Chattooga River Trail (SC/GA), 12/29/11 - 1/1/12
I had thought about hiking the 38-mile Chattooga River Trail since I first walked part of it during my Foothills Trail hike in March of 2008. When I again walked a portion as part of my Bartram Trail thru-hike this past spring, it put the hook in me.
December 29, 2011
My wife helped me stage my truck at the CRT’s southern terminus on the GA/SC border, where US-76 crosses the river. Then she drove me up into North Carolina to Bull Pen Road, where Bad Creek Trail offered a 3-mile walk to the official northern terminus at Ellicott Rock. The trailhead was home to a number of bear hunters. Dewey was glad to be camouflaged as a hunter.
I ambled up the tread, wide but somewhat overgrown with low-hanging rhododendron. Still, I made good time up the gentle climb to where Bad Creek Trail joined Fork Mountain Trail and began its descent to the Chattooga River. I could hear the river before I got my first views.
Shortly after spotting the river, I followed the trail to the South Carolina border at Ellicott Rock, the official northern terminus of the CRT.
I began a casual walk downstream at this point. There were a few small ups and downs, but the trail was mostly gentle. To my surprise, I passed a couple of groups of dayhikers along this section. Large black lower case “i”s blazed the way of the CRT.
I arrived fairly quickly at the East Fork Trail leading to Fish Hatchery Road. The area offered a number of excellent campsites.
I cooked dinner, and Dewey and I got ready to settle in. I battened down my Superfly tarp to keep away any wind and the wet chill I knew would descend on this river valley.
Despite temperatures in the 20’s, Dewey and I slept warm and comfortable for the night.
December 30, 2011
We awoke to frost on both the inside and outside of the tarp. It was a cold morning, but our over- and under-quilt kept everyone warm. There was slush in my water bladder and heavy frost on the metal suspension of my hammock.
Dewey decided it was WAY too cold to sit and enjoy the morning, so he burrowed into my underquilt while I packed.
I pushed on up the trail, passing at least three camps of other hikers. A light rain an d Dewey were my only other companions. The trail rose and fell again, offering brief walks alongside the Chattooga.
The CRT eventually pushed up a ridge to where I joined the Foothills Trail just north of Burrells Ford campground. I descended, enjoyed the dry privy at the campground, then pushed on up the trail, now blazed for both the FHT and the CRT.
Shortly after, I took the ¼-mile side trail to King Creek Falls, the most spectacular close-up falls alongside the CRT corridor. Dewey especially enjoyed the view while I grabbed a snack.
The trail then began another series of modest climbs and drops. After one climb of maybe 300 feet, I descended to a power section of whitewater.
As the afternoon wore on, I anticipated one more moderate climb (400-500 feet) then a drop back to the river for the final ¾-mile section to where I planned to camp for the night. I well remembered a cowboy camp I enjoyed along that section four years ago. As I reached the ridge, I ambled on solidly. However, the descent never seemed to materialize. By my estimate I should have begun my descent a good 20 minutes earlier than when I finally headed downhill. I was thankful when I arrived at the river, only to realize I was at the place I had intended to camp all along. The FHT and CRT had been rerouted in this section.
There were a myriad of campsites where the FHT met the South Carolina portion of the Bartram Trail, enough to house at least 100 hikers if need be. Besides dry skies, Licklog Falls was a highlight of this area.
Dewey and I noted a couple of other tents in the surrounding sites, but we set up out of sight others in a comfortable spot.
The evening was warmer than the previous night, and Dewey and I drifted off to sleep with the scent of campfire smoke around us.
December 31, 2011
I was up early, glad I didn’t need to thaw out the water in my bottles this morning. I was packed and moving quickly. In my first few steps, I left the FHT and joined the SC portion of the Bartram Trail, now blazed in yellow and running concurrent with the black blazes of the CRT.
I pushed along the easy level hike, joining the Chattooga alongside a number of excellent campsites, one complete with a rope swing and “rock-cliners”.
I ambled onward, making my way up a gradual climb toward the southern ridgeline. The trail never actually reached the top, instead sidehilling around the northern side of the ridge. After a couple of mostly level miles, I gently descended to the large trailhead and SC/GA-28. I quickly crossed the bridge over the Chattooga and entered Georgia for the last 20 miles of trail. This was also where I started my Bartram Trail hike earlier in the year. The yellow blazes were different, and the CRT was no longer mentioned along the next 10 miles of GA trail.
I knew this section pretty well, having hiked it just 9 months earlier. It offered memories of a time when this was an old roadway instead of a trail.
After the first couple of miles, the trail turned away from the river and followed the northern ridgeline. It offered the occasional view down to the river but little access. It descended back to the river at Earl’s Ford about 4 miles later, where I enjoyed an afternoon snack. Then I climbed up to another ridge.
Finally it dropped back down to follow the river for about a mile. I had camped in this area last spring, but sought a camp closer to Dicks Creek Falls this time. I was glad of this as there was a work camp of at least 30 folks in the area. I climbed up a gentle 200 feet and found the camp I sought within a mile. I set up camp and Dewey and I walked to quarter mile to Dicks Creek Falls.
We then headed down to the river itself, but the water was up so high, it prevented us from following the trail around to a good lower view of the falls. We settled for a quick shot of the now-wide Chattooga River before heading back to our camp.
Back in camp, I settled in with a spaghetti dinner and a flask to celebrate New Years Eve. I drifted off to sleep with a sky full of incredible stars above me.
January 1, 2012
New Years Day came early. As I so often do on my last day of a hike, I awoke before my alarm, around 5:45. By just after 6 AM, I was beginning my morning routine of packing, breakfast, toileting and looking over my map, planning potential water breaks and so forth.
I stepped off with enough light to sort of see the trail, but a headlamp in place, just in case. Within a ½-mile, I reached the split between the BT and the CRT, now blazed with lime green.
I crossed Sandy Ford Road and a group car camped there, then pushed onward, only to drop down to the river again in about a half mile.
Again, the GA CRT climbed a ridgeline and wandered above the river. After another 4 miles or so, I dropped down for a final half-mile along the river itself, where I enjoyed my lunch.
Then I climbed up again, getting only occasional glimpses down to the river.
Despite the ridge walk, I still passed a number of nice campsite and enchanting moments, such as Lion Mountain Falls.
I finally spotted the bridge over US-76 down below, and I got excited. Then the trail turned away from the bridge and wandered up another ridge, to make a nearly 2-mile loop to reach the bridge less than a ½-mile away. Shortly after, I passed a group of 6 day-hikers. They were pleased as punch to be out on a beautiful sunny New Years Day.
As I continued on down the last mile, the sunny sky clouded over and grew dark. Dewey began to quietly suggest I move my butt onward before those dark clouds began offering us a free shower.
I was very satisfied when I saw the signpost and road below at the official southern terminus of the CRT. I stopped there long enough to snap a quick photo of the carved boulder that marked the trail’s end (or beginning).
I then entered the wide hiker walkway on the bridge over US-76.
I paused in the middle, on the GA/SC state line, and looked down at the wide Chattooga below.
I thought back on the last 4 days of walking, a mellower experience than most I know in the southern Appalachians. I might have stood there longer, but a few rain drops reminded me my truck was waiting.
I crossed the bridge, headed up the stairs to the river launch parking area, and took one final photo of Dewey Bear at the sign that announced the CRT to the paddlers that converged here, even on a rainy day in January.
I tucked Dewey into the passenger seat of my truck, stowed my pack and poles behind my seat, closed the door, and turned over the engine as the sky opened up and dumped a downpour on us. Dewey looked at me, smiled, and then went to sleep as we began our drive home.