparently happens in three places, and we weren’t sure exactly where she was going to be. Thomas and Mike went ahead, and Michelle and I waited at the Burrells Ford parking area. Within about 5 minutes Leslie came bounding down the hill with no pack. She was on a ridge waiting for us and we never showed up.
There was a bit of confusion because there is a spur off the FHT that runs down to the Chattooga, but it’s not really the Chattooga trail, itself. It’s like a mile long “on ramp”, that bypasses a bit of the Foothills Trail, and the Burrells Ford parking lot. We walked down together, with the pack, and began to get worried about Mike and Thomas. We asked a few people along the main trail if they had seen two guys northbound and they told us no. Finally we arrived at the East Fork trail intersection and found Mike and Thomas. When we arrived, Mike gave us the good news. They had run across a group with a campfire, and were told the burn ban had been lifted in the area. Sweet, hiker TV time.
It turns out that Mike and Thomas guessed we would eventually have to come that far, and had been resting peacefully for about 30 minutes after a nice flat hike, while we hiked uphill half a mile and then downhill for a mile. It was at the point that Mike made one of the most awesome suggestions in the history of hiking. The place we were talking was the intersection of the East Fork trail and the Chattooga River Trail. The East Fork ran only 2.5 miles up to the Fish Hatchery. Mike suggested we camp out, then walk back here, and head to the fish hatchery.
The final phase of the day began with a 2 mile hike to Ellicot Rock where we planned to camp. The path was in need of repair and was full of deadfalls we had to go up and over, or crawl under. Mike had told us it was supposed to rain this evening, and we weren’t looking forward to crossing back over these paths in the wet and rain. When we arrived at the campsite, it was in pretty bad shape. Fine for a tent or two, complete with a little sandy beach, but bad for hammocks. Almost every tree was dead, with at least 8 large “widow makers” overlooking the tent site. Not really what I wanted to sleep under during a thunderstorm. A quick poll was taken, and we walked a mile back to our “Plan B” campsite (Or as Amy Schumer would call it – Plan A). This put us a total of 3.5 miles from the car in the morning – instead of 7.5. We headed off.
The Plan B (A) Campsite was at the confluence of the Chattooga River and a stream coming in from the side, on a point in the river. Anxious to get rid of some weight in fire starters and paper towels that I had wrapped my bagels in, I started piling up little sticks. By the time the final hiker arrived, we had a little fire going. The ground wasn’t entirely flat, and the next camping area was almost another mile away. Everyone was tired and it was getting close to dusk, so we made do. I wound up next to another hammock person, sharing a tree in common, and the tents fought for space. We ate dinner and Michelle earned the trail name “Cricket” when she stepped on one that scared her. Strange behavior for a vegetarian…
We told stories and watched “Hiker TV” around the campfire until about 8pm. More Apple Brandy was passed around and we had a fine and pleasant evening. The rain started just as the fire died to coals, and we retreated to the tents. It wasn’t long before my tree-mate was asleep, and after fighting my own hammock into submission, I found I couldn’t sleep for anything. What was worse, someone was snoring over the noise of the river and the stream. It was a constant dull roar. Nothing I would do would drown out the noise. Finally at about 1230 in the morning, I gave up and took a Percocet left over from my Wisdom teeth getting pulled a year ago. Goodnight.
At 7am I woke up in a drug-induced fog, to a cold rain. Packing up in the rain is always an interesting experience, but it is better knowing it’s your last day, and no matter how wet stuff gets that you have dry clothes and a warm car waiting at the end of the trail. Mike and Leslie quickly outpaced the rest of us, and before long Thomas had gone ahead as well. I was worn out and sticking with Cricket, knowing that someone had to go get the cars anyway. We arrived at the shelter at the end of the Fish Hatchery Road, and Thomas was guarding the packs belonging to the others. Not having had anything to eat, I finished off my beef jerky and heated up a cappucino, and then huddled cold and wet in the corner, covered with my sleeping bag liner. When Mike and Leslie arrived, we split up and headed off to pick up the last car.
One tradition we always do is stopping for food on the way home. It’s nice to eat something not boiled or rehydrated or in a bag. We went to a mexican place in Walhalla SC, and I had some of the most god-awful hot Camarones Diabla I’ve ever tasted. “Satan’s Shrimp” was the perfect name for these ultra-spicy little morsels of Hell. They were equally hot the following afternoon, if you know what I mean.
Of course, planning the next trip is as much fun as reliving the last one. So, I find myself looking at maps and thinking ahead, even as my stuff is strewn all over the house drying out.
The final tally? 29 miles, and 8000 feet of elevation gain.