This past weekend a friend and I picked up where we left off last time (Laurel Valley to Bad Creek). It had been a year since I was able to get on the trail and I was psyched about getting back out there.
I monitored the weather for over a week which ranged anywhere from a low of 28 a week out to a low of 45 the day before we left. I decided to leave my DIY UQ at home (which worked awesome in 25 degrees the last time we were there) and take my DIY Sports Authority down throw UQ. This still ended up being too much. On Thursday, I decided to make a hammock sock, similar to Just Jeff's. I also went "so 5 years ago" and took a windshield reflector I had laying around, just to see what it would do.
Day One: Total miles: 6.5
We hit the trail at about 2:30pm Friday. This was later than I had planned, but when you pass both an REI and Sunrift Outfitters on your way you have to stop, right? Anyway, we weren't 200 feet into the trail when a bobcat pranced onto the trail ahead of us. It didn't see us and kept walking away. Our plan was to hike around 6.5 miles and set up camp before dark. The views are beautiful this time of year. With most of the foliage on the ground, the Blue Ridge vistas really open up around Grassy Knob. This added up to some great views of the reservoir and Lake Jocassee! We reached the Hwy 281 spur trail around 5pm and decided to camp just off of it. If you haven't been before, there are some great campsites and water sources about .3 miles off the Foothills Trail on this spur trail. This section of the trail wasn't too bad, although there are some long ascents while going up to Whitewater, then over to Grassy Knob. We set up camp by 5:30pm and ripped open the Mountain Houses. I tend to go to bed early when I hike, so by 8:00 I was in my hammock. I realized one thing very quickly. It wasn't going to get that cold and I had essentially made hammock into a mini convection oven. I woke up 3 times to vent the sock because of the heat in there. I can honestly say that this is the first time I had sweated in my hammock.
Day Two: Total miles: 14
After eating my oatmeal and drinking my coffee, we broke camp and hit the trail again at about 9:30am. The next section of the trail was fairly easy with only a few minor ascents. We met some great people on this section. At the NC/SC line, under the rhododendrons, we came upon a fairly good-sized group of hikers. They had just stopped to regroup so we stopped for a moment to talk. We found out that they were FT Conference members out on a short 5.5 mile day hike. They were being led by Heyward, a FT Board Member. Great guy, by the way. He is also a shuttle driver if you need a lift. Not wanting to waste too much time, we carried on. A few miles later, just before Sloan Bridge, we came up on another group of hikers being led by Cathy, another FT Board Member. This was a group from the Greenville Conservation district. We made it to the Chattooga River and started looking for a campsite. The section between Burrell's Ford and Hwy 107 is rated strenuous because of its 9 mile length. We ended up camping at a switchback on a ridge around mile 4 of this stretch. By the way, if anyone knows where the unmarked "spur" trail on this ridge goes to, let me know. It wasn't on a map or in the guidebook, but it seemed to be well traveled. We set up camp around 5pm just off the trail. Jayson was about 20 yards down the hill. Again, more Mountain Houses, then to bed by 8pm. It was around 42 and I was sweating, again, so I ended up sliding the sock down this time. There must have been a guy running at 9pm, because one second I saw his headlamp and heard his radio, and the next second he was gone. Weird.
Day Three: Total miles: 12
The next morning, I was awake early, but didn't know what time it was when I saw another headlamp and heard a guy talking. This is how the conversation went (use your most redneck voice here):
"Hey man, I got somethin' over here. It's big. It's real big." (my tarp)
"Whut is that?!?"
"It looks like a tent....like a tent that's suspended off tha ground!"
Anyway, I got a chuckle off those guys. I looked at my clock and it was 4:30 in the morning! Geez! Those guys were out early!
We broke camp by 8am and headed down the trail. Lucky for us, we packed up just before the rain started. Our goal was to be finished by 3:30pm or so. The rest of the trail was pretty easy. I have to admit that this section was my least favorite so far. Pretty scenery, but they had just finished some trail maintenance on a lot of this section so it was MUDDY and slick! We had lunch at Cheohee Road. I had to set up my tarp because of the rain. The worst part was that the temperature decided to drop around this time. So, it was wet and cold. Brr.
After lunch, we only had 6 miles to go so we pressed on. This last part was a very easy hike. Most of it was flat or downhill. We strolled into Oconee State Park at about 3pm. Unfortunately, we didn't see the car that was supposed to be waiting on us. My mom was supposed to move the car from Bad Creek to Oconee State Park on Saturday. I called her (luckily I got a little service). Come to find out, the car was there, but not at the trailhead. So, our hike wasn't quite over yet. 1/4 mile later, we found the car in front of Shelter 4. She had left it at the Oconee Trailhead, not the Foothills Trail. Oops.
All in all, it was a great hike. Although it was MUCH easier than Laurel Valley to Bad Creek, I think the middle section is still my favorite. Now that this section is knocked out, I only have Table Rock to Laurel Valley to complete then that will be one trail off the list.
Some lessons learned:
- Hike lighter. I was able to trim about 10 lbs off the last trip. After trying some new things this trip, I could probably trim another 5-7lbs.
- Hike with Trail Runners, not hiking boots (personal preference). My Marmot's are heavy and not really necessary for this trail IMO.
- Don't overestimate your distance traveled. If you're wrong it's a real morale killer.
- Take your time and enjoy nature. It's one way God reveals Himself to us.
- Keep checking the weather and know how warm your gear is. I should've taken less cold weather stuff. It was HOT in that hammock.