The Foothills Trail, SC part II

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Last weekend we had planned a 14 mile backpacking trip on the another section of the Foothills Trail in SC. We have already done 8.1 miles of it on our first backpacking adventure (you can read all about that trip here) where we started from A4 and went to A6 (we went in and out the same way totaling the miles to 16.2+). This time around we stared at A4 and went to A1 which had us ending in Table Rock State Park.

We drove up after an early work day on Friday so we left our house about 1pm, hoping to get to the trail head before it got too dark and get a few miles in before setting up for the night. Then continuing on Saturday to do 10 more miles and setting up for the night then finishing up the last few miles Sunday morning. Well in true Sheena and Todd fashion that didn’t quite happen. Todd had arranged a shuttle service for us from one of the friends of the Foothills Trail members. She met us at Table Rock State Park where we left our car and drove us to our starting point, which was A4 of the Foothills Trail. Unfortunately daylight was not in our favor and by the time we were ready to start it was pitch dark and about 6:15pm. We found a couple that had just completed the trail and were waiting to be picked up, they said the first few miles were incredibly steep and due to the rain that had been coming it wouldn’t really be safe to start our hike in the dark.

So we took their advice and camped off a closed forest service road near the parking lot of the trail head. It rained that night (we knew there was a high probability of rain the whole weekend, clearing up by Sunday) so we had anticipated it, yet it is still never fun trying to pack up everything in the rain. But we got to it the next morning bright and early ready to start our adventure. We had our homemade instant oatmeal packs for breakfast along with some trail mix. This time I mixed it up a bit and added freeze dried strawberries to the vanilla mix, it was good. The protein I use still seems to take over the flavor for the most part, but good none the less.

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We started on the trail about 9am. Instantly we were grateful we ran into those people and took their advice, the trail was super steep and full of roots. Even being able to see where we were going it was still slippery. I am a firm believer that random people come into our lives for a reason, I was determined to start on Friday night and had we not ran into them we would have.

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Anyhow, the trial was gorgeous despite the on and off again rain. The fall foliage was vibrant and begging to be photographed. We hiked until we got to Chimney Top Gap about 2 miles in and took a small break for a snack.

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We then went another 2.7 miles to get to the top Sassafras Mountain (this is the highest peak where the entire mountain is in South Carolina, topping out at 3553 ft.) and took a break for lunch. The views were beautiful, there was a nice layer of light fog blanketing around us but not too much that you couldn’t see the views.

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Right past Sassafras we ran into this cute guy on the trail.

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After we rested for about a 1/2 an hour we started back on the trail. We were feeling a lot better and more energized hoping we had most of the steep stuff done. Our goal was to get to the top of Pinnacle Mountain and camp for the night. On our route there we ran into what would have been an awesome campsite for the night (unfortunately it wasn’t far enough in, it would have left way too many miles the next day). Someone had stacked tons of large rocks to create a campfire and tons of rock chairs all around the fire pit. It also looked like there were remnants of an old stone chimney. The place was EPIC! Definitely noted so that if we hike it again we can plan to camp there!

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When we thought we only had about 2 more miles more to get to the top of Pinnacle Mountain we ran into a large group of boy scouts and their leaders setting up camp. They said that we only had about 4 more miles until the park entrance where we parked, at this point it was about 2:30pm. This is where we had to make a decision, do we stick to our plan and start to set up camp in the next hour or 2 or do we push on through and drive home tonight. Another thing to be noted is that you are not supposed to camp in Table Rock State Park and we were about to cross over in to the park territory (they do have camping but you have to reserve a spot and they were full; plus they are all at the park entrance). We figured with only about 4 more miles or so and mostly being down hill we could easily make it back before dark.

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So we made the decision right there to push through. Granted, we had mapped it out and we knew that it was supposed to be 14 miles and we were still around 8.?? miles, we should have known it sounded to good to be true. However the decision had been made and we had to keep on trekking. Once we reached Pinnacle Mountain those last 4 miles or so past it were beautiful. The best view of the whole hike was from the top of Bald Knob, it is this huge rock that is completely open on one side to amazing views below, it sits about 2649 ft. up.

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Sorry this photo is blurry, it’s the only one we got of the Bald Knob sign.

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I am not afraid of heights but you won’t catch me getting close to the edge. Thankfully for most of the afternoon the rain had seized, otherwise I can see where the rock could be slippery and very scary (for someone like me!). We would have loved to spend more time on Bald Knob, but with the daylight closing in on us it was a bit of a race. So we continued on.

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The dark came too quickly and by 5:38pm we were pretty much in the dark. Todd got out his headlamp and we trekked on knowing we had about 2 more miles and wouldn’t be able to camp in the park territory, plus we were sooo close! At this point we were definitely getting tired and sore. This part of the trail was beautiful and deserves another trip back to see it all in daylight. We made it back to the car about 6:30pm. Changed in the car and went to get Mexican food before starting the 4 hour car ride home.

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We crammed what was supposed to be a nice relaxing 14 mile 3 day backpacking trip into one day. It was worth it to be home in our bed that night, but I do wish we would have stopped to enjoy it a bit more. We love hiking but sometimes you just want to be home and for some reason home was calling us. On a side note, once we got to our car it started dumping rain again. So we kind of lucked out!

Happy Adventuring! What is the highest peak you have been to in your state?

The “extreme” backpacking of Pilot Mountain in Pisgah National Forest

Well we finally got to the top of Pilot Mountain in the Pisgah National Forest, but the adventure was freaking exhausting. I know what your thinking, “how extreme can it be?” I’m about to tell you! If you remember our last backpacking trip we also went to the Pisgah National Forest and part of our hike was supposed to go through Deep Gap and over Pilot Mountain. Our plan that trip was to hike in enough that we could get up early that first morning and watch the sunrise from the top of Pilot Mountain. Unfortunately, we never made it because we couldn’t find the right trail and didn’t bring a map (we learned our lesson), so we ended up just relaxing by Cove Creek Falls for 2 days. This time there was not much relaxing to be had!

First off, we loaded our packs Thursday night, so we could leave straight after work on Friday. The plan was to get to Asheville, NC area Friday night and stay at a KOA. That way we didn’t have a 4+ hour drive Saturday morning allowing us to hit the trail bright and early and hopefully cover most of the miles on Saturday. We wanted to keep Sunday light and be back to the car no later than 12 so that we could go to an apple orchard on our way home (more on this in another post). Unfortunately it was around 10pm and raining when we pulled into the KOA. Instead of setting up the tent, we decided to just fold down the seats in the back of Subie (that’s our awesome adventure vehicle, aka Subaru Outback) and sleep there. A bonus to staying at a KOA was getting a shower before we embarked on another EPIC adventure in the woods.

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Once we arrived at Pisgah, our first stop was the Ranger station so we that we could inform them of our planned route and see if there were any closures on the trails; I also wanted to get a feel of mileage for our route from the “Rangers”. From the National Geographic Map we purchased previously the route was around 8 miles to the Deep Gap Shelter (a man made lean-to) via the Davidson, Daniel Ridge Loop, Farlow Gap and the Art Loeb trails. The Ranger said that part of the Daniel Ridge Loop was closed so we avoided that, she also said that we should be at Deep Gap between 7-8.5 miles. Then day 2 would be more Art Loeb, then follow the Butter Gap trail back to where we parked bringing the total mileage to approximately 15 miles. Sounded about right to me; so we drove to the trail head located up the road a few miles at the fish hatchery, parked good old Subie and loaded on our gear.

The weather was overcast, sprinkling, and in the mid 60’s, so we suited up our packs with our backpack rain covers and then put our ponchos over us and the bags. This was my first time using my custom backpack rain cover, and my first time using my Frogg Toggs poncho (all reviews of used gear will be done in a later post). We figured as long as our bodies and our packs stayed dry we would be sipping hot cocoa in the tent in “7-8.5 miles”.

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The hike was beautiful, the first 3 miles were relatively flat on the Davidson trail and FS475 (forest service road 475). From there we cut off on the Daniel Ridge loop, stopping along the way to check out an amazing waterfall.

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How cool are all these stacked rocks!

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We got lucky enough to run into people at the falls and they took our picture.

Further along the Daniel Ridge loop, the incline started. It wasn’t bad at first but gradually continued to increase; rocks kept getting bigger and the trail got more rugged. We crossed over a few creeks on the way (with all the rain the creeks were fairly high and crossing was a bit trickier). At roughly 6.5/7 miles we turned off onto Farlow Gap trail.

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The fog was crazy awesome the whole time.

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One of the creeks we crossed

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Oh Farlow Gap, this whole stretch was grueling. At least 3 miles of intense uphill, with the last bit climbing 2000 feet within ½ a mile (it was just shy of climbing on all fours). Not going to lie I had to stop many, many times to catch my breath and get some snacks (and curse under my breath). We finally reached the Farlow Gap/Art Loeb intersection at around 9.5 mile, and we were both like “WTF” this was crazy and we still had to travel down the Art Loeb at least 2 mile to get to the camp site at Deep Gap. By this time we had been hiking for around 5 hours, we were tired, hungry, and the constant rain was getting us soggy (and grumpy). Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures of the steepest part of the trail, we were both just trying to survive, taking pictures was out of the question!

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We proceeded down the Art Loeb trail for about 2 miles going around Sasafrass ridge (which at the time we didn’t know was Sasafrass Ridge) and finally coming to a 3 way fork in the road. The only one that was labeled was the middle fork, it was labeled as the “Art Loeb Trail” and since Deep Gap was supposed to be right along the trail we took that route.

This was actually the route to climb to the peak of Pilot Mountain (although we didn’t know it at the time). The trail was long with lots of switchbacks and the wind was whipping the rain in our faces. We stopped to eat some jerky and nuts since it had been almost 6 hours since we had our last meal. When we reached the peak we thought it was Sasafrass Ridge. It felt awesome to be so high up, however with all the rain and heavy fog there really wasn’t any view to be had. But we figured it would be fine because we would stay at Deep Gap and hike the 1/2 mile or so to the top of Pilot mountain in the morning and hopefully have a better view. This is when Sheena was like “ we should be there by now” and I was like “heck yeah, we should, but the maps says that the camp site is on the Art Loeb. So lets keep going”.

I was really looking forward to a covered shelter and I knew we had to be so close. We continued to push on despite feeling like our knees were going to give any moment. This part of the trail didn’t seem to have had a lot of traffic recently and was overgrown with brush and tree branches. It was very narrow, downward steep and crazy rocky. The down hill was far worse on our knees than the up hill, more than once Sheena lost her footing and almost fell (she actually did fall once).

Despite all the craziness we kept going down, down, down, until around 13 miles we come across a forest service road. At this point it was 7pm and getting dark, we had been hiking for 9 hours. We were cold, soaked to the bone, our bodies hurt (Sheena was limping with a bad knee acting up) and we were crazy hungry.

We were both getting a little grumpy, so I said “ here’s what were going to do: either set up camp on this forest service road or go back up to that last camp spot we saw like ¼ back up the trail”. Sheena was like “we are absolutely not setting our tent up on a forest service road” so we opted for the hike back up the trail.

Once we were at a camp site we threw up a tarp (but not before I had a mini breakdown about how to get it up), and assembled the tent in record time below the tarp. Sheena jumped in and changed into warm dry clothes. Meanwhile I adjusted the tarp (because I was not going to come out of the tent until morning). I finally got in, completely drenched. I have never been happier to get into dry clothes. We were starving so I broke out the cook gear, and made a warm dinner and hot cocoa. Finally our adventure had taken a turn for the better (being warm, dry and having a full belly changes your outlook but not as much as being snuggled up with your wife after a 14 mile super hike).

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After dinner we decided to take another look at the map and figure out exactly where we were at. I used my new eTrex 10 to verify our lat/long with the known map coordinates. This resulted in us seeing that we had apparently taken the wrong trail and overshot the Deep Gap shelter by like 4 miles. Damn, that sucked. We worked out a plan for the next day and went back to bed. The sound of the rain bouncing off the tarp all night kept waking us up thinking there were animals right outside. I got up during the night a few times to make sure no animals had got to our food (it was in a bag high up in the tree).

The next morning, we both awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed (hardly rested but happy to have a plan and not be lost!), ate some delicious homemade oatmeal, and commenced to pack everything up. The Hammocks and Hideaways team knocked all the camp chores out and hit the road around 915. The knowledge that we had less than 6 miles ahead of us and that warm dry Subie was patiently awaiting our return, quieted our barking dogs and and helped our knees.

We traveled down the rest of the Art Loeb trail .6 miles and hit the Forest Service Road 475 which we knew led back to Subie (we double checked with the eTrex and the map, just to make sure). The hike back we were in high spirits. Our knee’s didn’t hurt as much and the Forest Service roads were a lot easier to walk on than rocks and roots. We knocked this out quickly and met Subie in the parking lot, jumped in, and started dreaming about our next adventure. Our first stop was to the ranger station to change into clean clothes and I always like to chat it up with the Rangers. Ya know, let them know how things went.

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We were happy to get back to Subie right around 12 leaving us ample time to hit the apple orchard (Sheena was super excited about this) and get home at a decent time. Once again, our adventure didn’t turn out quite as planned and although we had some rough moments we are excited to get back out there and plan our next adventure. We seem to learn something every time which is always good. Until next time, Happy Adventuring!

Do you have a rain-filled adventure that was still a good time?