Last Thursday, Craig & I set off to hike the Foothills Trail. We had a small window of time to complete the hike, and as daunting as hiking 77 miles in about 2.5 days is, we decided to give it a go anyway. In the end, we only ended up hiking about 48 miles of the actual Foothills Trail, plus the 5 mile Cane Brake trail which lead to the Frozen Lake parking area. From here, we caught a ride back to our car…
First off, I want to give a huge thanks to Jeremy, AKA: Fire In My Bones. He was kind enough to give us a place to stay for the night, as well as help us stage our car, give us a ride to the opposite end of the trail, equip us with tons of useful trail info, and even hike with us for about an hour in. It was great getting to meet a new trail buddy, not to mention, helping us out like he did. Thank you Jeremy!
So, once it was all said and done, we started hiking from the Oconee side on Thursday morning around 10 am. It was a bright, sun-shiny day, despite the weather channels forecast of “overcast.” Although, they did get it pretty close with the temps, which was the mid 80’s… it was a bit warm, even at 10 in the morning.
Anyway, the first day we had planned to do ~ 26.5 miles, finishing up in the Round Mountain area. We hiked during the day, and actually made good time, however, once we came to the Chattooga River, I will admit, my pace slowed a little. The trail along the river was beautiful, and unlike any hiking I had done before. The Chattooga was a large river which the trail followed for a few miles, and of course, there were random campsites along the trail that just looked perfect… especially under the bright, sunny skies… The day was hot, and the river looked like the perfect place to cool down… did I mention the camp sites along the way? 🙂
I took the lead once Jeremy turned back, and as the day spanned out, Craig and I had been hiking a bit apart (as we usually do). As I was hiking along, I fell into my typical dilemma… I began thinking about the family, and started missing them. Then on top of that, I got to thinking about all the miles we still had in front of us. It was a bit overwhelming, which also made those already overly attractive campsites look better. To be honest, I started thinking “Why didn’t I say, let’s do a shorter hike? This is a beautiful area, and I would probably be happier enjoying this area, rather than pushing so hard just to make miles…”
After a bit of thought, I made mention to Craig that I may not have it in me to do so many miles, however, after some discussion, we decided to press on and try to stick with our plan. Of course, with our car already staged at the other end of the trail, and no other ride planned, it made the decision easier.
As the last bit of light was fading from the sky, we came to Sloan Bridge, which was about 5 miles from where we needed to be for the night. Considering the picnic tables, and the water source, we decided to go ahead and cook or dinner there, then to push on night hiking the rest of the way.
After dinner, we hiked on for about another 1.5 hours. At 10:45 pm we came to the top of a mountain, which I assumed was the Round Mountain area, and found a campsite. We walked around the site for a bit, but I couldn’t find a spot that I liked well enough to sleep on, so we decided to go on a bit father. However, the trail quickly started going down hill, so I decided I would make do with the campsite rather than go on for who know’s how much farther…
I set up my tarp and bivy while Craig hung his hammock in the trees. After throwing a bear line, we climbed in our quarters and quickly dozed off.
The next morning, we started hiking at 6:40. It was a little later than planned, but not too bad, although, with a 32 mile day in front of us, we needed every bit of light we could get. Then, about 15 minutes down the trail, we found the area that we thought we were in the night before… haha… good stuff…
As we hiked along, we were both able to tell that we had hiked almost 26 miles the day before. Craig had a huge blister on the back of one of his feet and a swollen knee to go along with it. I had a small blister on the ball of my right foot, thankfully though, it was not hurting that bad. We both had some bit of chaff going on, and as the day progressed, Craig started feeling bad. His stomach was feeling tore up, and he had not had much sleep the few nights before, which made him just feel worse.
We made decent miles at the beginning of the day, but as the day progressed, Craig’s pace slowed down considerably. By the time I reached Thompson River, I did the math and realized that we were well behind schedule. I filled my water bottles back up and waited on Craig to arrive. Once he arrived, we talked about our progress so far, and decided that we needed a new plan.
We decided that we would hike to Toxoway for the night, and then take the spur trail (Cane Brake trail) to the Frozen Lake parking area the next morning. From there we would call one of the listed shuttle’s (on the Foothills Trail site) for a ride back to our car at Table Rock SP.
So, we pushed on the rest of the day. Along the way we followed the Whitewater River for a while, which was also a beautiful stretch of trail. (Although, I will admit, I liked the Chattooga River area better.) We crossed over a number of bridges that carried us over small streams, and some of those even had some very nice, tall, waterfalls above them. We crossed over the large bridge at Horsepasture River, but not before first resting on a huge rock that jutted out into the river. The day was beautiful, again, despite the weather forecast of 30% chance of isolated thunder storms…
As the daylight was again fading from the sky, we found ourself not quite to camp yet. We were about 2.5 miles above Cane Brake access point when we realized that Craig had signal on his phone. It was at this point that we called a lady named Nancy about getting a lift from the parking area back to our car. Thankfully, she was able to give us a ride, so we agreed to meet around 11:30 the next afternoon.
From this point, Craig and I both hobbled our way down the steep descent towards Cane Brake, and then the remaining 0.7 miles to Toxoway. It is here that the largest suspension bridge on the trail is, and it truly was an exciting experience. The bridge swayed this way and that with each step… it was exciting… however, knowing that our destination for the day was on the other side of the bridge probably made it seem just a bit more exciting!
There are 6 “designated” camping area’s at Toxaway. We came to the first one and pulled our packs off. While cooking I again looked for a good spot to set up my home for the night. And again, I didn’t really find anything that was pleasing. However, with our gear already all laid out, our food going, and the clear sky, I decided to take the one spot I knew I shouldn’t…
It’s that area that anyone using a tarp should know better than to take. That super flat, dirt spot that looks perfect… At first I didn’t want it because of all the sand and dirt… in the end I didn’t want it because it will hold approximately 1 inch of water!
Around 3 am, the rain came… by 3:30 am, I was trying my best to stoop on 1 leg to change out of my sleeping clothes and back into my hiking clothes, without falling over into the puddle my gear was no laid out in. Thankfully, my bivy did a good enough job at keeping most of the water out in order for me to quickly, and very ungracefully like, throw my now wet gear inside my pack. I finally got it all packed up and set my pack on the picnic table with my cloudkilt laying over it to protect it some. I then set a large rock in the puddle under my tarp so I could sit on it rather than in the water to wait out the rain.
Soaked and sleepy, I was now ready for the hike to be done. Around 4 am I walked to Craig’s tarp and set under it for a bit. He soon woke up and we talked about how my sleeping area turned into a swimming hole… Did I mention he was hanging dry and warm? I must say, Craig’s hammock and tarp looked like one of the best things I had ever seen at 4 am that morning…
We hiked out of Toxaway around 6:10 am. Then, just 5 miles “down” Cane Brake trail we would catch our ride. We weren’t sure how the trail conditions would be since it didn’t really say much about it in the guide-book. However, the sign at the trail head notified us that it was 5 miles of “strenuous” hiking.
I can’t say I agree with that description of the trail, however, since a majority of it was uphill, I figure they had to give that description. However, it was along an old logging road the entire way, which really did seem to make it that much easier. But, for us, the rain continued on… It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to hike to the parking area, and it rained on us for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of the hike out…
So, this hike did not go as we planned when we started, and I even had what I would now say was my “worst” night out. However, I gotta admit, I still enjoyed the entire hike. And yeah, now looking back, even when I was trying to balance over the standing water under my tarp at 3:30 am, while changing clothes and batting away flying insects from my headlamp while my gear floated away all at the same time… it was still great. Fact is, my gear, clothes, and even myself, dried out in due time. And I have learned something from all of this (even though I knew better to begin with). The blister is healing, and my knee is just fine now. Not to mention, I got to hang out with one of my buddies, meet a new buddy, see some beautiful trail, and still log 53 miles in just under 2 days!
Thanks for stopping by everyone!