Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Foothills Trail Fastpack

    Adventures don't always end up as planned.  If they did, I would likely refer to them as activities.  I once heard someone say that adventure doesn't begin until something goes awry.

    Luna and I reached the Casa de Kirk and decided to layover a few days in celebration of Lily's birthday.  We played board games, harvested ramps, and spent a day paddling on the French Broad; time well spent by any measure!  After the paddling trip, we elected to hitch a ride with Eliot and Ashley to their house in Jones Gap State Park (SC).  This allowed us to shave about 14 miles of roadwalking that would have been less than enjoyable, especially with the four-legged one.
Luna and Uwharrie conked out.

    So the story begins at Jones Gap State Park, the eastern terminus of the blue-blaze spur of the Foothills Trail.  What follows are my journal entries, so forgive any lack of eloquence, I was typically tired when I wrote them.

Day #1- Jones Gap to near US 178
Start: 8:15am, End:5:10pm
24 miles

       Eliot and Ashley were most gracious hosts. He seemed a bit weary of life at the park and as a ranger.  He said he was envious of my adventures and I said I was envious of his job!
       We enjoyed breakfast together and chatted as I threw my life into my bag once more.  Luna and I set off down the driveway and onto the Jones Gap Trail.  We wound past beautiful waterfalls in and alongside the magnificent Middle Saluda River.  There is a plethora of great campsites at the park- what an awesome place!
Jones Gap Falls
        We climbed out of the gap to the Ravencliff Falls TH and continued off on the Foothills Spur Trail (blue blaze).  The trail was doubletrack/ATV road for a long while, but very pleasant.  It slowly rose out of the valley and onto the ridge after reaching the summit of Dolves Mountain, where we had lunch.  The views were incredible.  The crown of Looking Glass Rock was visible above a ridge and Mt. Pisgah stood prominent, with the Blue Ridge Parkway wrapping along the ridgeside and out of sight.
View from Dolves Mountain
       Shortly thereafter, the trail turned to singletrack, really it was so overgrown I'd be more inclined to call it halftrack.  It rose and fell at relentless grades before bringing us to the summit of Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina's highest peak.  Here we began on the whiteblaze of the Foothills Trail and descended alongside Rick, the only other person at the summit and the only person I'd seen all day.  Rick is a 64 year old man who lives just outside of Clemson.  He is 55 lbs overweight, retired, and finds great pleasure in timing his hikes up nearby mountains.
View for miles from Sassafras Mountain

Lush singletrack descending Sassafras
      After a few miles of descending we met Colt.  He asked if I wanted to stop for the day and set up camp with him, I said why not.  He started at Oconee about 5 days ago and is due to arrive at Table Rock State Park tomorrow.  We chatted, ate, and played fetch with Luna.  
      I felt like walking further, but will instead plan for a big day tomorrow.  It will be great to walk around the lake and across the rivers.
      Luna is a trooper, I removed two ticks from each of us today.

Day #2- Near US 178 to Bear Camp Creek
Start: 8:10am, End: 7:00pm
29 miles

     I woke up at about 7:30, when the sun had slunk over the hillside and settled its rays on the tent's walls.  Two times during the night, at 1:00 and 4:00, Luna got to growling and barking at noises in the forest.  At 1:00, the noises grew louder and louder until the snapping of sticks and crunching of leaves reached our campsite's firering, about 15 feet from out tent.  I began talking loudly in chorus with Luna's growls.  I shined my flashlight out of the tent and two eyes shone back at my like diamonds from within the  silhouette of a black bear.  The light and the raucous encouraged him/her to make a hasty retreat to the woods.  The eyes continued reflecting in the light, disappearing then reappearing many times over the next few minutes.  It eventually ambled on.  The bear returned around 4:00, but never gained the courage to close in on camp again due to our talking and growling.

Bridge in the jungle that is the Laurel Valley
    Colt headed on up Sassafras and we finished our descent into the Laurel Valley.  This stretch of trail was even more exceptional than I'd heard it would be.  The river's corridor was bustling with plantlife.  We crossed well over a dozen bridges as we meandered slowly(sometimes) down to the impressive Laurel Fork Falls, then on along some ridges to the hills bordering Lake Jocasee, where I currently sit.
    I've come about 17 miles today and would like to cover another 15 before the day is done.  Well, really I'd like to sleep right here and slow the pace a little, but it'd be great to get to or near Oconee SP by tomorrow evening.

    We arrived to Bear Camp Gap around 7:00, I considered hiking another hour, but with two other guys setting up camp, I elected to enjoy their company.  It's rather humorous to try to talk after walking and not much using your vocal chords for 10 hours.
Lake Jocassee, seen near the Toxaway River
     Bobbing and weaving through Gorges State Park was a blast.  It was quite lush and the creeks were whimsical.  We didn't see anyone until arriving here at Bearcamp.  The trail leading here was littered with mica that, in the sun, reflected like shards of the sun itself beneath my feet.  I had diamonds on the soles of my shoes, you might say.  I sung that song many times over.
      I can't get over how many ticks Luna has been accruing, I need to get my money back for that stupid flea/tick collar.  Stopping here despite the daylight means a long day's walk tomorrow, but I like walking with my dog.

Day #3- Bear Camp Creek to Oconee State Park
Start: 7:25 am, End: 9:40 pm
37 miles

      When I shifted the hood of my sleeping bag this morning, my eyes were overwhelmed by the light even through the heavy shields of my eyelids.  My brain assumed that I'd flipped on my flashlight in my sleep so I fumbled dumbly around the tent hoping to turn it off.  Sadly, it was not my flashlight.  Morning had broken.
      We got out of the tent and observed the morning.  The chillbumps on my arms melted away with the first breeze, the south's sauna door seemed to have been swung wide.  It was indicative of the day's heat to come.
      The first forty minutes of walking were plagued with a pain that had appeared briefly yesterday, tendonitis of sorts on the top outside of my right foot  It subsided and never came back with the same vigor. 
Bridge over the Thompson River, dumping into Lake Jocassee
      The Thompson River was spectacular, and the Whitewater River once again wowed me with it's power and left me awestruck at the majesty of it's namesake cascade plummeting relentlessly down the fold of the mountains.
Upper Whitewater Falls
      By the time we crossed Hwy 281, right by the falls, it was really stinkin' hot.  Well, it was hot, and I was stinkin'.  From 281 the trail climbs the remainder of the mountain, then rides ridges, climbing and falling before reaching Sloan's Bridge.  We stopped several times in route to Sloan's Bridge, and after a couple of miles I took Luna's pack and attached it to my own.  I think it helped her breath a little easier.  I would go on to carry it for the next 15 miles.
View down toward Lake Jocassee, from which we came.
      From there we hugged the banks of the Chatooga River, which I had never had the pleasure of witnessing, save watching the movie Deliverance.  To evade the heat, we stole away to a thicket of rhododendron along it's shore and enjoyed lunch and a swim.  We then walked all afternoon and into the evening.  
Swimming in the Chatooga
      At the Bartram Trail junction, 9 miles from Oconee, to which we will return tomorrow, we stopped for dinner.  I put Luna's pack on for the first time in a while, before we left she pressed her head between my legs, perhaps asking me to retire for the day.  I told her we could push on, that it would be another three hours, tops.
      We moved swiftly and the miles passed quickly.  I donned the headlamp for the final hour of hiking, though it seemed there were fireflies enough to light the way!
      My feet and legs whined once we reached the pavement at the trail's end.  I took us on the wrong road through the park, adding a good half hour of walking to our day.  
      I've since taken a light shower and picked 24 ticks off of Luna, to go with the 32 from last night.  I need to find a remedy for this... 
     Make that 25 tonight..
     I find that I don't (26, 27) think about much while I'm walking, mostly just where the next mental checkpoint lies, the precision of my footfalls, and that I wish Melissa was with us so she could tell us to slow down and we could make fires together by the rivers.

Day #4
Oconee State Park

     Luna awoke walking on three legs.  The paw of her right hind leg was ailing her.  Inspection of it revealed a minor issue, but I suspect something more is going on.  Even though we've remained relatively immobile all day, it seems like the limp is worsening.  
     On top of that, the copious amounts of lounging going on have been coupled with the removal of, literally, well over 100 ticks over the course of the day.
     My primary intention for this trip was to ensure the happiest life imaginable for a dog: outside all day, free to play in every stream, constant stimulation, etc...  While all those facets have been manifested, Luna now finds herself in the most unfortunate state of her short life.  I feel awful; is this animal cruelty?
     As for me, with Luna out of the equation without some serious R&R and better (actual) tick repellant, and Melissa far away, I am trying to figure out why I would continue doing this.  This trip, totaling somewhere around 150 miles (with a couple of layover days), marks my longest backpacking trip about 5 times over.  I think that going longer would best suit me at a slower pace, for now.
     I enjoy hiking 25-37 mile days because of the familiarity with that type of fatigue I have received from running.  It's one of my favorite states of mind, really: mind blank, unaware of pain; steps intentional and efficient; breathing rhythmic and rewarding; its on the border of bliss.
     Passing groups of people, I would pause for lunch or a chat.  People typically ranged from 10-18 miles a day.  They kicked up their feet when they pleased, relished the company of the dads, or sons, or old friends, and soaked up any sights for as long as they chose. 
      This is not to condemn hiking fast and long, by any means!  I still saw innumerable varieties of flowers in bloom, chowed on Indian Cucumber Root, took the sidetrails leading to vantage points or waterfalls, and chatted with people I passed, but for me, right now, I desire the slower pace, the companionship, and the general nonchalance. 
       I could slow my pace and continue on this trek, sure, but a slower pace means more days, and more days means more food, and more food means more money would be necessary than that which I have allotted for this excursion.  Thus, I hope to put my hiking budget towards a trip with Melissa and healthy Luna in the not-too-distant future.
Maroon Trillium
Pink Lady Slippers

We saw and nearly stepped on about 6 of these little guys.

      That, ladies and gentlemen, is my experience on the Foothills Trail.  I now sit at the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Hiking is not far from my mind, but I am glad to be here right now.  I have another goal that I'd like to take care of, for now.



  1. Great post, Jon!
    Pushing yourself and having adventures like this is the spice of life! speedy recovery to the pup!

  2. Replies
    1. Don't feel guilty about Luna Jon. I many times have questioned my relentless endurance forced of Apache, He will walk till only one leg works, for Me... and then he'd crawl. Theres nothing more a dog loves then too be with his master, especially when its within Nature and with freedom too explore. I promise you she'll get better and stronger from this.

      AS for the TICKS... I HATE THEM. They have been everywhere on me and the pup. I found a collar that works pretty well, but its Ticks only... And now Im jealous of my pup because their all over me by the end of my West Ridge run.

      Come on over for a run my friend, crash for a night