Categories Kid Friendly Hiking Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area South Carolina The SC Project Upstate Waterfalls Wildcat Falls Wildcat Wayside

The SC Project: Kid Friendly Waterfall Training at Wildcat Wayside

Recently, the kids and I had a couple hours to spend while mommy visited with a friend. We diverted from our normal destination of Paris Mountain to Highway 11 for some waterfall training. I say training because there is a level of danger when hiking around waterfalls. This year, several hikers have fallen to their deaths at waterfalls. I’m aware of at least two death that occurred at Upper Wildcat falls in years prior. Waterfall training is important because there is a natural draw to them, but there are also ways we can enjoy them recklessly that can turn fun into danger in half an instant. There are rules to stay safe while still marveling over God’s amazing creation with awe and wonder. You’re now free to exhale and read on.
This is a relatively easy (I recorded 212ft of elevation) loop hike just over 1 mile with 4 waterfalls. The smallest children may have some difficulty, but the trail is good and the area is beautiful.
We started at the parking area right below the Wildcat Wayside sign. From there, a short set of stone steps led us to Lower Wildcat Falls. Oftentimes in the summer, there are folks selling produce and boiled peanuts at the road while people enjoy wading in the plunge pool below the falls. 
To the left of the falls, the trail ascends to Middle Wildcat Falls immediately. This is probably my favorite section of this area. The plunge pool is more shallow than the one below, and is perfect for kiddies to splash around in. This is also where the training begins. A series of rocks serves as a broken bridge to cross the creek. The kids are not allowed to be in the pool downstream of those rocks, because the top of Lower Wildcat is just beyond them. We splashed around a bit in the sandy bottomed pool at Middle Wildcat. Closer to the falls where it gets rocky, there are a couple “deep” sections, like 18 inches maybe. My son stumbled into it and soaked himself, but fortunately it was a warm day for October. 
Lesson 1: Wet rocks are slick and slippery.

After the rock hop across the creek, there is an information and map kiosk about the park. The “Falls” notated on the map are for a low flow unnamed cascade along the loop trail. Also, there is the top of Middle Wildcat. Very firmly and clearly, it was time for me to give more training.
Lesson 2: We do NOT play at the top of waterfalls.
The trail levels out at the foundation and still standing chimney of an old cabin. Beyond that, the trail forks. You can go either direction, as the trail is a loop. Follow the yellow blazes painted on the rocks and trees. We took the right side path and started gaining elevation. This will undoubtedly be the most difficult portion of the hike for the youngest explorers, as it takes the energy to hike up the hill and they will need the encouragement that “We will go back to those waterfalls on the way out.” It is a beautiful hike along the edge of the valley. A turn and we were at the Falls, which I count as a waterfall but is not that impressive in all honesty. 

Much more is the upcoming Upper Wildcat Falls. Which brought us back into training time.

Lesson 3: People have died at waterfalls.

Waterfalls are unforgiving. Their beauty demands a healthy respect. Admittedly, sometimes the groups I hike with can blur the lines of what that looks like, but that doesn’t change the fact that dangerous areas demand caution. This day, Upper Wildcat was flowing low, but this 100′ waterfall still is an awe inspiring rock formation, and safe as long as you stay on the trail. My two older kids both said,”Whoa!!!” as the trees gave way to bare rock cliffs when hiking on the trail. The Danger signs are in 3 locations, so there’s plenty notice of the need for caution and tempered exploring. You’ll have to cross the creek with a small rock hop.

The trail meanders through the forest next to the creek at a much easier elevation during this section. There are some cool cascades in the valley as Wildcat Creek makes its way from the Upper to Middle to Lower Falls and eventually the Middle Saluda River. These are visible from the trail.

Soon, we were back at Lower Wildcat for some wading in the chilly plunge pool. The kids easily waded up to the falls close enough to touch it. 

This really is a great hike for families. Despite the dangers of waterfalls, if you stay on the trail, it is quite safe. There are lots of things to see, and it’s a wonderful way to get outside. What a jewel we have in the Upstate of South Carolina! With places like this, we can ease our kids (and ourselves!) into the outdoors. If you’re looking for something with a lot of payoff for little effort, Wildcat Wayside should be on your list. My kids loved it.

Fellowship guy friendship hiking Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rim of the Gap South Carolina The SC Project Trip report

Scrambling the Rim of the Gap

One of the definitions of the word fellowship in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is a company of equals or friends. There are those whose fellowship is found in their draw to dive deep, wrestling to taste the air of colored forests and breathe the waters of satisfaction. Off into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness three such men went.
Erich, Jeremy, and I would begin our day together driving westward on South Carolina’s beautiful Highway 11 towards Ceasar’s Head State Park. Right before the junction with 276, we passed what is normally Lower Wildcat Falls, visible from the road. This day, it was Lower Wildcat Rock, as no water was cascading over it. I had some plans in mind to see a few South Carolina waterfalls that I hadn’t visited yet, but the water flow from Wildcat Creek wasn’t feeling too promising. Nevertheless, we pressed on, for there was more to see than waterfalls.
Very low flow at Rock Cliff Falls today
We parked just past Caesar’s Head at the parking area that also allows access for Raven Cliff Falls, though we wouldn’t be poking around there today. It’s be down the orange blaze for us – Coldspring Branch was our first trail. It was easy warmup hiking as we started out and took our turn to the Coldspring Connector towards our priority goal of the day – Rim of the Gap. First, though, we diverted to the Frank Coggins Trail and took one half of the lollipop over to Naturaland Trust Trail. We crossed 276, where Naturaland Trust goes through a landowners driveway and front yard, and less than a quarter of a mile from there came down to a cracked rock face that was normally Rock Cliff Falls. It was not dry, but it was a trickle. Beyond the Falls is an excellent rock face the we would have loved to follow further, but we had a full day ahead of us.
Talking scars on natives at the totally dry Firewater Falls
Retracing our steps back to the Frank Coggins Trail, we took the other side of the lollipop loop past Firewater Falls, which was only a dry faced overhang this day. No water whatsoever was trickling over. The conversation had turned to snakes just prior to this, and Erich was telling the story of one of the tribesman he treated in Indonesia that had a terrifyingly close encounter with an anaconda. I’ve probably heard that story over a dozen times in the six years I’ve known Erich and it never gets old.
Our next turn brought us to the Rim of the Gap Trail. Erich and I had been talking about hiking this trail for the last four years, and we’ve always diverted elsewhere. With what might be the last time we would be able to hike together for a while, we decided today would be the day. It starts out at the bridge (which was built as an Eagle Scout project by my friend Darrin’s son) over Cliff Falls, and there is a small side path where people have obviously been walking to get a view of the base of the Falls. The flow was low, but still enough to be called a waterfall. There was a sure tropical feel to that little alcove. Warning though, this was the one spot where I slipped on the slickrock. It is very slippery down there, even as low as the water volume was and without any spray from the falls. On normal flow, it would be way worse. If you do follow that worn path down, please stay off the rocks.

Cliff Falls with low flow and a tropical feel

Any fall on Rim of the Gap could be fatal. Why fatal? Well, you’re on the very edge rim of the ridge that rises to the south of Jones Gap. There is water that has to be crossed, bare rock, slick rock, roots, and shrubs that all require some technical maneuvers to pass. A casual stumble or slip could potentially have you careening off the Rim of the Gap down the mountain to be slammed into the trees and bare rock below. Is the trail dangerous? The trail is good, and fairly easy to follow. Like I said, though, it is technical. There are sections you’ll have to scramble on all fours up rock faces and navigate through boulders. Also, to watch out for is snakes. There had been a report of timber rattlesnakes spotted on Rim of the Gap the week prior on The South Carolina Project group on Facebook. OK, enough of the public service announcement.

On on of the Hamlin boy bridges above Cliff Falls
I’m happy to announce that neither myself, Jeremy, or Erich went careening off the Rim of the Gap. On the contrary, we had a great, safe time. There are awesome rock walls, flowing water cascades (which felt strange in the dryness we had already witnessed), and huge boulders to scramble through. We came upon a cave where my aforementioned friend Darrin had something growl at him from within. There is also a trip report floating around in the internet about witnessing a cougar on this trail. Whether or not there are legit cougars in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, I don’t have much insight. I can only say that I have never seen one, but it’s fun to insert cougar lore comments into most outdoor conversations. Granted, I’ve never been stalked, either. At least… not to my knowledge.

For a good section of the trail, we could hear home construction going on in the neighborhood just at the top of the ridge, which didn’t spoil the day by any means, but did take some of the wildness out of it. Fortunately the terrain made up for a lot of that! We climbed up ledges, behind huge rock formations, behind boulders, and on trail that skirts vicariously close to the edge. We climbed beneath Weight Watchers Rock, which is a massive boulder supported by a smaller boulder and provides a just human sized gap beneath them to squeeze through. There is a walk around, which takes you closer to the edge of the gap. Hiking is slow going through the western section of the trail because even though the trail is straightforward, the terrain is not. I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.
Jeremy inspecting the cougar cave. There were no cougars inside today.
Erich loving this scramble. 

The eastern section is much more mellow and easy to follow. So easy in fact that we didn’t even see a four-point buck standing at the trail right before we walked up on it. He took off like a shot back into the forest, but only far enough in for him to be disguised while he kept an eye on us. As we got closer to the Jones Gap Trail and Middle Saluda River, the ground began to have more soggy sections. Rim of the Gap ended, and we made for the river to cool off, soak our shirts and hats, snack, and refill on water. 

It really is the Rim of the Gap
Now for the climb back up to the parking lot. Fortunately, it’s a gradual climb (for the most part) over 5 miles. Jones Gap Trail has a lot of rocks on it which increase the difficulty due to trip factor, but overall it’s not that bad. It meanders fairly close to the river for much of it, which we took advantage of. At one point, visible from the trail, was a smaller waterfall on the river with a pool beneath it and dry rock on one side. The day was hot, probably over 90°F, and we’d been hiking for several hours. Sweaty and dirty, the cool water of the Middle Saluda was too tempting to resist. The waterfall had a large rock at the base of it, so sliding down it wasn’t much of an option. A few feet downstream, however, was a sandy-bottomed pool wallowed out into the bedrock. Accompanied by tiny fish, we took turns submersing ourselves beneath the water of a natural bathtub formation in the river. Life giving water, dropping heat-exhausting body temperatures, and revitalizing sore limbs. Good stuff. I had wanted to get a glimpse of Jones Gap Falls, but we completely blew past it. For another day.
The bathtub in the Middle Saluda River
We made the turn onto Coldspring Branch Trail and decided to take it to the top of the ridge instead of climbing up Bill Kimball and the face of El Lieutenant. The last time I had been on Coldspring Branch was last November on the snowy day, so it looked plenty different yet familiar on this tropical August weekend as it bubbled and rushed down the Valley to the Middle Saluda River below. Hiking out felt like a grunt especially at the end of the day, and though we had seen and hiked through a lot of incredible places, it was a welcome relaxing moment to end our 13.5 mile hike. I also need to report that we didn’t see one rattlesnake.
We had eaten lunch a few hours earlier and were ready for a little something extra, so we stopped at the F-Mart for one of “the best hot dogs in town.” Now with a little sustenance in our bellies, we stopped off the day with a trip to the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom for a glass of Red Whitey. Their Raspberry White Ale is an award winner, and it did not disappoint. 
Swamp Rabbit Brewery’s Red Whitey
It’s easy to retrace our steps here on a blog post, but our conversation is not so easy to retrace. While it feels like we were all over the map over the course of 13.5 miles, we were even more all over in our discussion. This is the bedrock of the fellowship: to know God as Father and the pleasure that results from that relationship. To dive into the depths of what it means to be reconciled to the Father through the Son who bought these brothers with His blood is an amazing thing. Out of that, should we be talking less and doing more? Perhaps not. Without understanding the ramifications of the relationship with Father, what is anything we would set our hands and feet to do? We would burn out. His love is satisfying, motivating, and sustaining, and what a good gift He has given to create fellowships of His own. Fellowships who delight in Him.

carnivorous plants cataract bog hiking horned bladderwort Kings Kaleidoscope pitcher plant Slickum Creek South Carolina sundew The SC Project

Rare Life in the Carolina Bogs

My friend Darrin shot me a text last week about getting in a hike before work, as he was working second shift temporarily. I’ve been on second for a while, so this worked out perfect to head up towards the Mountain Bridge for a morning hike together. I love hiking with Darrin. He’s one of the coolest dudes to share the outdoors with.
As seems typical for my hikes, whatever music I happen to be listening to on the way to the destination gives a prelude to what I’m about to experience. Life for me has really felt topsy-turvy lately, and generally I have been feeling very disoriented and weary. 
In rocks and skies and trees, Your beauty revives me. 
You lift the weight and burden from my shoulders.
Refreshment was coming in abundance.
As we pulled into the parking area, I got to meet long time Team Waterfall member Brenda Wiley and her friend Dan who was visiting from out of state. Darrin had gotten a tip about a cataract bog in the area, and we all wanted to check it out. Before that, though, we would check one we did know of. 
During our Waterfalls on 11 hike, we passed through a bog with the remnants of last years pitcher plants, and the time is about right to see them in bloom now. We made our way to Heritage Falls. Darrin was telling us a story of how a guy who died here after slipping on the slick rock. With low water flow, it seems quite innocent, but that rock gets very slick. Now cautioned, we worked our way down and around to the base of the falls where we visited a very intact moonshine still. Just beyond that, crossing the creek brought us to visit the first bog.
A few steps after crossing the creek, we spotted some fauna sunning itself on the flora. A black snake was hanging out, just taking in the first morning rays. Darrin knelt down and got within near kissing distance of the snake to get a picture of it. The snake simply flicked its tongue and patiently let Darrin take pictures of it. 

A few steps past Mr. No Shoulders and we were at the bog. These cataract bogs form on rock surfaces with slow moving low volume water flow that allows the fauna to perfectly gain habitat, and what fauna we found! Though not at full bloom, we got to see several patches of very full pitcher plants, horned bladderwort, and even some small sundews. All three of those are carnivorous. I have always wanted to see the carnivorous plants in the area ever since I first heard they populated Panthertown Valley. When Darrin mentioned them, I was really itching to see them in my own backyard of the Upstate. Also growing in the area were a couple wild orchids, Grass Pinks. There was also several mountain laurel plants in beautiful bloom.

Pitcher Plant

Sundew, beneath Pitcher plants and Horned Bladderwort

We made our way back to the cars to look for a spot given by a rough description of a non-descript trail entrance (as most adventurers of Team Waterfall begin – this is the pathway to a good time) given by a tip. I love adventures, just gotta say that. So we hiked along a firebreak of a recent prescribed burn area, tip in mind, looking for a wet area. Not long in, the glistening of wet rock glimmered through the burned underbrush. The trail continued on down the hill, but following in agreement with our master waterfallers Darrin and Brenda, we took the perpendicular turn into the burn area. The only real bushwhack to mention is pushing aside a thin curtain of briers, and we were at the bog. This bog, which was christened as Secret Bog on the permanent etchings of Facebook, was much more full than the previous one. Large green layers of plants covered the rocks, with its gatherings of pitcher plants and horned bladderwort. The Grass Pink concentration was much higher here with several dozen plants. There was even a rare mutant Grass Pink with a white flower. Also, blooming everywhere was the familiar mountain laurel. I love to see when these flowers fall off and land in a creek or river. They float perfectly on the water, almost like they were meant for that purpose, with beauty present even in their decay.

Mountain Laurel

Horned Bladderwort growing in the thin sediment

While standing on one patch of bald rock, a bumblebee was buzzing around but not really leaving the area. I don’t know if it was where I was standing or if it was me, but that bee was very interested in me. It must have thought I was a flower or something sweet smelling (his nose apparently isn’t that good), because it landed on me several times and stayed there long enough for me to get several pictures of it with manual focus. Pretty cool experience, though. The flowers and plants and clear blue skies accompanied by friends tied together with a common willingness to endure to such places brings me to feel that the whole thing is such a great and marvelous gift.

It’s funny, the outdoors. We start by going on hikes on a trail, and then graduate to looking for rock outcrops and waterfalls. Somewhere along the line, the adventurer becomes a botanist. The excitement that comes from finding the wildflowers and plants out in the wild is granted much more subdued, but equally amazing and awe inspiring. Consider the flowers of the field, one has said. Slow down. Enjoy the moment, the thisness of where you are and what you’re experiencing. Quiddity, as I first heard it called by C.S. Lewis, is the essence of what it is, essentially. We have a moment with a visual that invigorates a sensation in us, but we cannot keep that forever. Eventually, we must turn around, leave it behind and head to the cars…but I’m on a rabbit trail there.
In only a few short hours during the cool of the morning, we truly got to hear the Earth sing an orchestra of life.  I was freshly reminded of the gentle, reckless, passionate, giving, burden-lifting love of my Father. Reviving. 
Kings Kaleidoscope was right.. 
See the lilies, how they grow. They don’t work or buy their clothes
But if God, by his grace, clothes the grass with great array
Then how much more is there in store
When I seek your kingdom.
I cannot even imagine what those eternal fields will bring forth.
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The SC Project: Big Rock Mountain

The group stopping at an overlook on the way to the summit of Big Rock Mountain.
Big Rock Mountain has been showing up a lot lately in the photo feeds of my fellow explorer friends. After seeing a few of those photos, I knew I had to get on that mountain and see what was going on up there. Surely there couldn’t be a place like this in South Carolina. Lew me tell you, Big Rock is a scramblers paradise. I’m not much involved in any kind of rock climbing or bouldering any more, and I haven’t made any effort to begin rappelling. Scrambling and bushwhacking though, that’s what we found just outside of Pickens, SC. 
The crew today would be myself, Steve (twice veteran of Linville Gorge), Josh (once veteran of Linville Gorge), Wally (who I hiked with at Mountain Bridge Wilderness and El Lieutenant in the snow), and new hiking buddies Stan and Jonathan. After snagging my typical prehike breakfast at Dunkin Donuts in Traveler’s Rest (bacon egg and cheese on a Manager’s Special cheese covered bagel… oh yeah), I made the drive like I was heading to Panthertown, but I would be at my destination much sooner. A 45 minute drive from Traveler’s Rest brought us to the obscure parking lot for Nine Times, where we could access either the Preserve or the Forest. Yeah, it’s split up. We would go beyond the red gate, then the gate warning us that security cameras were in use, so we could explore Big Rock Mountain. 
Before coming, I had very little information to go on. That’s my excuse, at least, except it’s not much of one. I had just bought the Nine Times & Big Rock Outdoor Companion (authored by local resident, Brad Caldwell) earlier in the week, but to be honest I didn’t thoroughly read it. I knew roundabout where we would be going, and assumed there was a pretty clear path up to the top. After all, I could make out the road from the satellite imagery. Should be no problem, right? Well, with my decision making skills in a bit of a fuzz this morning, we cut across a logged area and into the woods beyond instead of just following the road. On the positive side, we got to the ridge of the mountain in only half a mile instead of one-and-a-quarter-mile. On the negative side, it was a steepish bushwhack. I mean, I’ve hiked up worse and made worse errors, but this took us on the route to expend a ton of our energy reserves at the beginning of the hike, Awesome!
Pink Mountain in the foreground. What is the rocky mountain behind the furthest ridges?
We followed some old semblance of trail (or overgrown logging road, possibly) right on the spine of the ridge over to the summit of Big Rock. We could see where we were going so our direction was good. I mean, there’s a mountain with a huge rock pile on it. It’s kinda hard to miss. Finally, some of those big rocks started to emerge. “Whoa, check that out!” That’s what started to erupt from this group of hikers. A few really large boulders were on the path (ha, path, if you can call it that) we were on. At first, we were only seeing them, then hiking around them, and then pressed into them as the briers, downfall, and bushes proved the exposed rock to be the path of least resistance. It was at this point that we lost Wally to his wonder and he scrambled up those big rocks on Big Rock, leaving us to follow him up. Even the house sized boulder that he managed to get to the top of was not the peak, but once we were all up there the view was incredible. There was a large flatish mountain we first thought was Table Rock, but I quickly realized that it was in the wrong direction. I’m still working on figuring that out, so if anyone has any help with that, I’d love for you to say so in the comments here. Looking at the maps, I am thinking that it was Whiteside Mountain, but I could be wrong. A bit further up and the summit of Big Rock Mountain has a big flat rock on it, almost like some kind of altar. Stan and I chilled out up here, as he jokes that one of his biggest problems in life was a farmer’s tan. Through the trees, we were able to easily make out Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head beyond. Based on GPS distances readings, we were 8 miles away. Once we were all at the top, and Wally is like, “On to Pink Mountain!” which is the closest mountain to the northwest, within the forest. He didn’t realize what I had planned for the day. I think a few of the guys didn’t realize what I had planned for the day, including me. This is where the fun would begin. 
Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head from the Big Rock summit
I’m not really sure why I planned this the way I did. Oh yeah, it’s 1.75 miles to the top, we’ll walk around a little bit, and then come back down. Easy! Well, that didn’t include the unplanned direct brute force route to the top of the mountain. I knew I wanted to climb around on some Big Rocks, but I guess the deceptiveness of Google Earth combined with the photos that were of nearly all rock, I wasn’t thinking about all the waist high scrub and briers we would have to bushwhack through to access many of the areas. Sorry Stan, I told you shorts would be fine. Look at it this way, now you have lots of cool hiking scars on your legs. I saw some of the meanest looking briers I have ever seen up on that mountain. It is a vicious place! As I watched all the guys navigate through the scrub, I could tell the difference that Linville Gorge had made on Steve. He just seemed to spot things in a subtle different way. Climbing up on one of the boulders, Wally and I made a rough determination of where we wanted to go and how we would get there. Going by the guidebook, one area I wanted to be was at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We spotted it from a higher vantage point, but our route would have to take us back towards the summit as we worked around some of the more sheer rock faces.

The guys climbing up one of the many cracks in the boulder maze.

On our way down, we passed through the Big Slopey Project/The Cravasse Boulder. Way cool! This crack was one of my favorite places that we went through on the mountain. I got to do a few chimneying moves in there. Really, just to move my body in ways like that feels great. I love that feeling of just climbing on stuff, We worked down cracks, around boulders, through bushes, up gullies, and finally found ourselves at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We found an old ragged hammock that looks like it gave way a while ago. For the adventurous, it’d be a great campsite. There is a fire ring, and a couple bolts in the rocks for hanging a hammock that is not so ragged and still in working condition. Wally is a guy that loves to move and be active. That much is obvious. He asked me what was beyond my comfort level, so I told him anything that I would have to explain to his wife. I knew what he was thinking. Straight up the tree to the top of the Shaman’s Cave Boulder he went. How’s the view up there?? He replies, “Pretty much the same.” Coming down was a bit slower and meticulous. Fortunately, I won’t have to explain anything to his wife. Nicely done, buddy.

Shaman’s Cave Boulder
We were looking back directly at the Main Wall, and the guide had some hints towards a cave area. Naturally, I would want to find that. What is the fascination with caves? Sure, there is that sense to say, “I really want to stand on that big rock” but to enter into the earth? I’m not sure what the draw is, but for some, the allure of a cave is difficult to resist. Well, I just gave into it. Making sure everyone in the group was still doing OK, we pressed on along the Main Wall. I didn’t want to descend too low as to miss the cave for the sake of an easier route, so I stayed a bit higher. Maybe not such a great idea as far as getting snagged on briers goes. Really, I could have avoided it. We came to the base of a huge rock, and the group split ways. A few went left, a few went right. After a few moments of indecision, I called out to the left group and asked what it looked like over there. “I don’t know, awesome!” Turns out it was awesome because the cave area was there. Really, it’s a chimney, but really, it was what I was looking for! You can climb in and over a rock at one end of the crack and come out into the main area of the cave. Really cool, but not for everyone, for sure.
Wally and Stan still at our lunch spot
Wally, Stan and I climbed up on the top of a flat rock for our lunch break, and Josh, Jonathan and Steve hung out just below the climb. I scarfed my typical hikertrash lunch of a sandwich with peanut butter, bananas, and craisins, then scrambled over towards the next set of ledges and boulders. Looking back and seeing the cliff that we had eaten lunch on top of, I just had a good laugh of enjoyment at seeing where we had been sitting. After poking around the Flowering Hominid area, we decided it was time to start working back towards the car. Looking at my GPS, we were directly below the summit of the mountain we had stood on earlier. Three options: (1) we could hike down the mountain into someone’s yard, which I was not about to do. (2) hike back through the maze of boulders, which would be the long ways (3) the direct route – UP. Either we could go up right in front of us, or bushwhack further east and take a slab up there. Wally and Stan decided to scout out what was right in front of us. They called down that it was actionable, though not in those words. Based on the guide book, I think we went up the Joe Dirt route, which was rated as a 5.2 pitch. 
Before we climbed back up to the summit
Though it was a bit steep and sketchy in parts, we made it back to the summit. Somehow, we got separated coming down towards the ridgeline, but we were able to reconvene with a bit of effort. On the way out, I definitely did not want to come back down the way we had come up, but rather find the “right” way. Looking at my GPS, Stan came alongside with his cellphone and pulled up the satellite imagery of where we were. I could see the road on the satellite, and we were way off it. I guess that’s too much time trying to figure out where the rocks I wanted to visit and not enough looking at the route up the mountain. Sadly, it was really obvious. It’s a dirt road. We came down the rocky cliff faces beneath the power lines, which was a challenge in itself. The briers got really thick in there, and it was like hiking through velcro because the thorns would grab and not let you go any further until you pulled yourself free. I felt sorry again for Stan and his shorts. Sorry buddy. Anyone who knows anything about Nine Times has to be rolling their eyes at me as they read this. Go ahead, I deserve it. I poorly planned getting up the mountain. Next time will be better. 
Coming down the mountain in one of the cleanest and easiest to hike stretches
We made it back to the cars fine enough, after some more bushes, briers, and slides to access the dirt road. As we were putting our gear in the trunks, Brad Caldwell pulled up. It was great to meet him and share a few short anecdotes about our time on the mountain. He said that normally, we would be guaranteed to see rattlesnakes in the area. I was surprised we didn’t see any snakes, to be honest. We did see a few yellow jackets, but I didn’t ever disturb any nests where we got swarmed. The Lord blessed us with a safe, active, and wondrous day on the mountain. Really, a great notch in The South Carolina Project for me. Tracked distance on the GPS shows us at 4.25miles. We climbed 1206ft in elevation, and descended 1145ft (How does that work?). The highest elevation we were at was 1803ft.
GPS track overlay onto Google Earth of our hike
I do want to say a few things about the area, though, for anyone considering an adventure there. Yes, it’s incredible, I’d never seen anything like it in South Carolina, and the boulder maze was incredible to navigate. I had a blast! Navigating that boulderfield is not easy hiking, though. There is a lot of route finding, trying to work the puzzle of which is the best way, the least resistant way. There are a lot of scratchy bushes that will not ultimately hurt you but will draw blood, The kind of adventure you’ll find on Big Rock is not for everyone, but for those who love that kind of thing, it holds mega rewards. Biggest downsides: the boulderfields are south facing, so you get the full brunt of the sun. Summertime hiking would be miserable due to the heat reflecting off those rocks. Combine that with the lack of any water, creeks or streams on the mountain, and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Really, just know what you’re getting into and prepare well by packing enough water and researching your route (I could take my own lesson!). I know for sure that I’ll be back to explore Nine Times more thoroughly! It is an amazing and incredible area, a real hidden jewel for the state of South Carolina.
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Foothills Trail: Upper Whitewater Falls to Laurel Valley

Chris and I at the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook as we begin our trip.
It had been quite a while since I went backpacking. Even then, I think it was in the ballpark of 8-10 miles. This would be my longest backpacking trip ever, at an estimated 35 miles. I cashed in a vacation day with work, loaded up my pack (final weigh in at 30.6lbs), and met my buddy Chris at the trailhead. We had a few more interested in joining, but either schedules or forecasts were their reasons for not coming. Perhaps we should have given a little more credit to the forecast that had been all over the map and seemed to guarantee some rain, but we had the time carved out, and dangit, we wanted to go.
Upper Whitewater Falls
We dropped the Matrix at the Laurel Valley access of the Foothills Trail at 8am on Friday. It’s about a 45 minute shuttle over to Whitewater Falls, and we parked in the gate at the main access to the falls (note: there is a $2 per day fee here). By the time we got everything set, covered, double checked, and ready, it was 9am and we were ready to roll into our trek of gorges, rivers, steps, and bridges. The upper overlooks to are easy to access, and the falls are amazing. Upper Whitewater Falls is claimed to be the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River at a height of 411′. It had been a moist week, too, so the water was flowing beautifully. We took a couple pictures of the falls and us to start off the hike, then headed down the trail with all the gusto of a Swedish hiker named Magnus. The overcast skies were already starting to mist, but we were optimistic and having a great time.
The Whitewater River with Upper Whitewater Falls barely visible above
We made it to the base of the Whitewater River, and it is extremely rugged down there with massive boulders everywhere. We had to scramble up some wet rocks to get to the bridge, which would be one of many many bridges we would cross on our trek back to Laurel Valley. Standing at that bridge with the falls above is a powerful place to stand. The energy of the Whitewater River rushing down is a wonder to behold. There is definitely a sense of, “This place would crush me if it went bad.”
The next major intersection we came to was the A7 access, which is turn right for the road and left to stay on the Foothills Trail and get to Lower Whitewater Falls, the path to which is blue blazed. Once we got to the split to the lower falls, the sign at the split said it was only .9 miles. The map from the Foothills Trail conference says the mileage is 1.2. So, there’s some discrepancy between the printed literature and signage, which seemed to pop up elsewhere on our trip, too.
Lower Whitewater Falls
Lower Whitewater Falls was a complete surprise. We hadn’t really planned to hike there, but given the look of the skies, we decided to cash in some of our exploration time here instead of later. The overlook gives a clear view of the gorgeous waterfall. One cool aspect of it is there’s a cave feature in the middle of one of the upper cascades, not that I’d try to access it. That’d be suicide. It’s a 200′ plunge down towards the Bad Creek pumping station. Viewing it from the overlook is quite excellent.
We hadn’t really experienced any rain at this point. Mostly on and off drizzle, which is what AccuWeather called for. We had taken our outer shells on and off a couple times by now. We had some decent visibility, though the distant views were pretty much shot because of it being overcast and a lot of lower mist and fog. Our next big milestone would be crossing the Thompson River.

Thompson River
We made our crossing, and sat on a damp boulder for lunch. As we ate, we talked about waterfalls further upstream, none of which I’ve made it to at the time of this writing. Big Falls came up, and I told the story of an experienced hiker who had a fatal slip. 
As we kept hiking east, we came to the logging roads I assume take you to the top of Narrow Rock Ridge. My initial plan was to set up camp at Bearcamp Creek, and then backtrack to hike up to the top of the ridge and scramble around to try and get a distant view of Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River. We had the time, but with things being as damp as they were, and the skies being as gray as they were, and with the mountains misting as they were, we agreed that the side trip would likely be met with disappointment. That did mean that we had all the time in the world to make the short side trip to Hilliard Falls.
Very short, side trip, actually. We were at the falls in minutes. I had seen some pictures of Hilliard Falls, but I guess I had never looked at the height of it. The creek slides about 50′ down the smooth rock face, and then drops the last 10′ off an overhang into a pool. below that pool, the creek has another 12′ waterfall before running towards the campsite. If you’re camping at Bearcamp Creek (which is less than a mile off) in the summertime, this would be a great place to hang out and cool off.

The author at Hilliard Falls
Bearcamp Creek was our planned campsite for the evening, but it was only mid-afternoon. Our water was getting low, so we needed to resupply at the creek, and I was itching to peel my socks and shoes off to rest them in the chilly water for a few minutes to breathe some life back into them. We had hiked approximately 10 miles (including the out and back to Lower Whitewater Falls) to get to this point. While we were filtering water, the cap for Chris’s reservoir popped off and slowly flowed downstream. The foot soaking opportunity was here. I gave Chris my MSR SweetWater pump, rolled up my pant legs, left socks and shoes on the rock, and waded into the creek. It was pretty shallow with a sandy bottom, so it was easy wading. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the cap before it went through a log pile and over a small cascade. I never saw it come out the other side. I looked downstream several times. Nothing. I poked and prodded around some of the rocks near the log jam, trying to see if the cap got sucked in and lodged, but still nothing. I prayed for that thing to just miraculously show up but after a while, I gave up, and apologetically headed back to the rock we were pumping water from. By the time I got back up to the campsite to sit down, dry my feet off as much as possible, and get suited up again, Chris was already downstream looking for the cap for his reservoir. He still had one Nalgene bottle, but to lose the ability to keep water in a reservoir would hamper the trip, for sure. After a few minutes, he emerges from the bushes, to say, “Well, that sucked….but I found my cap.” It had been downstream. I KNOW I didn’t see it flow down that way, but either way, whether I just missed it or it was miraculous, God answered prayer and Chris didn’t take that loss. What we hadn’t noticed in all the excitement is that the drizzle had turned to rain. 
We had talked about trying to get further down the trail earlier, and that we’d reevaluate once we got to Bearcamp Creek. Maybe the rain would die out like it had earlier, with its on again off again pattern. Bear Gap was another 5 miles down the trail, and we had the daylight to make it. We had the energy to make it. My left knee had started aching right before we filtered water, but going barefoot in the creek made my feet feel a heck of a lot better. Could we? This would be the pivotal decision in our weekend, though only seen that way in retrospect. Dr. Ian Malcolm’s comments came to mind a day later, in regards to so busy asking whether or not we could, we neglected to ask whether or not we should. We would press on to Bear Gap. This decision would effect the rest of our hike in ways we wouldn’t anticipate.

Steep stairs and then the bridge over the Horsepasture River.
We were at the Horsepasture River in what seemed like no time at all. The signs said that Bearcamp Creek (where we had just come from) was 2.7 miles away, with Bear Gap being only another 2.4 miles away. We were more than halfway there. As we came down a steep set of stairs before crossing the suspension bridge over the Horsepasture River, I gave a thought to Windy Falls further upstream. I wondered how long ago the water beneath my feet plunged over that monster falls as it now almost lazily flowed beneath the bridge. The list of places to go never decreases. In fact, when I get to visit one place I’ve been wanting to go, ten more ideas spring up. It’s like a hiking hydra. You can’t beat it, but wrestle with how to be content with and enjoy what what you can. The hiking hydra. Along the trail in this section, we did see a large patch of the rare Oconee Bells growing.

Oconee Bell
As we kept of walking towards Bear Gap though, we started saying we should be there by now. Not in a “I’ve been hiking a long time, I’m ready to rest, where is my campsite” kinda way, but in a “It says 2.4 miles, we’ve been walking an hour and a half, I know we haven’t slowed down that much, we SHOULD have seen it by now. Did we pass it? No way” kinda way. We came out at a forest road where a campfire had obviously been, and no way was that the site. Looking at the map, we had just a short distance to go. We did finally find Bear Gap campsite, but a lot of the trees in the main area had been cut down. Bad news for hammock campers! We crossed the bridge and found another spot to setup. 
It was still raining at this point. The drizzle that we thought promised decent weather earlier in the day proved to only be the tellings of the coming weather. We pitched our tarps as fast as we could and then set up the hammocks. My rain cover had done a decent, but not perfect job of keeping my backpack dry. My waterproof boots were either not as waterproof as they should have been, or we were so wet that my pantlegs got my socks wet which bled water down into my boots. Either way, my feet were wet and cold, socks squishing with every step. (Fortunately, I did pack an extra pair of socks, so I had dry feet during the night). My rainshell had done a good job of keeping my core dry. Quickly, we made dinner. I devoured an entire box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, a summer sausage, string cheese, and a hot chocolate all on my own. It was 8:43. We made an attempt at conversation, but I was exhausted. I fell asleep, with roughly 16 miles behind us that day. Sleep came, but the rain only increased and the sound of it falling on the rainfly was enough to keep waking me up. It would lull, and then pour. Sleep, then tat tat tat tat tat, and awake. So the cycle went all night.

Camp Saturation at Bear Gap. Fogged camera lens reflects the feel well.

When I planned this trip, I never guessed I would spend 11 hours in my hammock. At 7:40, Chris said, “You awake?” I probably had been for a few minutes already, woken by the rain. The darkness of night had given way to the dawn, but the rain remained. Chris had hung his rainshell on his trekking poles to drip dry in the night, except his poles fell over and his coat lay open collecting the rain all night. We started making breakfast, which was oatmeal for me. I was out of water and having hot chocolate or coffee wasn’t worth going out in the rain to me. After breaking down camp, repacking everything except the tarps, I kept my camp shoes and dry socks on as long as possible. It came time to do what I was dreading – putting on the wet socks and boots. It was cold, I was decently warm, and it was like jumping into an ice cold pool to put that stuff back on my feet. No sense in putting on dry socks, though, because they’d be soaked in 5 seconds. Then I’d have nothing for the next night. We finished packing the rest of our gear, prayed to the Lord for the rain to stop, and hit the trail again.

Drenched, Chris and I enter Gorges State Park.

Man, that pack felt heavy in the morning. The rain kept coming. What was only damp while under the tarps a few minutes ago would soon be soaked through. As we entered Gorges State Park, we were drenched. The wetness didn’t leave us for a while, but getting moving again loosened up our stiff bodies and warmed us up well enough. Though my feet were still squishing in my boots, I wasn’t cold anymore. We kept seeing forest service road come next to the trail. The Foothills Trail just kept staying away, teasing us with sight of easy walking, while we kept gaining and losing elevation. Up and down, up and down. Steps and more steps and ridges and contours brought us to Canebrake. It seemed by then that the rain had faded to drizzle to only overcast skies. Lake Jocassee laid before us with aquamarine waters, even if beneath overcast skies, giving us a rewarding and much needed vista to take in. It was nice to get out of the green and brown tunnel and see that we were making progress.

Chris crossing the massive suspension bridge (visible on Google Earth) over the Toxaway River

After getting to Canebrake, the Toxaway River would be coming up shortly. The suspension bridge is huge there, with great views up the river, towards Lake Jocassee, and Toxaway Creek emptying into the lake. Between Toxaway River and Creek, the Canebrake Trail from Frozen Creek Access comes in from Gorges State Park. It’s 5.1 miles to civilization (ha, the road), and we had briefly entertained the thought earlier in the day. We had also entertained the notion of getting back to the Matrix by the end of the day. For now, we would plan to hike Heartbreak Ridge over to the campsite near Laurel Fork Falls and A5, then make a decision once we got there. We were feeling confident, but that was as we walked through the Toxaway campsites towards Heartbreak Ridge.

The campsites there hold a lot of meaning to me, because that’s where my friend Tom took me camping for the first time after moving to South Carolina. We came in via boat, and spent the night there. It was the first trip that would go towards solidifying my love for the outdoors, and the will to complete a trip like the one we were on. As I was reminiscing, Chris turns to me and says, “Welcome to Mordor.”

“Welcome to Mordor” – Heartbreak Ridge begins

Heartbreak Ridge. There were no orcs to report of, but the steps did go straight up the mountain. Time to suck it up, buttercup. The first plateau is a false one, though it has a nice bench to take a break from the madness. “Hey, that throbbing in your chest? That’s me, your heart. By the way, your lungs would like some air, too.” The steps kept going straight up. Not including all the roots, trail sections, or rocks that accepted footfalls, I counted 287 individual wooden steps, which are nothing more than 4x4x18 wooden blocks held into the side of the mountain with rebar. So steep.. but once at the top, we were on a ridge and could make out an obstructed view of the lake. Sometime while we were up here, I noticed my clothes had dried out, and the sun was even beginning to shine through the clouds. Coming down off Heartbreak Ridge really began to remind me of the pain in my knee that started up the night before. It had shown up some in the hike so far today, but overall wasn’t that bad. The downhills really caused it to flare up, even with trekking poles. At one point where we were actually on a forest service road, we stopped at one of the bends in the trail for a lunch break. It was either eat, or not make it off this ridge. The 20 minute break was nice and gave us a chance to consider our camping plans. It was really hard to get moving again, so Laurel Fork Falls campsite near A5 was sounding pretty good. Even though Heartbreak Ridge was a grind, I’m glad we came at it from the west instead of the east. That would’ve been worse, I think. Either way, I know why I hadn’t seen that many pictures of Heartbreak Ridge for the same reason I didn’t take hardly any myself: I was just trying to breathe and remain standing. It’s brutal, and I think will give a tough challenge to any hiker, runner, or backpacker.

The sound of water rushing began to greet us a ways off, and Chris, having been through here before, noted that we were close to Laurel Fork Falls. There is some trailside improvements and tree removal once you get to the overlook, and the falls did not disappoint. I had seen pictures that others had taken from the lake level, so seeing the waterfall from the cliff side overlook was a whole new perspective. This is just beyond the boat access of A5, and only a few minutes away from the campsite. Man, that site looked great. The falls nearby, suspension bridges over Laurel Fork Creek, and plenty of trees to hammock from. Looking at the clock, it was 3:30pm. The campsite looked so inviting, but the tug of ‘we can’ began to pull harder than ‘we should’ again. If we had camped at Bearcamp Creek the night before, we wouldn’t even have been at this decision. Yet, here we stood, weighing daylight against the strength we had left. Camp here, or hike out to Laurel Valley, where my car was parked, 8 miles away. We can make it.

Laurel Fork Falls

We said goodbye to one of the most beautiful campsites nestled into the forests of Southern Appalachia and walked with heavy packs and set minds into Laurel Valley, where the typical rolling woods turned into rugged rhodo covered rocks and boulders. Think of an amazingly large castle that centuries ago was toppled only to leave bits intact as the jungle’s plants and waterways claimed the ruins as their own. About half an hour out from Laurel Fork Falls, we met the first people I had seen since my breakfast stop the day prior. Two couples, one guy carrying an occupied toddler backpack, were dayhiking to the falls. Surely, hopefully they were’nt parked at the same lot we were. We crossed streams and several more bridges within the Laurel Valley Heritage Preserve before we made it to Virginia Hawkins Falls. I have to say, that waterfall is a lot bigger than I anticipated it would be, based on the photos I had seen. Had there not been a couple camping at the site at the base, we probably would have decided to call it a night there. Instead, we pressed on.

The climb out of Laurel Valley was a steady uphill that under normal circumstances would probably haven’t been too bad, but we were worn out. The steep drops to and from the four rivers were now absent, and the trail followed the contour of the hills as we made our way ever closer to the car. I think the last four miles, we didn’t say too much. I remember focusing on breathing to keep a rhythm with my stride, checking the maps, and cursing the in and outs and roundabouts of the trail as it lazily curved its way back towards 178. About this time, a group of four young guys passed us on their way to Oconee coming in from Table Rock. They said we had about an hour to go, but comparing the energy they looked like they still had versus what I felt we had, it was probably closer to an hour and a half for us. We were pushing ourselves now. 

One of the final – and most uniquie – bridges before we started ascending out of Laurel Valley.
Motivation had given way to a march to beat the coming sunset as we tried to wring everything we could out of the remaining daylight. If we had seen a decent spot, we probably would have just crashed there, but then the effort of pitching camp didn’t even sound favorable. Falling onto the ground in just a sleeping bag was starting to sound pretty good when I heard a car. Laurel Valley access! We were nearly there! A downhill and then checking the GPS, the trail would come close to Horsepasture Rd. We made it to that point, still had a little light left, and made the call that it would be better to walk a further distance on the flat road than the last heave-ho up and over on the Foothills Trail. Judge me? Whatever.

A quick joke about losing my keys had to come before we opened the car and unloaded gear. Those seats never felt so good, and my shoulders felt so relieved. Chris had been walking on blisters (he suspects a switch to non-SmartWool socks) since Bearcamp Creek the night before, and when I got home, I found that the shoulder straps of my backpack had rubbed my shoulders raw in places. But really, we had one more obstacle – getting Chris’s SUV. We had parked behind the gate at Whitewater Falls, for security reasons. We just didn’t anticipate that we would be the ones kept out. So on the 45-minute shuttle back up to the northwest side of the lake, we just briefly prayed and asked God to have the gate be open. Around 9:00pm on Saturday, we pulled up and the gate was wide open with two other cars there. The skies were cloudless and the stars shone brightly, though we were amazed at how much light pollution still came from Greenville. Though we couldn’t see it, the rushing roar of Whitewater Falls could be heard a short distance away. God had kept us safe as we did things out of uncharacteristic bravado (though we were feeling more exhaustion and humility once we got to our cars). We learned things we shouldn’t do, and were surprised by things that we did do. Would I do it again? As I drove home that night, I said no way in Gehenna. Now, I say, maybe…but at a lesser pace where I can really enjoy my surroundings. I allowed my “having to get things done” to cloud my judgment, though I don’t necessarily regret leaving the way we did. It was good Type 2 fun. 

Pulling the data from my GPS and FitBit with the help of overlaying the track on GoogleEarth, it looks like it took 94,534 steps to walk 32.5miles. Based on distance and my base weight only, and not accounting for elevation or the extra 30.6lbs of backpack, I burned 9,656 calories.
GPS track overlay of our hike on Google Earth with elevation profile. 

bushwhacking hiking Mashbox Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area New Millenium Falls Slickum Creek South Carolina Spider Tunnel Falls The SC Project Waterfalls Wildcat Wayside

The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

This is a hike I have been wanting to do for a long time. How it came together started with me visiting Sweet Thing on Slickum a couple years ago. I was talking to my friend Jeff Raubaud about it, and he was telling me about a huge bald rock area just above it (not Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, but a nearby unnamed bald). As I read more about the area, I found there were quite a few waterfalls concentrated nearby, all of this within relatively short hiking distance from the corner of highways 11 and 276 towards Caesar’s Head. I had originally planned this hike in December of 2013, and we had to cancel because of freezing rain. I don’t hike in that. Fourteen months and several conversations and discoveries later, we made the agenda bigger and were able to see what is just off the beaten path only 30 minutes from downtown Greenville, South Carolina.

The group was built from already established hiking buddies and Facebook friends. Coming from Team Waterfall, The Tanasee Gap Group, or somewhere in between, the active participants of the hike were: Darrin Hamlin, Jack Thyen, Emily Felty, Todd Ransom, Bob Sedler, Spencer Clary, Stephanie Brooks, Johnny Corn (who wouldn’t join until later in the day), myself, and perhaps most suspicious of all… Thomas “The Honey Badger” Mabry. All of us are experienced hikers, bushwhackers, and off-trail navigators. I don’t know if you’d call it an elite group, but there was certainly nothing green about anybody. When I planned the event, everyone knew that we’d be getting wet and dirty, and they still showed up.
Before we continue, this kind of experience is bound to make someone say, “I’ve gotta go see that!” Consider this the public service announcement. Experience at waterfalls is not enough to keep you safe. Skilled hikers have taken wrong steps on rocks they didn’t realize were slick and have fallen and been killed at waterfalls. It takes nearly nothing for you or your dog to go careening off the edge. People die at waterfalls. I’m not trying to scare you, but if you’re going waterfalling (a subcategory of hiking), people die at waterfalls. For real. Waterfalls don’t care who you are. If you try to follow in the footsteps of hikers who have gone before you, realize that you are taking risks that you alone are responsible for, and that you are participating in something that is more likely to harm you than bears or snakes.
Lower and Middle Wildcat Falls
We met at Wildcat Wayside Park on Highway 11 just outside of Cleveland, SC at 8:00AM, and my thermometer read a chilly 23°F. The first leg of our hike would be the easy 1 mile loop for Wildcat Falls. Lower Wildcat Falls is easily seen from the road, and Middle Wildcat Falls is directly visible above it, which you can access by a short series of steps. Crossing the creek, there’s a large sign which indicates where the upper falls are and another plainly marked “Falls.” Taking the right, we passed the remains of an old foundation and chimney, came to the generically named Falls, and within a short time were at Upper Wildcat Falls. There are warning signs in a few places because people have fallen to their deaths here. Google it. There are a lot of slick rocks, which can cause you to take a nasty or fatal fall. None of us climbed to the top of the falls, but we did scramble around the base of it. We’ve been hiking for only 30 minutes and bagged four waterfalls. Not a bad way to start the day.

Upper Wildcat Falls
We knew there was a side trail over to a series of falls called New Millenium Falls. though it was disguised at the entrance. Probably for good reason. The side trail over to Slickum Creek was pretty easy once we were on it, and we passed under a huge rock overhang area. We stopped there, shot some group photos, and screwed around for a little bit. Hiker trash central. Spencer’s Cistern – which he didn’t name – was a good laugh, but not something I’d drop a waypoint at. That joke was for us. Sorry. As we went down the trail, which was still actual trail at this point, we started getting into the balds. This area really reminded me a lot of Little Green Mountain in Panthertown. It really is a fun area to poke around. We found some flagging and followed it to bring us right to Middle New Millenium Falls, which is a huge round boulder with the creek lazily flowing over it. It’s tough to get a good frontal view of it, as the guidebooks have said. It’s a great water source if you’re running low. Upper New Millenium Falls is not far upstream, and we had to step on some pretty soggy shoreline to hike up the creek to get a good view of it. This is all a really cool area, and we started seeing remains of old moonshine stills scattered about.
The remains of a very intact moonshine still.
From here, we wanted to hike to Slickum Falls, which is also known as Heritage Falls. It is normally accessed from top by a trail in the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve via Persimmon Ridge Road. We were coming in from the bottom. Spencer, Stephanie and Jack had seen some flagging back on a bald before we go to Middle New Millenium, which they said brought them out near the top of Upper New Millenium. Do we go back that way, or start bushwhacking up the creek? We decided to started the ‘shwack. Following Slickum Creek when we could and moving away when it got too thick, we eventually came to the base of Slickum Falls. This is a super cool spot because it’s a cataract bog. The ground is really soggy, and lots of rare plants and flowers grow there including carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and sundew plant. There were quite a few clusters of pitcher plants, at least what was left of last years growth, some which looked like there was still plenty of life in them. While we’re hanging out here, Darrin announces he wants to show us one of the best spots in this area, which is the top section of Slickum Falls. There’s a huge crack in the rock here that the creek pours through, with more moonshine stills at the bottom. It’s possible to follow the contour around the rock face and get to the bald at the top of the falls. We hung out here for a while, as the day was clear and we were able to make out Paris Mountain and the buildings of downtown Greenville. What a spectacular view to have! While we were there enjoying it, a couple hiked in from the road above, which is a short hike. They looked at us like they definitely didn’t expect to see nine people hanging out on the rock face. The guy asked, “Did y’all have the red RAV4 at the parking spot?” I enjoyed telling him that it was not, we had parked on Highway 11 and came in from the bottom. Why I cared that people I didn’t know were impressed with us, I don’t know. Just a consideration, if you’re reading this and coming in from the top, that Persimmon Ridge Road can be a rough one.
The view from atop Slickum/Heritage Falls
So what now? Darrin had found a waterfall last year with some pretty unique features and named it Spider Tunnel Falls, due to almost stepping on the biggest Fisher Spider he had ever seen. Originally, we had planned to go back down Slickum Creek and follow the appropriate contour over to the waterfall. What we actually decided to do was a straight bushwhack in its general direction to rediscover it from upstream. The creek doesn’t show up on Google Maps, so we were aiming at Spider Tunnel Falls on Darrin’s memory of coming to it from a different direction. One of the cool spots we saw in this area was where a spring was bubbling straight up out of the ground. That turned into a creek that looked familiar to him, and we bushwhacked around until the creek disappeared. Dropping down the side, we slid to a lower ledge, following it around behind a large boulder to be face to face with Spider Tunnel Falls. Fortunately, we didn’t see any spiders. I have to say, this was a huge highlight to this trip. The creek comes over the edge of the rounded rock face, falls down into a slot canyon that’s 10-12′ deep, and runs out the other side. Beyond cool, unlike any waterfall I’d ever seen. While everyone was taking their pictures up top, I slid down the leaves and mud (on the side of the falls, not in the falls), and snapped a few pictures with my tripod in the water. The talk of coming back when it warms up was quick to come, but carpe diem. I took off my boots and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and waded into the slot canyon. Seriously, South Carolina? You rock my socks off. *ba dum!* I’m not giving up the location on this one, but I’m sure someone who has visited it before would love to go back and see it again. That might be something to inquire about.
Poking around Spider Tunnel Falls
More bushwhacking! That’s what we’d be up to next as we worked our way back to Slickum Creek. It got kinda thick in there. We were aiming for Lower New Millenium Falls, as we had only seen the upper and middle sections of it. I had the way points of all the places we’d visited so far, so we could see where we needed to go, but we weren’t sure exactly how far downstream the Lower Falls was from the Middle Falls. We aimed, stayed on contour, fought some of thick rhododendron that the Carolina’s are known for, and happened to emerge at the most perfect place to cross the creek, which was just below Lower New Millenium Falls. I wish I could say that we planned it as well as it turned out! The Lower Falls are really cool, with some large boulders, trees to climb to get a better view, and even a couple large potholes in the side of the rocks (which were pretty sketchy looking to try and climb in and out of). This is where we took our group shot that’s at the beginning of this post.
We followed Slickum Creek downstream, criss-crossing over it, coming towards one of my favorite falls of all time. Darrin and I were separated from the group, as we took an opposite side of the creek for our approach. There was the drop off, and we were standing on top of of Sweet Thing on Slickum. There’s no easy way to get down from the top, or get up from the bottom. On the side we came down, we had to scramble down rock shelves that still had icicles clinging to them. Even though it had warmed up to a nice 60°F, this pocket is still deep in the shadows. On the opposite side, there is steep round-about sidehilling to climb down, and then another creek crossing. Sweet Thing is a 20′ waterfall that pours into a grotto with a beautiful pool at the base that’s perfect for wading. It’s always a favorite, and I love taking people there because no one ever suspects this beauty is nearby. It’s easy to linger at. We met up with our friend Johnny Corn here, and he joined us for the rest of our day.
Sweet Thing on Slickum
A few more minutes downstream and we were at Last Cascade of Slickum Creek. I took one shot, thinking it was an unnamed waterfall and that Last Cascade was in reality located on the south side of Highway 11. I was wrong. There’s no waterfalls south of highway 11, but where Slickum Creek enters the Middle Saluda River is a very pleasant and scenic spot. There’s some thick briers in there, though. As we emerged back out on Highway 11, Todd and I spotted the first Trout Lily of the day. This was a new flower for me, but they are apparently one of the first signs that Spring is jst around the corner.
We walked back to the cars at Wildcat, where we had lunch. From there, we all piled into two vehicles and drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head. Pulling off on the side of the road, we picked up the Pinnacle Pass Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. We hiked in along typical scenery of the area, until we veered off the trail at some point. The rolling mountainsides and bubbling brooks eventually gave way to rugged terrain of exposed rock and boulder choked waterways. There’s no trail down there, so it’s really just finding the path of least resistance. Fortunately, it’s clear enough to not exactly be a bushwhack, so it’s pretty much just off-trail navigating and boulder scrambling. We passed by a lower waterfall that as far as we know has been unnamed, so Darrin references it as Evan’s Falls.  Through the trees, I could start to make out Mashbox Falls. Once we got to the base of it, Darrin’s comments rang true, “It’s one of the most underrated waterfalls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.” Indeed! Water plunging eighty feet down over rugged shelves, with a steep hill to one side that brings you beneath a large rock overhang to what’s been referred to as the Photographer’s Perch. Getting up there will get your heart pumping. 
Mashbox Falls as seen from The Photographer’s Perch
Leaving Mashbox Falls, we followed the creek back down and came to another tributary which we followed up to Misty Falls. It’s not a high flow falls. In fact, it was fairly misty, so I suppose the name is fitting. Fortunately, we were visiting in the winter when all the leaves were down so we had an excellent view of the falls. In the spring or summer, the falls would be obscured. Spencer had scrambled up Misty Falls about halfway, and when he got back (which took him a few minutes), he reported that he heard cars right above him. That confirmed what we were looking at on the GPS, that the road was only .13 miles away. People drive right past all this excellence and have no idea that it’s so close! 
Decision time. Option A is that we retraced our steps back to the Pinnacle Pass Trail for our exit. This would be less work, but more distance and time. Option B was to climb straight up the ridge towards the road. We took a vote, and the majority raised their hands for Option B. The rough climb out, straight up a mud cliff. I made several attempts to get traction to get up, and many of those failed. I would dig my boot in, only for the earth to give way and I’d slide back down. Using downed trees, rotten logs, and whatever else we could hold onto, all ten of us slowly made our way up the ridge back to a logging road that led us to the Pinnacle Pass Trail. Looking at the photo of Misty Falls below, the hill was basically the same kind of steepness. Up until this point, the hike had been relatively easy, aside from a few cuts and scrapes from briers and untangling ourselves from rhododendron thickets. Getting up that ridge felt like it took more concentrated effort than anything else we had done the rest of the day. Navigating through the woods took the mental effort, but climbing out called on every reserve of strength, energy, and stamina we had left. Thomas gave it the official stamp of a Certified Honey Badger Hike. We quickly made it back to the vehicles, and then back down the mountain. We found a small pull off out of the way to enjoy a short group celebration of the day in the spirit of the day. 
Misty Falls
What a great day we had exploring! To be honest, when I organized this event, I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as profitable as it was. We visited 14 waterfalls and countless other cascades. The views from the balds were amazing. Getting barefoot and rolling up my pant legs to climb into the slot canyon of Spider Tunnel Falls in the freezing water was exhilarating. The company we kept was top notch. For all the places we went, for all the pants that were torn, for all the dirty hands and scraped arms, everyone was having a great time. Thanks again everyone for such a great day in the woods and waterways. Well, except for the 11th guy… what WAS his name?!?
bushwhacking Confusion Falls hiking Matthews Creek Moonshine Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Raven Cliff Falls South Carolina Team Waterfall The SC Project Trip report Waterfalls

Raven Cliff Falls Megahike

Raven Cliff Falls from the base
So there I was.. surrounded by a tangle of deadfall, briers, and rhododendron. That wasn’t even the worst part. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll start at the beginning.

It was my pleasure to join up with some members of Team Waterfall for an exciting and challenging exploration of Raven Cliff Falls and beyond in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Since I wasn’t planning any of the routes or destination, and it is highly discouraged to leave the trail in South Carolina’s parks (for good reason), I left my GPS at home. I wanted to enjoy the freedom of not messing with a gadget, to give my trust completely to the planner for where we would go, and to not record any route for others to follow. I don’t encourage anyone to try to reproduce what we did as described in this trip report. To have an injury in some of the areas we went would mean a world of hurt, and an extremely difficult search and rescue.

As we drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head, we caught a few glimpses of the sun as it faithfully emerged over the horizon as a burning ball of neon orange, a color only the sun can so vividly reproduce as contrasted against the fading remnants of night. What a glorious way to start the day.

Darrin, Andy, Van and I pulled into the parking lot for Raven Cliff Falls and left the car to began our hike at 7:20am. The last thermometer reading on the car’s dash display was 20°F. It was gonna be a cold day. Praise God it was only briskly crisp, without any wind.

The most complete view of Raven Cliff Falls

I have hiked Raven Cliff twice before. Once, just to the observation deck, and once the Dismal/Naturaland/Gum Gap loop (clockwise). To my surprise, we left the main trail even before getting to the observation deck. In fact, we never even saw the observation deck on the way in. Rolling hills gave way to steep descents. The trees and scrub cleared briefly to frame our first view of Raven Cliff Falls, which was awesome. You can see so much more of it than from the observation deck or the boulder overlook on Dismal Trail. The suspension bridge, first drop, upper cascades, second drop (the big one), and lower cascades are all visible.

Then we started descending… in earnest.

It was here where I first noticed the leaves. Mid-November, there was some fall color still hanging on, though not abundantly at this elevation. Most of those leaves were now on the ground. On top of being deafening, descending over leaves is super slippery. If you’ve ever hiked down a steep slope over leaves, you know it’s more of a slide than a hike. So the descent to Matthews Creek in some places went really quickly, because I was essentially sitting on the ground and butt sliding, using feet for braking and hands for stabilizing. Yep, leaves are sketchy. They make for really unstable footing, as well as hiding hazards like rocks and roots. When we weren’t sliding, we were scrambling down rock formations, some several feet high. If you’re familiar with Linville Gorge, you might call the descent to the base of Raven Cliff Falls as a rough Cabin Trail.

We came out of a chute in a huge rockpile formation, and Matthews Creek was at our feet. The sun was just beginning to clear the ridges and illuminating the valley. You could hear the roar of the waterfall, but it was completely out of sight. Water poured over rock and ground from several directions, disappearing out of sight downstream over more rock. A wet crossing brought us to mostly dry rock with several completely frozen puddles. It would have been really easy to take a fall here. Walking upstream and then BAM! Raven Cliff Falls in all its glory. The light was perfect. Warming sunlight behind us, with the falls still hidden away in its mountain pocket, and the setting waning moon still visible above the ridge. Absolutely gorgeous. It was at this exact moment that I decided Raven Cliff Falls was my favorite waterfall. Just incredible.

Raven Cliff Falls beneath the waning moon

From here, we would begin our climb out. Our next destination was to the base of the main drop, but it’s impossible to just dead-reckon straight towards it. So here began the real tangle at the beginning of this report, which by the way, is an over-dramatic but sensational way to start a story. Bushwhacking uphill from the base of Raven Cliff Falls is a steep mess of scratchy briers and bushes, with leaves on the ground giving you the “two steps forward one step back” effect, huge jungle vines, fallen trees, rhododendron thickets, and cliff faces that block your progress. When your in a mess like that, you have one of two ways to look at your situation. Option one: You can either feel hopelessly lost with not knowing where you are exactly in an area that is fighting your every movement and will likely hide your remains from ever being found. Option two: You can enjoy the puzzle of having a vague idea where you are, but not knowing exactly, and move with the obstacles instead of against them (even if it means ungracefully doing a head over feet when a vine snags your boot while climbing over a fallen tree) in hopes that it eventually clears out while following a path of least resistance, which likely will still be quite resistant. I suppose we went with option two since we emerged to dive into another tangle on another day. Route finding in the bush is really one of the most challenging aspects of trips like these, but there are rewards.

Raven Cliff Falls on ice
Like standing at the base of the main drop of a huge waterfall. Even cooler, everything was iced over from the spray of the falls and frigid temps the last couple days. Every branch of every bush was encased in ice. The rhododendron leaves were covered with layers of ice so thick that each rhodo plant sounded like a wooden wind chime when the branches were shaken. Totally cool in there! (Check out the short video I recorded of the area) We hung around for a while, took a bazillion pictures, and hauled our way out of the slick ice and mud back to the top, where it was a long walk through deadfall and brush and deafening leaves until we finally emerged onto Gum Gap Trail.

It felt like another long walk, but we eventually made it to the suspension bridge at the top of the falls. We ate lunch at a great open section of bedrock along the bank of Matthews Creek just at the brink of the first drop of Raven Cliff Falls. Darrin and I bushwhacked down to the base of the first drop, and got a cool view of the upper falls with the bridge right above it. We neglected to go any further down, as we had some other goals we wanted to achieve during the rest of our hike. We had a long ways to go to the car. Here, Van had to part ways with us. He headed back to the car, and Darrin, Andy and I continued on.

Andy and Van on the suspension bridge above Raven Cliff Falls

At the opposite sign of the suspension bridge, there are signs saying the Naturaland Trust Trail is closed. We wanted to check out the condition of the trail, since it was closed after the extremely rainy summer of 2013 that caused landslides in the area, so we proceeded against caution. There were several points on the trail where it narrows down and it’d be easy to plummet off the side. Probably a good decision to heed the caution we didn’t. Even if the trail was open, it felt really confusing with lots of twists and turns and steep climbs down rocky terrain that demand attentive and selective foot placement. Add in the leaves, and our hike down the trail was slow. At one point, we took the trail less traveled through more scrub like we’d been through earlier, and emerged on a perfect ledge to overlook the falls. What might have been a couple hundred feet away from us was the frozen point we were standing over two hours prior. It’s a lot of work to get from one side of the falls to the other. What an awesome time at Raven Cliff Falls. We got to see it from several unique and excellent perspectives. This would be our last view of the falls today.

Ledge view of Raven Cliff Falls
What we came to next has been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it over three years ago. That first visit to The Cathedral was also the last time I had been there, until this hike. Really, there is no way to photograph or describe the Cathedral accurately. It really must be seen to be believed. The best I can tell you is that it’s a huge multifaceted rock wall that dominates the whole area and commands attention. Water had been trickling down the sides and formed several icicles. Darrin even pointed out a hawks next in a giant crack, where he had seen the hawk circle and eventually land on a previous trip.
Ice on the walls of The Cathedral. The hawk nest is about halfway up the crack on the left

The final landmark on Naturaland Trust Trail on our way out was the old cable crossing bridge over Matthews Creek. The cable bridge had been taken down, which I heard reports of but couldn’t give a first hand account of. Indeed, the cable bridge is down. The trees it was attached to are dead, but not fallen over. Other nearby trees are, though. Two big trees have fallen over at the same spot the cable bridge used to be. The trees cross in the middle, making for an awkward climb over, but it wasn’t too bad.

After the creek crossing, the elevation levels out. We passed by the Dismal Trail and loudly sloshed our way through the leaves towards Asbury Hills. Decision time, at the intersection of Naturaland Trust and path to the car, which was just over a mile away. Back to the car? We still had a couple hours of daylight.

We continued on Naturaland Trust, looking for the large rock cairns that stand on the way to Moonshine Falls. I had been there this past May, but visiting there would really add to this trip! The leaves seemed thicker on the ground here than what we had seen prior. It was was deafening, to the point we couldn’t hear each other talk over the sound of the leaves. Though the ground cover of leaves was thick, many trees still had fall colors clinging to their branches. The displays of yellows, oranges, and reds were far better here than they had been at the trail head of Raven Cliff Falls.

One cairn, two cairns, off the ridge at the sound of water and we’re at the overhang that still has old rusted remains of moonshine stills and barrels beneath it and Matthews Creek pouring over the top of it. A pretty impressive collection of remains, really. Moonshine Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls because of the unique “cave” area behind it that isn’t overly common on our Carolina waterfalls. I found myself wondering how long ago this water had fallen over the edge of Raven Cliff Falls, and if it had become part of Moonshine Falls at the same time we were arriving. The pool at the base was full of leaves. This is really my favorite view of the falls.

Andy crafting the shot from behind Moonshine Falls

We still had daylight, still had time. When I had come earlier in the year, TJ and I made an attempt to find Confusion Falls, but abandoned it after we couldn’t follow the trail any longer down the steep slope. Today, we would find it. We dropped our packs and I found the slope down was even steeper than I had previously thought. We took turns sliding down, went too far, and had to backtrack the creek, climbing over deadfall and through rhododendron. Confusion Falls is really cool, as its the conversion of two creeks, plummeting off an overhang to become one creek at the base. It has an almost tropical feel to it, even in the midst of a South Carolina autumn.

Confusion Falls

The climb back up the ridge is a complete grunt. Andy described it as a 50-degree slope covered in acorns and dry leaves. There were several sections I slid back down towards the bottom. Secure footing is a wish and absent dream on that ascent. The best emerging technique for climbing out seemed to be to launch from one tree to another, as the trees became handholds and footholds. It’s a short trip to Confusion Falls from Moonshine Falls, but it’s not without its price.

The day had been full of leg destroying adventures, so we were looking forward to the easy hike out, even if it was still over two miles to the car. There is still an intact cable bridge over Matthews Creek on Asbury Hills property. Darrin and I used the bridge, but being only half and hour from the car, Andy decided to wade across. On the Red Trail closer to the parking area, the leaves were as bad as they’d been, obscuring thick roots and embedded rocks. Thank you, leaves, for giving us a few finals stumbles and falls at the last stretch of the hike. Though we didn’t track it with a GPS, Darrin estimates we covered at least 10 miles. 

Our final photo op over the recreation lake at Asbury Hills

Nearly at the parking lot is a small lake at Asbury Hills. The mountain behind it was lit with the last rays of the evening sun, igniting the fall leaves in a glowing tapestry of color that reflected perfectly against the mirror stillness of the lake. The day opened and closed with majestic paintings of the Lord in the colors of the sun, almost like the front and back covers of a book that told of His glory. Certainly, that was the story my eyes saw this day.

Bill Kimball Trail Coldspring Branch Coldspring Branch Trail El Lieutenant Fellowship Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Snow South Carolina The SC Project

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.

camping Devil's Fork State Park kayaking South Carolina The SC Project Waterfalls

Kayaking Lake Jocassee – Guest Post by Rick Morris

(Laurel Fork Falls, photo by Rick Morris)
I met Rick Morris last year on our hike to the Lower NC Wall and the Sphinx in the Linville Gorge. We had a great time, and have kept in touch some since that hike. In May 2014, Rick went on a grand hiking, camping, kayaking, and waterfall adventure on Lake Jocassee, putting out from Devil’s Fork State Park. I loved seeing the photos, and I had freshly started focusing more on exploring Upstate SC. This was a unique way to see the area, and Rick was kind to write up a trip report, sharing his thoughts and experiences, to be shared here. Make sure you visit the link to his pictures at the end of this post. A huge thank you to Rick for taking the time to share your travels! So without further delay…

I have always heard stories about Lake Jocassee and the waterfalls the fall into the Lake. So when I heard that Piedmont Environmental Center out of High Point North Carolina was talking a Kayak Trip there, I immediately signed up. We left early on a rainy Thursday morning headed down I-85 towards South Carolina. Just after getting into South Carolina we turned off on HWY 11 or better known as the Cherokee Foothills Parkway. A beautifully designed two lane Scenic Road that travels the Upstate. It lies in the Piedmont Section just South of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with the Foothills Hiking Trail very close by. Cowpens National Battlefield is along HWY 11 that had a decisive win for the Contenental Army against the British in the Revolutionary War. 

What caught my eyes 30 minutes after traveling west was how steep the Mountains just to our north were. The further west we got, the Ruggedness was getting into South Carolina. First Ceasars Head then Table Rock where The Foothills Trail starts. It is an 80 mile Trail with many other connector trails that travels along the Northern Part of Lake Jocassee and ends at Oconee State Park in Northwestern South Carolina bordering Georgia. I did not realize till now how rugged this part of the State is!

Upon Arrival at Devils Fork State Park the skies had darkened again. We went to the Visitors Center which seemed to be relatively new. Very nice facilities with a camp store inside. There is a Boat Launch just north of the visitors center and 3 other ones in the State Park. There are Cabins, RV sites and Primitive sites. The sites we were going to required over a 1 mile paddle to. These sites are boat in only and all the sites are right along the lake. It made them very quiet. The first night there were only 2 other People staying at the Campsites. However by Friday night the sites were full.

It soon cleared up and the views were incredible. We had a beautiful Sunset! The next Morning I woke up before sunrise and walked a quarter of a mile to the other side of the Peninsula to take Sunrise Photos. I enjoy the Splendor of a Sunrise because it is so quiet and it is easier for me to take in the views that God has given us to enjoy! There were Carolina Rhododendron blooming all over the place. After an hour of this peaceful time I decided to go on a hike before breakfast. There are trails behind the campsite and I climbed the first Mountain in a mile and 900 Vertical feet. The trail continued on but I needed to be back to get ready to Kayak that day.

After breakfast we got in our Kayaks and headed West on a peaceful Lake Jocassee. This is a deep lake with quite a few structures that are still on the Lake bottom and are favorites of Scuba Divers. We headed up to where the Whitewater River flowed into the Lake.  The first Waterfall we went to was Lower Whitewater Falls a beautiful Cascade that drops directly into the Lake. The Upper Whitewater Falls are the Highest Waterfalls on the East Coast of the USA that are a few miles upstream. There was another small fall to the left of the Pumping Station that Pumps water into the Bad Creek Lake. We then backtracked a mile and headed up the Thompson River finger of the lake to take a view of the Wright Creek Falls. This is a 3 tiered falls that the last section drops directly into the lake. If it is warm enough for you, you can get your kayak under the last section. As we were at this beautiful Falls the weather turned Sour. The wind Picked up and the rain started. At this time we decided we would head back to camp and live another day. The water was rough on the way back with lots of Whitecaps. We stayed as close to shore as possible. Paddling back we noticed another Waterfall up on the side of a mountain falling at least 100 feet. Total mileage for the day was 9 miles. Soon after we got back to camp and it was very nice to be on dry land after the wind we had been paddling with. It finally cleared up and just in time to have a wonderful dinner. 

After a good nights sleep except to be awakened by some raccoons, it was time to get ready for day 2 of our kayaking. This was going to be our tougher day of paddling. We were headed up the Horsepasture and Toxaway river fingers east from the campsite then turning north. The day started off relatively calm and that fact would change soon enough. The first Falls we came to was Devils Hole Creek Waterfall. A beautiful fall but somewhat obstructed by some tree branches. We headed further up the lake and came to Laurel Creek Waterfalls. This is a multi-tiered waterfall that you have to move around to see all the falls. Total height is maybe 150 feet if you add all sections. The last part drops directly into the lake with a wonderful place for picture opportunities. There are some cliffs here also which we watched some younger folks jumping into the lake @ 25 feet. Nearby we ate lunch where the Foothills Trail makes its way down to the lake. There is a small creek that has some small cascades that drops into the lake here. After lunch it started to rain. The wind was blowing from the south. The way we were headed. It looked like we were going to have a headwind all the way back. I made a side trip after leaving our lunch spot and caught my last waterfall of the day. It was a lot better when I got up close than I thought it may be. After that we paddled into a headwind through Whitecaps most of the way back to our campsite. 12 miles total this day on the lake. After getting back we had a heavy rainstorm and I got in my hammock and took a nap listening to the rain bouncing off my tarp. It cleared off, we had a great dinner and there was a beautiful Sunset.

The next Morning we had to paddle back to our kayak trailers a little over a mile and pack up for our trip home. I feel very fortunate to have been on this trip and from the sights I saw I plan on spending more time in the Upstate of South Carolina. I encourage anyone else who hasn’t to put this on your destination bucket list.

Picture Link:

Rick Morris
Greenville Kid Friendly Hiking Lake Placid Trail Mountain Creek Trail Paris Mountain State Park South Carolina The SC Project Turtle Trail Upstate

The SC Project: Kid Friendly Hiking in Greenville

We had a free morning and the kids have been begging me to take them hiking. The last few times I’ve gone out, they’ve really wanted to go and I had to give them the stinging answer, “This one’s just for daddy. It’ll be too hard for kids.” Stinging for both sides.
I’m fortunate to live less than 10 minutes from the entrance to Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, SC. I was surprised to see that rates have gone up as of May 24th, 2014. $5 for adults and $3 for kids. I didn’t notice the age limit, as I had bought an inland park pass last year so we weren’t stopped long.
I’ve taken both of my kids on the Lake Placid loop a few times, and I didn’t really want to it again, at least not it alone. I didn’t think I could haul both Emma and Link along the Brissy Ridge Loop, as it’s rated one of the more difficult more loops in the park. Looking at the map, I was able to expand the Lake Placid loop with connecting the Mountain Creek Trail to a connector to the Turtle Trail and back to the parking lot.
We started around the dam side of the lake. There’s an artificial waterfall with a footbridge that’s fun for the kids. It’s a little rocky and rooty down there, but nothing too extreme. Both my kids loves waterfalls! Emma had brought a self-made sketchbook and her pencils, and she stopped to sketch the waterfall. Daddy’s heart melts for his little girl. Link and I walked around a little and found an eastern Kingsnake catching some sun before it slithered back under its rock. 
The trail beyond the lake is nice and shaded, offering plenty of opportunities to get close to the lake. There are a few downed trees that have roots sticking up out of the ground and the trunk is out in the water, eventually submerging. The kids loved to climb over these! Along this section we saw a huge dragonfly, a red-eared sliding turtle sunbathing on a log, and I caught a quick glimpse of a five-lined skink before it disappeared. 
We crossed the boardwalk and kept going on the Mountain Creek Trail, which meanders alongside the Mountain Creek (hence the name). We took a break at the Music in the Woods Ampitheather for a rest and a snack. As I’ve taken my kids out on hikes, I’ve learned that they need more than just the hike. They like additional fun things to do like at the Ampitheater they got to run around the seats and put on a show of their own, and have a granola bar or fruit snacks to keep their energy and spirits up. 
We took a turn on the connector to the Turtle Trail (which is clearly marked for either direction), and there was a little steepness here but nothing my kids couldn’t do. 
Walking back on the Turtle Trail, we had to step aside for a mountain biker. We saw a few really bright blue dragonflies, as well. We came out at the Park Center, and checked out the displays inside. There’s a really cool scale model of Paris Mountain that shows the park boundaries, lakes, and how the watershed works. There are also some other fun exhibits like what kind of creatures might be in the water, and identification books for flora and fauna of the park. 
One thing I really wanted to call out attention to is the bike maintenance racks they have in the park. I know I’ve seen one at the top of the mountain, too, near the overflow parking at Brissy Ridge. Pretty cool catering to mountain bikers!
And because they like more than just the hike, we stopped at the playground before heading back to the car.
I let Emma carry my GPS on this trip, but for some reason it said we had hiked around 5.75 miles. That’s not even close to accurate. I don’t know what happened with it, but I calibrated it once I got home so we’ll see what happens next hike. At my estimation, the loop hike we did was somewhere around 2.3miles. I did carry Link for the last little bit after we were about halfway through the Turtle Trail, but he had gone well to his limit already. General rule of thumb that I have heard for taking kids hiking is 1/2mile for every year of their age.
A great day at Paris Mountain discovering the wonders of God’s creation with my kids. I can’t wait to take them out more.