The Foothills Trail Hike

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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!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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24 Responses to The Foothills Trail Hike

  1. Dogwood says:

    Thru-hiked the FT twice. Once in late Nov beginning at Table Rock SP doing the typical 77 miles to Oconee SP. Another time starting east of TR SP near Jones Gap SP at the Falls Creek Falls TH in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in early Jan going through Jones Gap and Ceasar’s Head SParks doing about 120 miles to Oconee SP. Adding on the eastern trail miles as I did I think made the hike even more scenic and varied. I mixed it up with some ridgeline/crest, rock outcropping, and escarpment hiking in both JG and CH SPs. This is very scenic area in the upstate north western corner of South Carolina, hence all the SPs jammed into the area.

    There are many options to extend a FT hike both to the east and to the west taking in as many trail miles and as much scenery as you want. You can actually take the Bartram Connector and Chatooga River Trails and connect with the AT. If a creative hiker wanted to do a longer hike they could even connect to the Benton McKaye and/or the Pinhoti Trails. Endless hiking loops and pt to pt hikes are possible.

    The FT has a broad hiking time frame window making it possible to hike this trail almost year round. IMO, the FT would make a great shakedown hike in preparation for say a AT thru-hike bid. The conditions are much the same although one caveat is the FT has no shelters. I think this is a good thing in some ways.

    There are many waterfalls on the FT and water generally is a non issue. I strongly advise, if you’re interested in scenery, do all the short spurs to the waterfall overlooks.

    Both the FT Map and The FT guidebook, both put out by the Foothills Trail Conference do an excellent job of nothing and describing the trail and some of the alternates between Ceasar’s Head and Oconee SPs. I’d advise anyone who is considering thru or section hiking the FT to get these materials. Besides, the sales of these materials help maintain the FT and I know we all want to support that. If you’re starting east of TR SP like at the sometimes alternate CH TH or at Falls Creek Falls TH you can get free simple(non-topographical) map handouts through the CH SP and JG SP Offices that show the various trails in those SPs. Mountain bridge Wilderness puts out their own detailed trail map. However, you can probably find all you need about extending your FT hike east by getting either or both of these books: 50 Hikes in South Carolina by Jonny Malloy and Hiking South Carolina (State Hiking Guides Series), a Falcon Guide by John Clark and John Dantzler. both these books have simple maps, descriptions, and beta on trails that extend to the east.

    Enjoy the journey.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Wow! Thanks for all the detailed info Dogwood! I appreciate you taking the time to share.

      And I agree with him, I got the map and the book for the FT, they are a great resource, and as Dogwood states, the money from these go back to the trail.

      ~Stick~

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  2. Flapjack says:

    Stick,

    I too have the ambitious hiking bone in my setup. My best friend Huck Finn keeps me grounded with my lofty ideas of big miles. For our next hike, I have reviewed and revised our hike four times to suit a more realistic outcome. We will enjoy our 100 mile hike in VA much more by using more days and less miles per day. Doesn’t work for everyone but to review and revise is our way. I enjoy your points of view on gear and videos. Thanks for posting.

    Flapjack
    A.T. Section Hiker
    1500 miles to go…
    October 2014 – Georgia SOBO

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Flapjack,

      I think that one of the most important things for people heading out for any hike to learn to do is to be flexible, and of course do your homework beforehand to know just how flexible you can be. Not often, but sometimes I get on the trail and then realize that I may want to go farther, or not as far as I had originally intended. In my opinion, it is a much better overall trip if one learns to go with those feelings rather than fighting them. On this particular trip for me, I realized the first day about 13 miles in that I wish I had made different plans for that hike. Not that I couldn’t do the mileage, but moreso because I just had different feelings once I got there…

      Anyway, some people may agree, some may not, but in my experiences, this is what I have found to be true for me.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  3. klempire says:

    I proposed to my wife on top of Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park. It’s beautiful country. Were you able see any of the falls in the park?

    Haven’t been to the Chattooga area. Sounds like its worth checking out.

    Like

  4. Richard moran says:

    Chad
    Forgot to ask about your beer can cozy on your mld cup. Tried on my sp 600 and seem to melt or burn with my sp lite max stove..I guess u don’t put that cup on a stove..

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Richard,

      I have used the 475 ml mug/pot on a stove, however, when I do, I don’t leave the cozy on. If I use it over a stove I will slide it into the cozy after taking it off the stove. It works out well doing it this way, however, I will admit, it is rare that I do use it on a stove. I like the fact that I can though…

      ~Stick~

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  5. Richard moran says:

    What were temps like at night? Thinking about doing the foothills trail soon. Thinking about only taking my bag liner and cap underwear…thoughts, ill be in a tent

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Richard,

      The lowest it got to at night was 59 F. I was hot most of the time. If I do anymore trips in the next few months, I am really thinking about just carrying a silk liner and using it, however, I would just have to make that decision at the time I was heading out.

      Either way, have fun on the trail. It really is a pretty trail…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  6. Sam says:

    Looks like a great trip. As a fellow “tarper” it only takes one of those nights to ensure proper tarp location as you move forward in your hiking escapades. Now that you have done 53 miles, do you feel that with better preparation, you would have been able to complete the whole hike, or was this an instance of biting off more than you can chew? I may try to do the same hike in the winter.

    Sam

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    • Stick says:

      Sam,

      As far as hiking the distance in that time frame, I think I could do it, however, there are some things that I would have to do different than was on this trip. Getting an early start each day would be enough to make this trail doable in 2 nights & 3 days. Especially with these long days. From 6 am to about 830 pm is light enough to hike without a headlamp.

      As far as the tarp thing… yeah, I knew better when I was setting up, but I took the chance and lost. However, this will make me think much harder about it next time…

      ~Stick~

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  7. It was great to get to meet you too. I like the way you guys hike. Even if the rain kept you uncomfortable your last night out, I’m glad you were safe and enjoyed yourself. If you’re ever in the area again, I’d be happy to hike with you more.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      It was great getting to meet you Jeremy, and again, thanks for all of your help. Next time we get that way maybe you can hike with us more… 🙂

      Like

  8. Melissa says:

    I love the Foothills Trail. I hiked part of it with Jermm back in 2010. Sorry to hear your trip got cut short. Love reading your blog.

    Like

  9. Joe Williams says:

    Awesome post! Wish I would have been out with you guy! Looks like it was an awesome trip even if it didn’t end the way it was intended to……..most awesome adventures don’t.

    Like

  10. George says:

    Enjoyed the report and video as usual. 50+ miles in two days is a lot of hiking! Just wandering if you ever give any consideration to taking your hammock any more. I recently changed from tent (skyscrape x) or tarp/bivy to blackbird hammock and tarp partly to avoid your flooding situation (as Craig did) and because I don’t need a level camp site. Not to mention how comfortable it feels to me over the ground. Although it did cost me almost a pound more in weight, I still am in the 9 lb. base weight range for cold weather setup and around 8 pounds base weight for warmer weather. I could go with a lighter hammock but am happy with my set up so far.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      George,

      This definitely made me think about a hammock! However, had I listened to my first instinct and not set my tarp up in that spot, and chose a different spot, I would have been fine throughout the night… I will admit though, hammocks are comfortable, but I am a tent kinda person…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  11. Ron Jameson says:

    Nice report. We had a similar situation at our campsite at Bearcamp Creek. We came out early because of all the rain. A small pond formed under my hammock set up. My friends Notch tent was sitting in a pool of water. He said the good news was the bathtub floor worked. I hate we missed y’all but maybe next time. Sometimes It is better to enjoy the hike. I’m pushing 60 so I try to enjoy It a little more. Most of my hiking partners are 10-15 yrs. younger than me. Ron

    Like

    • Stick says:

      I hear ya Ron. And maybe next time we will meet. At first we thought you may have been at Toxaway on Friday, but then after realizing you staged cars and were hiking out at Toxaway I told Craig I figured you wouldn’t be there until Saturday night. We were just happy to be able to find someone to get a ride with!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  12. What a crazy adventure! Glad you had a good time, despite the water. I guess it’s the possibility of such occurrences that adds to the excitement of backpacking. The pictures are great, looks like a nice trail. I may have to check it out someday.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Ray,

      Indeed it was crazy, and despite the unfortunate events, I still enjoyed it all. To be honest, I was glad that they happened too… it is nice to have trips like this. Don’t get me wrong, trips that go well are nice, but these trips will let you know how to handle things when they go a little off… Anyway, it’s all good! As far as the trail though, it is a beautiful trail and would suggest checking it out.

      ~Stick~

      Like

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