FHT: Burrells Ford – Upper Whitewater Falls
After years of backpacking with friends and work (former outdoor counselor for a juvenile facility) this backpacking trip was one that I had really been looking forward to for several years. Just a short 15 mile section on the Foothills Trail but it wasn’t the location that had me excited for this trip. Two friends were joining me as well, Jim (SmashHeel) and Rick (TP) but I had been hiking with them before. What made this trip special from any other was my 10 year old daughter Emma was joining me for her first backpacking trip. We had done a few hangs in the backyard previously but she was ready to try the trail. I had very little concerns about her physical condition and keeping pace with dad as she has spent the last few years in gymnastics and I can assure you she is in much better shape than I.
Friday afternoon, Emma, Rick, and I left Columbia, SC and headed for the trail. We met “SmashHeel” at Burrell’s Ford Road where he jumped in our van and we proceeded to Fish Hatchery Road and began the 3.9 mile downhill hike back to Burrell’s Ford Road with just small daypacks with snacks and water. The hike was a good lead into what was to come as Emma learned it was important to watch the trail and where she stepped. She was fascinated with every critter we came across and each occurrence warranted a 30 second timeout to stop and investigate, never mind that SmashHeel and I are on the larger side of the scale and our momentum doesn’t quite stop as fast as Emma’s does. Luckily for her, the domino effect did not occur. We used this hike to discuss the blazes on the trees, 1 blaze versus 2 blazes, why switchbacks are a good thing, and how to successfully negotiate blowdowns. Overall, Friday’s hike was a success. We camped that evening along the Chattooga River, swam in the river for a bit, grilled hamburgers, and eventually made the ever-so-popular Smores, which brought TP out of his hammock to create his own.
Saturday entailed the fun-filled event of breaking camp where Emma scoured for any critter and Dad did the packing. We ate breakfast at the vehicles and headed to Bad Creek Access to leave our van at the end of our hike, jumped in SmashHeel’s truck and headed to Fish Hatchery Road to begin the rest of our adventure. We took a few pictures at the trailhead and started down the trail. Our agenda was to hike 3.3 miles to Sloan Bridge, fill up with water and eat lunch at the roadside picnic area. Emma was very hesitant to cross over the trail bridges but soon learned that they could be trusted and needed to be negotiated with a little balance and common sense.
Upon our arrival to Sloan Bridge, we met two hikers heading in the opposite direction. One of them seemed to be having difficulties with her foot and they were ending their several day trip there. They reported to us that the condition of the trail between Upper Whitewater Falls and Bad Creek Access was filled with boulders, some big enough that it required the removal of packs and scaling the boulders. Not exactly what I had intended for Emma’s first trip. After some serious consideration, we opted to move our take-out point to the parking area at Upper Whitewater Falls reducing our trip by 2.3 miles and stopping before the boulder jungle. It was during this break that I realized and told Emma that I had forgotten to pack her lunch and part of our dinner while packing up that morning. It was in the van, in a cooler, but Dad just plain out forgot to grab them, my bad. However, let it be known, what 10 year old kid goes out on adventure like this without their 10 lb bag of snacks and candy? It was this opportunity I used to explain to Emma that those 2 hikers were her “Trail Angels” because SmashHeel hitched a ride back to get his truck so that we could relocate the van and at the same time, grab our forgotten food. Guessing that was also a little “Trail Magic” for me not having to deal with a disappointed daughter as well.
After moving our vehicles, we left Sloan Bridge and headed for our campsite on top of Round Mountain. This would be the first true test for Emma as most of this hike was uphill, not too steep, but the 2.5 miles and primarily uphill was my concern. An hour and 45 minutes later we arrived at our camp to find TP resting in his hammock complaining about that last hike being terrible. Emma looks back at me and says “I thought that section was better than the downhill hike we did earlier.” Check mark ! Emma prefers the uphill hiking over downhill. We get camp set up just in time to avoid the first of several small rain showers and Emma decides its time to investigate the critters. Snails, millipedes, butterflies, slugs . . . she found everyone of them. Dinner that night was the pre-trip highlight for Emma. Friends from gymnastics, who are also in Girl Scouts, told her about “Walking Tacos”. Doritos, taco meat, cheese all mixed in the bag. After re-hydrating our taco meat, I hand Emma her bag-o-dinner and within seconds she is disappointed, ughhh ! I turn to look and her Doritos bag had busted out the bottom and her dinner was on the ground. I offered Emma to share my soft tacos with me but she was having none of that. She proceeded to scoop up what she could that was not touching the ground and she ate her dinner. The joke from there was she was trying to bring her critter friends to her so she wouldn’t have to go looking for them. It was that moment I was most proud, she had finally earned her trailname, “BugBait”. After explaining the animal consequences of her food explosion, we collected what we could and disposed of the spilled food in the fire pit. As our tiredness grew, we decided to retire to our hammocks a little early and watched dusk turn to night. It was a GREAT DAY !
Sunday morning begins the usual routine of breakfast and Dad packing up camp. BugBait pitches in and helps and we are soon headed out of our campsite heading to our final destination, HWY 281. Within the first half mile of our hike, BugBait is doing so well watching the ground as I told her so she doesn’t trip, she unexpectedly catches a cut branch to her forehead and has now achieved her first trail injury. SmashHeel and I look her over, it’s a minor scratch with a little bleeding but we get her cleaned up and celebrate her latest first accomplishment, everybody is happy once again and we are off and hiking. AN hour later we are at our van. Excitement is brewing knowing that we are just moments away from sitting down in the air-conditioned environment of our favorite mexican restaurant in Greenville.
We all had a great time and BugBait is looking forward to her next trip. My next special moment is lingering in the future . . . BugBait’s younger sister, Lila (7), is asking when she can go. My “Holy Grail” moment will come when momma, BugBait, Lila, and I accomplish our first backpacking trip together as a family. I’m thinking that might be a Grayson Highlands adventure. Life’s great moments just seem to be so plentiful.