ARE WE THERE YET?
I had Friday off last week.† Christy and I were planning to spend the weekend in Asheville for her birthday, but she had declared that it would be a weekend devoid of any serious hiking.† So, in my ongoing quest to get back in backpacking shape, I decided to make a quick run up to South Mountains State Park to get in a hike.
Christyís car was STILL in the shop being repaired following a severe hail storm.† So, I dropped her off at school a bit before 7am.† I promised her Iíd be back around 2:30 or so after school to pick her up.† Those time constraints were one of the main reasons Iíd picked the South Mountains for my destination.† Anywhere farther away wouldnít give me enough time for the actual hike before I had to head back.
The drive to the park seemed to take forever.† Traffic leaving Charlotte wasnít too bad, but the drive through Lincolnton and beyond was tedious.† Apparently nobody else was in any hurry to get where they were going on this morning.† I kept finding myself behind people going 15 or 20 mph below the posted speed limit.† This was aggravating, since I knew Iíd have to leave the park around 1pm.
I finally got clear of all the pokey drivers, and had to resist the urge to make up for lost time on the last few miles of the drive.† I finally reached the park around 8:30, 30 minutes after the gates opened.† I was surprised to find a fair number of cars at the trailhead at the end of the road.† South Mountains State Park does have a number of hike-in camping areas though, so I figured some of those cars belonged to backpackers.† In fact, I did run into 2 backpackers on their way out early on.† Otherwise, I think most of the others were fishermen that had arrived first thing that morning.
Boone and I headed up the main trail towards High Shoals Falls.† However, after only a few minutes we left the road for a footpath climbing towards Chestnut Knob.† My primary goal for the morning was to make this climb, since I knew it would provide a decent work out.† What I hadnít counted on was severe heat and humidity at 9am.† It felt like I was walking through a sauna as I slogged up the trail.† I was constantly wiping my glasses on my t-shirt along the way.† Apparently I picked the wrong day to forget my bandana.† Boone didnít fare much better.† He was panting and his tongue was dragging on the ground long before we reached the top.
The best part of the climb was seeing all of the Mountain Laurel in bloom.† It seemed like the entire mountainside was covered in white and pink blossoms.† I was hoping to catch some late wildflowers on my hike, but I hadnít expected the shrubs to be at their peak already.
We reached the cliffs beyond the summit around 9:30.† Here we had nice but hazy views of the Jacobs Fork Gorge.† I could hear High Shoals Falls directly across the valley, but the dense green vegetation blocked any view of the cascades.
I loitered there until I could see and Boone was breathing normally.† Then we resumed our hike on the Sawtooth Trail.† This is one of several horse trails in the park.† I generally prefer to avoid the horse trails when Iím with Boone, since I have to keep him leashed.† At this park though, most of the longer loop hikes require connecting on the horse trails.† I set a fast pace along this part of the hike, eager to get it over with.† A forest fire had burned along one side of this trail (possibly a prescribed burn), so there wasnít much to see in the way of flowers.†
The Sawtooth Trail took me to the Horse Ridge Trail.† I followed this old road as far as the Possum Trail.† At this point, I had a major decision to make.† Originally I had planned to continue on the horse trails as far as the Shinny Creek Trail, which would ultimately take me back to the parking area.† However, I didnít think I had enough time to do that complete loop.† Plus, I was a little worn out on horse trails at that point.† I modified my plan, using the Possum Trail as a shortcut.
The Possum Trail proved to be a nice change from the old logging roads that the horse trails follow.† I enjoyed a pleasant descent under rapidly clouding skies.† The clouds helped alleviate the heat, and Boone was delighted when we finally arrived at Shinny Creek.† It was dark and cool down in there, and it wouldíve been heavenly except for the pesky bugs.
I was now ahead of schedule.† I didnít want to head back early though.† I had gotten a tip from another hiker about some pretty nice wildflowers blooming along Shinny Creek a couple of weeks earlier.† I knew I was probably too late for most of them, but figured that walking up along Shinny Creek would be a good way to add some mileage to my hike while killing time.†
I didnít see much in the way of flowers, but the creek was pretty.† I did spot two Catesbyís Trillium that were still hanging on.† By the time the trail turned away from the stream and began to climb, I figured the show was over.† I did a little exploring closer to the creek though, and stumbled into a bed of Pink Ladyslippers.† They were probably the highlight of the hike.† Thanks to Joe for the tip on them!
I had an early lunch along Shinny Creek before heading back.† The walk back along Shinny Creek and Jacobs Fork was uneventful.† I did notice a pretty significant series of cascades on Jacobs Fork below the trail at one point.† The river drops quite a bit in a short distance there, so there could be some smaller waterfalls out of sight.† Exploring that stretch of river would require a lot more time and motivation than I had on this morning though.† Instead I kept moving, and was startled to see a couple of dozen people in and near the picnic area shortly before the trailhead.† Counting the two backpackers Iíd seen at the beginning of the hike, everyone I saw along the trail was within a ľ mile of the parking lot. †Solitude is certainly a major attraction to hiking on weekdays!
Iíll definitely return to South Mountains State Park, even if I have to drive through Lincoln County to get there.† The next time Iím in the area though, I hope to explore some of the undeveloped parts of the park that were recently purchased by the state.† There arenít any official trails in those areas, but Iíve heard that those tracts of land include some old growth forest and waterfalls.
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