I usually try to backpack once a month.† Somehow, through all of the chaos of the past few months, Iíve only managed dayhikes since September.† Saturday finally brought a free weekend with good weather, so I got out for my first backpacking trip of 2005.
I met Dave in Charlotte at 7 and we began the long drive to the Chattooga River area.† Our plan was to hike an 18-mile loop combining the Foothills Trail, the Chattooga River Trail, and various side trails in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. †We drove through fog and drizzle for 3 hours before the sun miraculously appeared as we pulled into parking area at the Sloan Bridge trailhead on highway 107.† We organized our gear before heading off down the Fork Mountain Trail towards the Chattooga River.
My calendar claimed it was January, but it felt like May as we hiked in shorts and t-shirts under a clear blue sky.† Temperatures were easily in the 60ís, and we wouldíve been sweating if the trail hadnít been fairly easy.† The only challenge we encountered was fallen trees blocking the trail.† Surprisingly, we came across two forest service employees clearing a deadfall from the trail.† Since we were in a designated wilderness, they couldnít use power equipment, and were doing all of the work with handsaws.† Despite the hard work, they appeared to be enjoying themselves.† They were based out of Colorado, and were enjoying a reprieve from the Rocky Mountain cold and snow.† We were thrilled to see that the forest service was making an effort to clear the trails, knowing that there is usually little to no budget for trail maintenance.† After the fall hurricanes, the trail maintenance needs in the southern Appalachians are overwhelming.
By 3pm, we descended a series of switchbacks and reached a nice campsite on the Chattooga River.† A trail fords the river here, but I canít imagine crossing it.† The river is wide, deep, and fast, though fording is probably more reasonable in the summer.† Fortunately, we didnít have to cross as our route took us downstream. †I took Sauconyís doggie pack off so she could enjoy the water.† Unfortunately, she thought this meant we had reached camp, and didnít want to hike any further.† She laid down when I tried to put her pack on and refused to budge.† I had to roll her on her back just to get it buckled.† Ultimately it was only the fear of being left behind that got her moving again.†
We hiked downstream, passing Ellicott Rock, which marks the boundary of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.† The rock itself is located in the river, and we werenít able to determine which boulder was the official rock.† The 3-state boundary draws a lot of people, as we ran into a number of dayhikers in the area.
We continued downstream along a beautiful stretch of trail that never wandered far from the river.† We passed beneath towering pines and hemlocks, and had our choice from a number of outstanding campsites.† We rock hopped Bad Fork, and a few minutes later crossed a sturdy bridge over the East Fork.† On the far side we found a lovely camping area in a flat forest of white pine.† We selected a site here, near the confluence of the East Fork and the Chattooga River.
Our 4pm arrival allowed us enough time to set up camp and gather firewood.† Unfortunately, dry wood was hard to find after Fridayís rain.† Dave spent most of the evening nursing the fire along, and we even managed to get a respectable blaze going for a time.† Eventually we let it die out though, after a dinner of Jambalaya and dough.† It should have been Jambalaya and bread, but I had placed Dave in charge of the bread, and he had brought a can of biscuits.† Since we didnít have an oven, we resorted to frying the biscuits in a pan.† This worked about as well as you would expect Ė burnt biscuits with raw dough in the middle.† Yummy!† Luckily, the jambalaya was filling, and whiskey and hot cider served to wash everything down.† I slept great that night, accompanied by the music of the river rushing by.
We started the next day much the same way we ended the previous one Ė by eating too much.† We indulged in a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and cheese on toast before making a late effort to break camp.† We were still packing when 3 backpackers came by, heading downstream.† They had a pair of dogs, and Saucony and Sasha had a great time playing with them while we talked.† They had started where we had, and had camped farther upstream.† They were hiking downstream to Burrellís Ford Road, where they had left a second car.† Unfortunately, one of them had left the keys to that car in the one at the original trailhead.† The vehicle would be waiting for them, but they wouldnít be able to get in it.† None of them wanted to hike back to the starting point.† Eventually they decided to finish the hike and hitchhike back.† They headed down the trail, and we went back to packing our gear.
It was 11AM before we broke camp, thanks to a late start that morning.† We hiked downstream, passing more great scenery and several fine campsites.† On the way, we spooked a Great Blue Heron that took off over the trees.† After 30 minutes, we reached a vague junction where the trail sign was missing.† Fortunately I recognized it from a previous hike.† We left the obvious route for a faint path that was sporadically blazed orange or black.† The new trailed led up a minor valley before crossing a small stream and beginning a gradual but steady climb.† A few minutes later, we reached a marked junction with the Foothills Trail.† We continued the climb on the Foothills Trail, heading back towards Sloan Bridge picnic area and Daveís truck.
We followed the ridge of Medlin Mountain, and stopped for a light lunch near the wooded summit.† From there, we continued on the ridge before descending to cross the road to the Walhalla Fish Hatchery.† From there, we hiked near highway 107 briefly before curving through a series of wet coves in a dark forest.† The last mile of the hike brought us back to the East Fork, where we hiked along a series of cascades nearly hidden in the jungles of rhododendron.† We passed a few more dayhikers before reaching the car at 4pm.† From there, we only had the long drive back through Aintry, Walhalla, Seneca, and Clemson to look forward to.† All in all, it had been a pleasant hike that reacquainted me to the rigors of backpacking.
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