Foothills Trail Trip Report (Part I)
I hiked the Foothills Trail from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park this week. I left Table Rock State Park on Monday afternoon and arrived at Oconee State Park in the early afternoon on Friday. Here is my trip report and some pictures from the hike.
About a week before the hike, I slipped on wet pavement in a parking lot (of a bar, but I was going in, not out ;)) and took a serious fall that resulted in a badly injured left wrist and tailbone. I obviously could not go to see a doctor about it, as he most likely would have immobilized the wrist, putting an end to my hiking ambitions. In my backyard testing before the hike, I found that I was unable to untie the bowline knot I normally use to suspend my hammock due to the injured wrist, so I quickly ordered some ring buckles. Just prior to the injury, I had taken my sewing machine on a business trip and made an asym hammock with a bugnet in my hotel room in the evening. My underquilt suspension did not work with this hammock, so I added channels to the torso quilt and used a warbonnetguy style suspension. With an additional pull-tab at the head-end tie-out point of the asym hammock, this worked really well. I also added asym tie-outs to the driducks poncho that I use for my rain gear and as an undercover before leaving for the hike. Here is a list of the major items I carried:
- DIY digital camo backpack
- DIY top quilt
- DIY 3/4 underquilt
- Z-lite pad cut down to four sections as a sit pad and leg insulation.
- Bushbuddy ultra and Snowpeak Trek 900 (with DIY lid) and a couple of Esbit tabs for backup.
- Steripen Adventurer, Nalgene bottle and Platypus 2L bladder
- Large cat-cut tarp
- Smart-wool base layer, light-weight fleece top, Kinsman pullover
- Driducks poncho/undercover
My pack weighed a little under 16 lbs without the 7 lbs of food I started out with. The weather forecast included some nights in the low 30's in nearby cities, and I had been comfortable with the insulation I carried at 22, so I felt I had a good margin.
I got to the trail head around 12:30pm and signed the hiker registry and chatted with some other hikers. The water fountain at the trail head was out of service, so I went down to Carrick creek and got some water that I treated with my Steripen.
Around 1pm, I was finally ready to go and started my way up to Sassafras mountain, the highest point in South Carolina. As I was hiking up the mountain in the afternoon heat, I recalled what Youngblood recently posted about the Foothills Trail:
Of course, I had some choice words for him going through my head that I am afraid I cannot repeat here. I made good progress, though, and took a break at a rock outcrop after 3.6 miles with a really nice view.
Originally Posted by Youngblood
As I sat there, I saw a huge bird with a white head and white tail gliding through the air, which I thought must be a bald eagle. After returning home, I called the park and spoke to the naturalist, and he confirmed that there had been similar sightings off and on and he was pretty excited about my report.
After a little bit more climbing, I reached the end of Table Rock State Park and the start of the Foothills Trail.
Shortly after, my problems started. My stomach did not feel right initially, and after another mile or so, the diarrhea started. I took some Immodium and proceeded on, but it was slow going in the heat with an upset stomach. After about another mile and two more emergency stops, I decided to stop and cook some food and a tea in hopes that that might settle my stomach. So I got out the Bushbuddy and boiled some water. After the rest and dinner, I felt a lot better, but it was getting late. I was in the midst of rhododenron bushes, so I proceeded up the trail until I found more open forest with trees. I found a really nice spot about 100 yards off the trail and hung my hammock. As the sun was setting, the bugs attacked in numbers. I just managed to get in the hammock and was really glad to have the bugnet on it. Ten minutes later, the mosquitos were gone and I finished setting up camp and hung my food bag. After reading the trail guide for a while, I fell asleep around 9:30pm. At 4am, I was woken up by grunting sounds nearby. I sat up in the hammock and started looking around, but could not see anything. When I inquired Are you a pig?, I heard whatever it was scurrying off and went back to sleep. Here are some photos of my hammock setup the first night. The second picture is for moski. He sent me the glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls as a gift a while ago and I promised him I would post a picture when I used them in a project.
I awoke at 6:30am and was so comfortable that I really wanted to snooze in the hammock for a little while. But after having managed only about 6 miles the previous afternoon, I forced myself to get up and cook some oatmeal and hot chocolate. After breakfast, I headed up to Sassafras mountain and having been up there before I knew to keep walking and not stop. It is the most anti-climactic mountain top you can imagine, has no view and is usually littered with beer cans and other trash due to the vicinity to a parking lot. The weatherman had lied to me again and instead of a cloudy day in the mid-60s, it was sunny and getting pretty hot. I ate an early lunch on the rocks in the middle of the river that flows through Laurel Valley and enjoyed the sunshine. My stomach felt much better, but I was extremely hungry and ate the extra lunch portion I had packed. I continued on to Laurel Fork Falls and arrived at the spur trail in the late afternoon.
There were some yellow jackets at the bridge, and since I am somewhat allergic and wanted to make up some miles anyway, I did not take the spur and continued on, but hung out and took some pictures of the falls at the overlook next to the trail.
I hiked on for about 4 miles and the sun was setting as I arrived at Rock Creek, just in time for the skeeters to go into their feeding frenzy. I started out just swatting at them, but finally I broke down and covered myself in deet. Here are a couple of pictures of my hammock setup.
After setting up, I cooked dinner. Again, I was extremely hungry and ate the extra dinner portion I had brought, which meant I had to finish the hike on Friday or go hungry. After dinner, I heated up some water to wash the deet off and also washed my underwear, socks and sweaty shirt. Then I made some hot chocolate and hung out by the creek before going to sleep around 11:30pm.
I woke up around 8:30am. On the bright side, I missed the morning mosquito frenzy, but still not a good way to start the day considering that I had planned to make it to Bad Creek Access. But I wanted to do some night hiking anyway. I packed up quickly, ate a Clif bar and got going. The guide book says that the next mile is called heartbreak ridge by many hikers... This is one of my favorite parts of the trail, as you have beautiful views left and right. Again, the weatherman's prediction was entirely wrong and it was a sunny day with no clouds to be seen. When I arrived at the Toxaway, I stopped to cook some oatmeal and hot chocolate. I went on and crossed the Toxaway on the 225 ft suspension bridge. This was the scariest part of the hike, as the bridge swayed left to right by at least a foot as I crossed it. Having lollygagged away the whole morning, I picked up the pace a little and went for 6 miles or so before eating "lunch" at a beautiful little creek. It was nice and sunny and warm, and I sat there for a long time. When I finally got up, it was 3:30pm. I kept going until I reached the Thompson river, where I took another extended break and ate some snacks.
Leaving the Thompson, I saw some little flowers as the sun was beginning to set.
Not long afterwards, I turned on my headlamp as it was getting dark. I then noticed a blister starting on my left foot. Since I only had a couple of miles to camp, I did not stop to take care of it. Big mistake. After about a mile, I had a sharp pain in my left hip. I figure because of the blister, I was trying not to put any weight on my left foot and not walking properly, and that affected my hip. The pain was pretty bad, now both from the blister and the hip, so I decided to stop short of my goal and make camp. Conveniently, there was a campsite with water source a few hundred yards ahead. I quickly cooked dinner and retired to the hammock at about 11:30pm.
Foothills Trail Trip Report (Part II)
Having learned my lesson the previous day, I had set the alarm and woke up at 6:15am. I put some moleskin on the blister, but it was not very sticky so I added some duct tape. I got up, ate some breakfast and was on my way before the sun rose. I quickly made it to Bad Creek Access and proceeded up Whitewhater Falls. On my previous Foothills Trail hike, I night hiked this section so I was glad to see it in day light. I quickly warmed up climbing the 600 feet up to the top of the falls and was rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Jocassee in the morning.
I crossed into North Carolina and the views all around were impressive, but I could not find any more blazes on the trail, and there were some spots where it was not really obvious which way to go. I thought, when in doubt, keep going uphill and that turned out to be the right decision. After about an hour and a half, I was back home in South Carolina and ate a snack at the state line.
Up to this point, the hiking was great, the views were spectacular and my feet and left hip felt fine. After I got up from my break, that was about to change and I started having sharp pain in my hip. I slowed down and started using my hiking pole more like a crutch as I was making my way down to Sloan Bridge. Arriving there limping after a long and strenuous mile and a half, I met another hiker who was sitting at the picnic table. He was out hiking the Foothills Trail in preparation for his AT thru-hike this year. We talked hiking and gear for a while and it made me forget about the pain in my hip. I was really glad for the company and it lifted my spirits. The young fellow was very kind and gave me some ibuprofen, as I was down to the last two. When I got up from the picnic table, the pain in my hip was gone and my hip would not bother me again for the rest of my hike.
The miles down to the Chattooga went by quickly, with the only stop at Burrell's Ford Road to use the conveniently placed facilities. Despite my early start in the morning, it was quite late by the time I arrived at the Chattooga, and I decided to cook some dinner on a sandy beach. I quickly gathered a handful of twigs for the Bushbuddy and had my water boiling. As my meal was rehydrating in its freezer bag, I decided to hang out for a while and gathered a little more wood and used the wood stove as a little camp fire. When I finally got up, it was starting to get dark and I took my head light out of the bag before getting back on the trail. After about 3 miles it was completely dark and the trail was pretty high above the river when all of a sudden, my Petzl Tikka went out. Now what? I had a small key chain light on me which provided just enough light to take in the situation: steep drop-off to the right of the trail, thick brush on the left, rocks and roots on the trail and no pair of trees in sight. I checked the trail guide and figured I was a little less than a mile away from getting back down to the river. I knew the head light did not go out suddenly because the batteries were empty, but I figured it could not hurt to try out the spare batteries anyways. As I was trying to open the battery compartment, the head light started working again! I picked up my stuff and got going quickly not knowing how long the light would last, and as I was hiking back down to the river, the light gave out a few more times, but pushing on it in different ways always made it come back to life. Needless to say, I made camp at the first two trees I saw, which were actually in a pretty nice spot on a sandy beach on the Chattooga. I casually hung my almost empty food bag from a nearby tree and turned in. I sat down in the hammock and started taking my shoes off, but my left foot was somehow stuck. With a little effort, it came out along with the insole. After ripping the insole away from my foot, I saw this:
I set the alarm for 6:30am as I had about 11 or 12 miles left and a pickup at Oconee scheduled for 1pm. I fell asleep right away and slept very well.
I swear I pressed the snooze button and not the off button when the alarm rang. Really. The second time I woke up it was 8:30am. I had to hustle, did not want to make my friend wait for me. I had figured in a good safety margin, but with the failing head light I had stopped short of my intended goal the night before and thus I was still about an hour behind schedule. I knew for the miles ahead, Youngblood was right and it is indeed fast trail, so I thought I might be able to make up some time. I quickly broke camp, ate a Clif bar for breakfast and headed out. It was cold and looked like it might start raining any minute. Finally, the weatherman had gotten something right! At 9:45, I had already covered over three miles and was getting hungry. I stopped at a campsite, quickly cooked some oatmeal and had a tea. I typed a text message letting my friend know that I was running a little late and left my phone on so it could send the message as soon as it picked up a signal. About fifteen minutes later, I came to regret that decision as the phone rang in my pocket and the caller ID showed it was one of my company's customers. Not letting that bother me too much, I went on and the miles went by quickly. At this point, I think I was getting a bit delirious. I thought about the car talk guys on NPR, and came up with all sorts of hilarious jokes and was laughing as I was going down the trail. At least, I thought the jokes were hilarious. When I later tried them out on my friend in the car, he did not find them funny at all. I guess you had to have been there, but that does not mean I will spare you the jokes if you're actually going to read this entire post. Anyway, I arrived at the Oconee trail head shortly before 1:30pm and was greeted with a cold beer and two pounds of chicken tenders in marinara sauce, which I promptly devoured. As we got in the car and left, it started raining heavily. Perfect timing.
The Foothills Trail is absolutely beautiful and really the perfect trail for hammock camping. It is pretty well blazed and maintained and there were only a few blow downs that were a bit tricky to get over/under/around. I enjoyed not having to plan my schedule around camp sites like on the previous trip where there were a couple of ground dwellers in the party. This was my first multi-day solo trip and I felt comfortable by myself, and I enjoyed being able to go on my own pace and take it easy. My DIY gear worked really well, but I have some more ideas for improvements and weight savings. I was amazed at how much warmth the bugnet on the hammock added. When I unzipped it in the mornings, I immediately noticed it got much cooler in the hammock. Before the hike, I had the ambition to complete the trail in under four days time, a goal which I missed by about half an hour. Now, I am really glad I did, because I have the perfect reason to go again...
Of course, there were many people who helped me, both in preparation for and during the hike. My Chief Gear Advisor was Graham Ouini, Chief Suspension Technologist Beau Lynot, Chief Sewing Machine Operator was Sig Sagstitsch, Executive Sewing Assistant Bob Inweinder, Chief Medicinal Advisor was Payne Giller and my Executive Wildlife Counselor was Bear Baghanger. My motivational support team consisted of Will Powers and Adrina-Lynn Rush, and my Chief Weather Advisor was Iggy Norant. Finally, I would like to thank Wai Emcia for providing the pre-hike training facilities, and my Chief Recreational Advisor Brandy Inaglass for providing the proper perspective on things.