Good Morning, Table Rock

Saturday morning was planned to be a short trip to Slickum Creek to show off the waterfall Sweet Thing on Slickum and a visit to Cesaer’s Head, but events changed the course of the morning. I was given a kayak several months ago (thank you!!) and still had not put it in the water yet. 
My plan was to wake up leisurely, have breakfast and coffee at home, and then leave the house about 8:00am. Instead, I woke up at 5:00am and became anxious. Some of that was life events; a big bulk of it was, “I’m supposed to be sleeping and I’m not falling asleep.” It’s still dark. My mind turned to being able to catch the sunrise. If you have never seen a Carolina sunrise, let me tell you that they are typically brilliant. Many are motivated to trudge up mountains in the dark to savor the few moments of the morning majesty. As I was driving on the Pumpkintown Highway, the glow began to illuminate the tips of the tree tops, and by the time I was at the intersection with Highway 11, the burst of light was happening.

Sunrise burst over the trees at the corner of Highway 11 and Pumpkintown Highway
I pulled into the Table Rock visitor center across from the East Gate entrance. After parking, unloading the kayak, and hauling it down to the water, I noticed the boat launch was on the other side of the lake. I would have to launch right off the shore, but no big deal. It looked like more than one person had walked down there anyway. A short walk out onto the dock gave me a view of Lake Oolenoy, as smooth as glass in the cool of the morning. Dragging the kayak out into the sandbar, I sat in and used the paddle to push off into the lake.
This was my first time ever in a kayak. The only experience I had with kayaks was looking at them in a store, wearing a Life is Good t-shirt, and watching Pat Keller videos on YouTube. For anyone interested, mine is a Pelican Ultimate100dlx. Entry level, for sure. As I glided through the water, I heard water trickling. Looking into the boat, I was expecting to see it slowly filling with water. Nope. That sound was only the kayak gliding through the water. Newbie kayak experience. 
I stayed near the shore as I paddled until I began to feel more comfortable with the kayak, the stability, and the maneuvering. First destination was going to be under Highway 11 and towards Table Rock. The only other company I had on the lake was a few fisherman trolling around in john boats. I paddled up to where the lake narrowed and became very shallow. My presence there was enough to disturb several of whatever was in the water. They trashed about, splashing the shallow water and kicking up the sediment from the bottom in a murky escape. I made my way back under Highway 11 towards to boat launch side of Lake Oolenoy. A few more boats were out now, and not wanting to interfere with a couple guys launching their canoe took me further out into the center of the lake. Pretty comfortable by this point so I made my way towards a couple coves on the south side of the lake where I was able to sit in the shade while taking some unobstructed panorama photos of Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock. This is an awe inspiring view that you do not get from any terra firma that I have stood on. I paddled around a bit more on the southern side of the lake before making my way back to shore. I had spent about an hour on the water and felt great. With the kayak back on the roof of my car, it was only 8:00am.
Pinnacle Mountain, Panther Gap, Table Rock, and The Stool
I did not bring a backpack with me, but I did manage to grab a few essentials (water bottle, LifeStraw, small snack, GPS, monocular) to stuff in my cargo shorts pockets just in case there was an opportunity for a quick hike. The destination was one I already had in mind, which is why I packed what I did. The GPS and monocular would allow me to accomplish two goals that I have been thinking about ever since embarking on The South Carolina Project: take a photo of Slicking Falls and get an elevation profile and track (with waypoints) of the Table Rock trail. A quick hike. 
Carrick Creek Falls
So, for the unfamiliar, the red blazed trail to the top of South Carolina’s awesome monadnock Table Rock is a lengthy uphill 1800′ over the course of 3.6 miles. Being solo, I figured I could make the out and back within 4 hours, though it would not be without some huffing and puffing. I wanted to be back home around 1:00PM, so I estimated that there would be enough time. Start time, 8:30am.
Carrick Creek Falls is only a minute or two into the hike. There’s a nice deck built there to turn it into a popular splashing hole for families with kids. There is no reliable water on the trail after passing the intersection of the green blazed Carrick Creek Trail. There are two moist gullies that I remember crossing over in the second mile of the trail, but there was not enough to filter. Maybe after heavy rains, but again: not reliable. The trail is filled with large SUV sized boulders that are easy to scramble on, but unfortunately the views are obscured by all the trees. On the plus side, that makes for hiking that, though hot, is not sun baked and scorching. By the time I had reached the shelter at the halfway point, I had passed most groups. Not that it’s any badge of ability or anything, but hiking solo can streamline what time frame you’re able to accomplish something in. There is a nice view just a few yards past the shelter where you can make out Pinnacle Lake, Lake Oolenoy and even a distant Paris Mountain. The first couple miles just feel like up and up and up until it levels out decently for a short time after the 2 mile mark.
Shelter at the halfway point
View from near the shelter.Pinnacle Lake and  Lake Oolenoy below. Paris Mountain barely visible towards the left.
I crossed paths with two hikers, Bruce and Nicole, coming up to Governor’s Rock. We made some friendly small talk, and I asked him if he had heard of Nine Times Forest and Preserve, which you can see past Pinnacle Mountain. I fumbled with my GPS trying to figure out which mountain was Big Rock, but given that I was trying to keep a time schedule, I left Bruce at the bald and kept on towards the top. Some of the steepest and rockiest scrambles of the trail are in the second half of the trail, but once on the ridge, it levels out. Before emerging to the view on the south side of the mountain, a large tangle of BlackBerry bushes was growing fruitfully along the trail. Their sweetness was a welcome reward for the summit. I spent just a minute taking in the view at the overlook and peering down at the Stool (the smaller mountain at the south-eastern base of Table Rock). The question most people seem to ask around the summit of Table Rock is, “Did you go all the way to the back?” I have hiked up here twice before, so I was already aware of it. Indeed, the BEST view is through the bushes, over the rock balds, and onto the eastern side of Table Rock to look out upon the reservoir and Caesar’s Head. This is also where those with a keen eye for waterfalls can get the only legal view of Slicking Falls across the reservoir. It was 10:30am.

Me on Governor’s Rock, Pinnacle Mountain behind on the right, Nine Times in the distance on the left.
Slicking Falls. Not bad for a Galaxy S5 through a monocular.
As I sat on a pile of rocks enjoying the view, Bruce and Nicole came out of the woods to enjoy the spot with me. Turns out they are training for a hike to Everest base camp in a couple months, so it was very cool to hear their story. Bruce told me of a previous trip to Nepal and meeting the Rimpoche in one of the monasteries, who would grant you one question to ask of him. I can’t remember what he said he asked him, but the recollection of wrestling with trying to come up with the question was highly interesting. “What is the meaning of life is too generic.” I was personally challenged to think of what my answer would be. Such an answer is not whimsically given on the fly, but takes some pondering. We said our goodbyes and best of lucks, and at 10:45am, I started down the mountain. 
View from the back east side of the Table Rock summit. Slicking Falls towards the left. Caesar’s Head beyond.
On my way out, I noticed some yellow flowers growing low. At closer inspection, unless my eyes deceived me, they were horned bladderworts! I didn’t expect to find those blooming fully on the sun baked rocks. No signs, at least in a quick glance, of any sundews or pitcher plants like we had seen earlier in the year when exploring nearby bogs. As I was about to leave the bald rock of the summit, I noticed a few blueberry bushes growing. A small handful of those, with a couple more small handfuls of blackberries on the way out, and I was given over to the enjoyment of foraging. The wild sweetness of the berries was a treat to lift the spirits for a departing descent.
Horned Bladderworts on the summit of Table Rock
The hike back down the mountain was largely uneventful as I rock hopped along the path, paying attention to where my feet fell while using gravity and momentum to take some of the effort out. I passed a handful of hikers on the way down that I had also passed on the way up. “How much further to the top?” The answers went from “less than half a mile!” to “about 1.3 miles” and the number kept going up. Granted that the temperature was in the 90F’s, but there were a lot of worn out people at less than the halfway point on the trail. Folks were carrying fully loaded backpacks, some had trekking poles. If I had remembered mine, I would have used them.  I had the impression that Table Rock is much more demanding than people suspect it to be. It is a challenge, for sure. Would I say it’s fun? I will let you decide that. Once I heard Carrick Creek rushing, I knew I’d be getting in and taking a long swig with the LifeStraw of that cool mountain water. Really, though, it was hot enough that there was not much coolness to the water. It was cooler, buy not cold by any stretch. I sat back in my car at 12:05pm. 
Total time to hike to the top of Table Rock and back along the red blazed trail: 3 hours 35 minutes. Do not use that as an estimate for you. Remember: I was only carrying a bottle of water, perhaps 5lbs. I was solo. I was also hoofing it to keep a good pace. The only breaks I took were for 15 minutes at the summit to eat a small snack and talk with Bruce and Nicole, and then 15-20 seconds to stand on top of a rock or two take a picture several times along the trail. I barely stopped. Another thing to consider is that I’ve bushwhacked through briers and rhododendron on elevations and terrain worse than that red blazed trail. Though a challenge, I have been in a lot worse. None of that is to brag, but to give you pause while you consider realistically what it will require of you. Bring lots of water (70oz would be good), and like I said before, trekking poles are great. In fact, this was the trail that convinced me to own a pair.
What of the question? If I could ask the Rimpoche one question, what would it be? After considering the question on the hike down, I could only think of one question. One question that makes a world of difference, and the most important question that has ever been posed to me: “Who do you say that I am?

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