Hiking the South Carolina Fall Snowfall

 With a men’s breakfast for our church, Waldemar and I got a late start. That didn’t help out our temperature much, though. Just before noon, it was still only 36 degrees. A storm had dumped 4+” snow on the ground in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and it was pretty much all still there by the time we showed up.

Originally, I had been planning to hike Rim of the Gap, but the parks started closing early this weekend thanks to the time change. Hey, I’m grateful for the extra hour of watching TV sleep, but having less daylight for hikes is a big stinkaroo.

I have driven past this parking lot several times, and actually parked there twice for a hikes to Raven Cliff Falls. It would be my first time stepping foot into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area from this side of the park. We were really surprised to get out of the cold and feel the biting wind. This was gonna be a lot colder than I had anticipated. It kinda reminded me of my home state of Michigan, actually. Fortunately, we were set well with what we were wearing and had brought toboggans. Down the snowy trail we went.

(Snowy fall colors along the Coldspring Branch Trail)
The Coldspring Branch Trail was extremely scenic. As we descended, the ridges of Jones Gap rose to either side of us. Eventually, Coldspring Branch emerged from a trickle in the rocks of a gulley to a beautiful full flowing creek that kept us company nearly the entire trip towards the Middle Saluda River at the very bottom of Jones Gap. We had to cross Coldspring Branch a couple times, but the crossings were rock hops that kept us out of the water. At several points, the rhododendron drooped as the evening snow still clung to its leaves. Fall yellows, oranges, and reds really contrasted with the fresh snowfall. The whole trail was really enjoyable. Many trails feel like green tunnels that take you to a destination. Coldspring Branch Trail is a trail that is fitting to describe as the journey being the destination. Additionally, it is a connector to a handful of other trails making it an important trail for loops.
(Snowy rhododendron along Coldspring Branch)

Our ascent started at a campsite where Coldspring Branch Trail intersected with the Bill Kimball Trail. It was pretty soggy around the bottom, where some of the trail had been overtaken by water, making them tiny tributaries to the Middle Saluda. Then the trail turns up. It’s 900 feet in elevation to the top.

(Waldermar with our first view of El Lieutenant in the background)

Eventually, Bill Kimball Trail turns rocky, and takes you to four different rock faces of the formation known as El Lieutenant. These four faces are surely the pull to take this trail. The way we came is the more difficult direction, since you have to climb up it, sometimes using your hands. Given the snow and slick footing, though, climbing up was safer than climbing – or slipping – down. We stopped at an overhang not too far from the top for a short break and a bite to eat for lunch.

Once at the top of the ridge, the grade evens out quite a bit and it’s an easy hike back to the car. As far as difficulty goes, I would say that the trails were moderate in themselves, with the difficulty increased due to the snow. Hike length varies depending on the source. My GPS said we went 6.3 miles, the guidebook says the hike is 4.8 miles, and the official map says it’s 4.4 miles. I don’t know. It took us just over 3.5 hours to hike it, though. 

(Me and Waldemar at one of the four faces of El Lieutenant)
What I thought was going to be a concession hike to just get out and do something smaller turned out to be extremely. It’s not often we get snow in the Upstate, let alone when fall colors are still surging. Discovering the Coldspring Branch Trail for myself was like uncovering a hidden away secret. Most of all, this was the first time Waldemar and I got to spend any time together. We had great conversation that revolved around God speaking through the miraculous, how God is more wild than we give him credit for and will not be contained by the boxes we put him in. What is God trying to say to us? At my asking, I also got to hear a lot of great stories about what life is like in Germany. To go out hiking is a lot of fun, but to share in fellowship with another Christian brother is a real blessing for me. It’s like, you get a clearer picture of who God is, and you see Him a little bit better by how he’s reflected in the life of your friend, and your friendship deepens at the same time. There’s really nothing else like it.

This hike was truly a blessing for me on multiple levels.

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