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Carol "Brawny" Wellman's Foothills Trail Hike

The Foothills Trail is 76 miles long, winding through magnificent scenery in North and South Carolina. Because it is so close to home, I bought the trail guide two years ago, and finally decided to check it out.

The guide is very complete, with fold out maps, directions to access points, profile and general overview. It even gives a good estimate on how many hours of hiking are needed to complete each section. However, I needed to compile my own data sheet with cumulative mileages. The guide is published by The Foothills Trail Conference, PO Box 3041, Greenville, SC29602. Their website is Foothills Trail .

The southern terminus is Oconee State Park, S.Carolina and the northern terminus is at Table Rock State Park, S. Carolina. It follows the mighty Chattooga River for several miles, takes you up to Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina, crosses numerous streams, and allows one to view fantastic waterfalls, among them Upper and Lower Whitewater Falls, two of the highest in the eastern United States. Truly a trail worth experiencing.

Check out Rainmaker's Foothills Trail Page for GPS points, photos and our 2008 Foothills Trail hike.

June 15, 2005

--I began my hike of the Foothills trail by parking at Cheohee Road (intersects with Hwy 107) and hiking south to Oconee State Park. The guide is written hiking southbound, so this was a great way to get acquainted with this unusual trail guide. It seems to be written with day hikers in mind. Campsites and water are rarely mentioned, although I passed them often enough. Its landmarks are easily recognized however, and the 6 miles were covered with great enjoyment. I saw one trail runner, and on my return hike north to my car, I saw another day hiker. This is an easy, nearly level section and although I hiked 12 miles, it only took me 4.5 hours.

June 26, 2005

--Today I decided to spend the entire day hiking, even though thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon. I drove to Burrell's Ford Parking area and noted the sign on the gate: Please secure all valuables. Five cars were broken into May 28th. I locked my doors, double-checking them. My gear for summer day hikes consists of: one-liter soda bottle and small vial of chlorine carried in a bottle sling, and my ultralight fanny pack. I have the trail guide, a compass, some deet, sunscreen, my silnylon rain jacket, snacks and reading glasses. My two hiking poles are standard. I wear shorts with pockets to carry my watch, ultralight knife, photon lights, tissue, and car keys. During the other three seasons, I would bring my silnylon rainpants as well.

Hiking south, winding through forest, along streams and finally the Chattooga River, I was impressed by how well marked the trail was. It wasn't very steep, but the roots and narrowness made it somewhat dangerous. It would be easy to twist an ankle here. I was beginning to wonder if I'd bitten off a bit too much: to hike to Cheohee Road where I'd left off last week, and then return to my parked car (a round trip of 20.8 miles). After 2.5 miles, the trail was along the river, so close that it actually was inundated (totally covered). I couldnít see any way through to a landmark, so retraced my steps to a spur trail heading uphill. Sure enough, it was the High water alternate, and soon rejoined the bottomland. This happened again at mile 5.2.

The trail was beautiful and rugged with grand rock formations, lush forest and a wild foaming river. It was as sweet a hike as one could wish for. But, as thunder began to rumble, I quickened my steps. There are many intersecting spur trails in this popular camping and fishing area along the famous river. Because the guide was very important in navigating through here I wanted to reach my turn around point so I could put the trail guide away. I would remember the way back and the rain would not spoil my book, safely stored in a zip-lock bag, in my silnylon fanny pack.

Just as I ascended the steps nearing Hwy 107 and the intersection to Cheohee Road the sprinkles turned to a splatting no-nonsense downpour. I quickly donned my rain jacket, pulling it down over my fanny pack, its lunch and trail guide safely tucked within. The return hike could be leisurely, it was just after noon. I saw many drenched campers hiking to the Nicholson Ford Road parking area. They looked at me quizzically. What nut was still out here hiking?

Mentally I retraced my steps, recalling what the next landmark would be. This exercise must be good for the prevention of Alzheimers Disease: using one's brain, forcing oneself to recall tiny details. The rain finally let up enough to pull my bagel out for lunch. A couple peppermints later, and things were looking up. I eat while I hike, a method learned on the Pacific Crest Trail, which allows one to cover signifcant distance without strain. I notice a red kayak crashed and abandoned along the river bank. Further along, boy scouts ask how far until the Thrift Lake Parking Area turn off. Two miles, I guess. They groan, and I smile encouragement. Its been a wonderful day. By 4 I'm back at my car, my little blue geo. Its safe and unmolested. Life is grand.

August 8, 2005

Because of the southeastern deluge, I continued my hike of the Foothills Trail as a day hike.

I parked my car at the Fish Hatchery Road access (.2 miles from the intersection of Hwy 107 and Fish Hatchery Road). First, I headed south, to Burrell's Ford Road, a 4-mile hike. It was raining, yet lovely, the peaceful ambience present in a quiet wilderness world. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. The guidebook doesn't mention "water" unless you're crossing an actual stream, but I mentally noted the areas for camping and water so that I could record them in the book for future adventures. This trail will be gorgeous any of the four seasons, and I intend to return many times.
As I neared Burrell''s Ford Road, I crossed a fabulous stream, so typical of this Chattooga River gorge. So far, I've only seen one trail runner today, no one else is venturing out in the torrential downpours.

I returned by the same trail to my car, replenished my snacks, dropped off my spare shirt and headed north to Sloan Bridge, 3.3 miles away. This area reminds me so much of the Bartram Trail. The vegetation is lush, the camping nearly non-existent due to steep slopes and heavy ground cover. Yet, when we near the river, or a road access point, sites are carved out by fishermen and boy scouts who treasure this magnificent river. The trail is well marked, which is good for hiking in steady rain (you don't need to read the guide to stay on trail here). I cross many gullies, lots of cascading streams, climb over a few new blowdowns and finally come to an amazing surprise: a 60 foot water fall. The guidebook says it is 6 feet, but hey, I 'm 5 feet and its Way Bigger than me. I look up skyward, and notice the cascades fall in layers, onto ledges, each ledge about 10 feet from the other.
The waterfall is only .7 miles to Sloan Bridge picnic area, a pullout on Hwy 107 with stone privy (whose door has been chewed through at the bottom by some hungry creature) several picnic tables and 4 huge bear proof garbage bins. There are lots of campsites down below, along the roaring East Fork of the Chattooga River. I wouldn't recommend parking overnight at this pullout however.

I return by this same trail to my car. The rain has slowed to sprinkles, and its been a great day enjoying the bounty of summer growth. Several bright red leaves have fallen on the trail, a promise of fall beauty to come. And, they say there are great winter views of Whiteside Mountain through here. We'll have to come back to check that out. I suddenly break away from my thoughts, startled by two backpackers, a man and his son. "Oh, I didn't see you, I was daydreaming" I explain.
"Good place to be daydreaming," the man replies. We smile and continue on our ways. 14.4 miles today.

August 10, 2005

Continuing the Foothills Trail, today I parked my car at the Whitewater Falls State Park parking lot. I descended along the spur trail near the bathrooms, and headed south. Contrary to the guidebook, this 5.5-mile section is not easy. The trail marker itself says "strenuous". A thousand foot ascent up Grassy Knob is first, then much undulating narrow trail. Because of the torrential rains, the trail is eroding. Many streamers for trail crews hang on branches, with "water bar" written on them. After two miles, one reaches benches to view eastward, and Lake Jocassee. This man made lake was created by flooding the valley, thus uprooting local residents, but forming a power producing dam and recreational area. Some people lost, but many others won, when the land was changed so dramatically.

Again, I note where campsites are found, mostly on top the mountain, and without water, so that when I return in the fall to backpack this area with friends, we can better plan our days. Basically, whichever way you head, north or south, pick up water and plan on camping on top. One campsite, with water is found about a mile south of the parking area at Whitewater Falls.

I saw one snake, two squirrels, and two young men backpacking. The trail in this section is very wild, deeply wooded, and at times dark. If a person fell down the slope, they might never be found. The moss alone would soon cover their body, then the kudzu, and brambles. Such thoughts occur to solo hikers, who on good days bring bright thoughts and bad days bring their own moods to shadow the trail. It doesn't even matter whether or not the sun shines. Enough introspection. When I reached Hwy 107 and Sloan Bridge, I hiked back to my car. This section is easier when hiked northbound, and very reminiscent of the Appalachian Trail, whose many ups and downs, and rugged wanderings make one glad for a light pack.

Because of a massive mudslide just north of the spur trail access from the restrooms, I was not able to see the falls today. Round trip miles: 10.4

September 2, 2005 (Friday)

This morning at daybreak I headed out our front door, destined for Table Rock State Park, 63.9 miles away. First, I headed down a side trail, and then up a gravel road, where 5 miles later I intersected the Foothills Trail at Burrell's Ford Road. Heading east (northbound) I rehiked the sections up to Whitewater Falls. I made good time, and began new territory, heading deep into the Whitewater Falls basin by 3:30.

Now I know why the previous sections were all termed "easy". It's in reference to the hell ahead. Steep steps, too numerous to count, await. Wooden blocks, rocks, stone, earth and other structures help one ascend and descend what can only be termed the worst PUDS known to man. (Pointless Ups and Downs). I guess they're not really so pointlessÖ. the ravines are just that way. Apparently it is easier to maintain steps than to hack out a trail in the side of a hill.

Next I crossed through 2.3 miles of no camping, (Whitewater Falls to Bad Creek Access) which was truly wild. Then crossing the Whitewater River by an arduous boulder scramble to reach the 60-foot bridge that spans the roaring river, I wondered at my wisdom in approaching such obstacles alone. But, committed to the trail, I continued. There were many large blow downs, and huge spider webs, making the journey more challenging. I havenít seen a hiker all day, and its obvious, Labor Day Weekend not withstanding, I have the place to myself.

I'd arranged for Rainmaker to pick me up Sunday afternoon on the 4th, so the miles must be done. As the afternoon wore on, I began looking for a campsite. The trail descended to Bear Creek, crossing several 35-foot long bridges. The ground had been churned up by many animals, looking for food. I examine the damage, not bear. No large logs turned over, no rocks displaced. Too much damage for turkeys, but I kept telling myself turkeys. After all, I would be camping soon. By 7:30, I'd located my campsite, built a campfire, and ignored the churned earth. During the night, I came to terms with my brain. Yes, it is wild hogs. 25.6 miles.

September 3, 2005 (Saturday)

This trail demands strong legs, arms and back. Today I must make at least 20 miles to reach my destination on Sunday. I am very thankful for my ultralight style because the steps descending and ascending each river ravine would destroy the strongest of knees.

I finally catch my first glimpse of a bear's rear as he runs away. The scarcity of large animals has amazed me as well; only a few small birds are seen. Sometimes the trail follows old logging roads. The trail is well blazed with white rectangles, much like the Appalachian Trail. At noon, I take a short break at the water's edge of Lake Jocassee. This is the trail access point by boat. Some people are actually out boating on the lake and come over to wave. This is nice, my first human sighting since leaving home yesterday morning.

Next, I cross the Toxaway River on a 225-foot suspension bridge. I pass through a very nice camping area filled with huge bright tents and picnic table laden with kitchen stuff. The boaters have made themselves to home, and cruise the shore as I hike by, perhaps wondering if I might pilfer something. No boys, I have plenty on my back!

Then begins the arduous climb up to the ridge, where one could see the Lake in the winter or early spring. Then one begins a long descent. HummÖ. then another ascent to a bench. Nice. Then a deep descent. Up a long hard road to catch another steep descent. Can't say they didnít warn me, the guide calls this a "beautiful rugged 5.8 trail segment with both steep ascents and descents" which should take 4 hours to complete.

By late afternoon, having crossed Larrel Fork Creek multiple times by way of good sturdy wooden bridges, and traversed several ravines, I began thinking I am just going in circles. Please, something new, or different. Ah yes, I haven't crossed this blowdown before! Suddenly a guy on a bike rounds the trail and stops to inquire about "access roads". These would be old logging roads, good enough to bike, yet not open to cars. Some have been visible up ahead, I tell him, but don't get into the steps, you don't want to do the steps. He looks at me quizzically, and bids goodbye.

I see my camp, a wide, dry flat area, devoid of destruction, good firewood, and water nearby. I make my campfire, wash the hundred cobwebs off me, cook supper and enjoy the cooling air. As darkness falls, an owl comes to sit above my camp. We exchange calls and conversation for a while, he stays to serenade me with lonesome calls through the night. Life is grand. 21.8 miles.

September 4, 2005 (Sunday)

At daybreak, I am again on the trail, just 16.5 miles to go. I'm feeling strong, yet sick of my gorp. I basically eat pop tarts for breakfast with a cup of hot coffee. Then all day munch on a trail mix of raisins, m&m peanuts, and animal crackers. I have a few peppermint hard candies. This lasts till a supper of Ramen. But today, I am sick of all sweets, and must still consume the calories. Bummer. My sweet tooth is tamed!

By 10:30 a.m. I met two day hikers, heading up to Sassafras Mountain, at 3,554 feet, the highest mountain in South Carolina. This was easier heading north, and not near the climb I had anticipated. There is good parking. The trail really didnít get too steep after that until I reached Table Rock Mountain. There are some spectacular cliffs and boulder formations through here. Again, spring and winter views would be excellent. This area is very lush with overgrowth in summer.

Once you get to the park boundary, the white blazes disappear and are replaced by sporadic and nearly invisible yellow blazes. But, itís not hard to follow once you get across the 100-yard expanse of rock overlook. Unlike the AT, there appeared to be no blazes to show one where to pick up the other end of the trail. Carefully checking the outcrop boundaries (which sometimes border on thin air) I finally found the eastern end.

A mile later, near the waterfalls, day hikers began appearing. I smelled the strong perfume of soap on them. No doubt they smelled the strong perfume of sweat on me. I apologized to some Japanese tourists, but they only laughed. About a mile from the trail's end at the huge parking area for the Carrick Creek Interpretive center, I see kids, adults and dogs all out enjoying the waterfalls and natural water slides. Their laughter is contagious. This is a great place to cool off, and everyone is having a wonderful time.

David picks me up on schedule. I would recommend anyone planning a hike on the Foothills Trail to limit their mileage to 10 mile days and carry light packs. There are many blow downs due to the storms and scarcity of trail crews. There are no resupply points along the way. Itís a great trail for building endurance, preparing for a long distance hike, getting some time alone, and enjoying many wild remote rivers.

Foothills Trail Revisited- April 2009

Last year, Rainmaker and I hiked from Occonee State Park, the northern terminus, up to Bad Creek Access, as a series of day hikes. I didn't notice any real changes from my previous experiences there.

This spring, he decided to finish the trail, and I decided to join him.

On this hike with Rainmaker I was testing a new double wall shelter. The Eureka Spitfire 1 is reviewed on the Ultralight page, under Gear Reviews.

Saturday, April 11th,

Rainmaker and I drove 2 cars to Table Rock State Park, got the required parking pass ($2 per night, per person, regardless of how many vehicles) and parked my Geo at the Day Parking Lot, just in front of the Interpretive Center. Then, we drove over to Bad Creek Access and parked his car. This is a gated area, and the gate is only open between 6 a.m to 6 p.m. Shuttlers, be advised!

We hiked a leisurely 6 miles, camping at Bearcreek Camp. No signs of hog damage that I noted in 2005. Another group was camped up aways, and we spent a pleasant evening relaxing in camp, then went to sleep in our seperate tents.

That night, I was suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by roaring engine, bright lights and voices. I wondered how a vehicle could access the area, and was glad I was surrounded by trees. I sat up, alone in my tent, to await events. I heard Rainmaker's low voice, some more exchanges, but could not distinguish words. Hoping it was a ranger, I looked at my watch. One a.m. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of racing heart and pulse, the vehicle turned around and left. All was quiet. I cautiously unzipped my tent, walked over to Rainmaker's tent, and called to him, "What was that all about?" He replied, "They said please don't shoot, cause they were unarmed. They were looking for their dog, and asked if I wanted a beer."

Sunday, April 12th,

woke to a beautiful morning, cooked breakfast and got ontrail about 8. Rainmaker is taking some photos and clips for a short film, so we hiked a leisurly pace. Horsepasture River is pretty remarkable and the steps were just beginning to be serious. Next, we approached the Toxaway River and Canebrake Boat Access. But, where was the Lake? Last time, boaters were enjoying Labor Day weekend, even going up beneath the legendary 225 foot bridge across the river! This time, all was a mass of grass, and until we neared the bridge, the river's flow could not even be seen. The campground was deserted. After hiking over the ridge we camped at Rock Creek. That night it began to rain.

Monday, April 13th,

Ate a cold breakfast and packed up in the rain. My new tent served quite well. Its a little trickier packing up a double wall tent with seperate shock corded poles, but it went well. Hiked through the Larrel Falls area, crossing more than 15 substancial bridges as it winds back and forth over the river. Several steps missing on the ascent to Virginia Falls made that trail dangerous and slippery in the rain. Finally, camped on a knoll 2 miles south of Sassafras Mt, highest in S.Carolina. Managed to cook and set up my tent during a brief respite in the drizzle. Slept warm, and well. Looking forward to finishing the trail tomorow.

Tuesday, April 14th,

Woke once again to rain, ate a cold breakfast, and packed up. It was a little harder climbing Sassafras today, probably due to the cold dreariness. We checked out the old homestead site, and continued onward. Descending the mountain, and getting onto the yellow blazed Foothills/Pinnacle Trail, we noted the reroute. No longer does the Foothills Trail pass Mill Creek Falls. Then, a side hill trail winds around for a couple extra miles, so, if you have an old trail guide, be aware that this in changed as well. Finally, we intersect the Carrick Creek trail, and once again get to hike the old, erroded Foothills/Pinnacle Trail, bringing you past natural waterslides and waterfalls.

Finished the trail by 5:30. Nothing like seeing your own car parked, waiting, at the trailhead.

--Brawny April 15, 2009