|Hike Name:||Fork Mountain|
|Trip Date:||September 19, 2011|
|Trip Temperature:||High: 71-80, Low: 71-80 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Trip Report:||Fork Mountain is a trail that gets overlooked by most hikers. It isn't a destination hike unless your destination is the Chattooga River or Ellicott Rock over 7 miles away and it doesn't present any opportunities for making the trail into a loop. It is a long hike out and back which probably deters many people. However, what it does offer is a quiet walk through dense old forest, thick ravines, and high ridges. More than likely, you will not encounter another soul. What I really like about it is that the trail is mostly covered in pine needles and dirt. No rocks or tree roots! I like to hike in barefoot style trail runners (New Balance Minimus, Vibram Five-fingers, etc) so my feet were happy on the soft ground. The trail is mostly located in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness area and crosses the NC/SC border a few times. There are very few blazes and the trail is hardly maintained. Be prepared to navigate many fallen trees and for the undergrowth to be thick in places. I'd recommend wearing pants or gaiters to protect your legs from briar's. Now to the hike.....
We began at Sloan Bridge and for the first few minutes we followed a creek through dense rhododendron that had us ducking and weaving. Not for the Claustrophobic! You definitely get that 'shut in' feeling. After the first half mile we entered the Ellicott Rock Wilderness area. The trail then emerged on a ridge and we were surrounded by old oak and pine. Through the leaves we could see the mountains on the other side of the Chattooga and in winter these views will be outstanding. This cycle seemed to repeat several times throughout the day. Just enough to keep things interesting.
At two miles in we came across a nice campsite next to a small creek. The understory really opens up in sections and provides a great opportunity to see wildlife. My fingers were crossed. About a mile and a half later we could hear the sounds of a stream echoing through the gorge. It sounded big enough to be the Chattooga but it is funny how sound travels through the woods. A small creek can sound epic. And it did! At 4.5 miles we came to the first of two Bad Creek crossings. Brody found the deepest water he could find and took a plunge. After the dog had rested for a few minutes we continued on.
A few minutes later we came to second creek crossing and an intersection with the Bad Creek trail. It was here that we had a bit of a scare. It was a near Stand By Me moment. Hot Sauce was first in line and froze in his tracks next to a big hole. "Please don't tell me that is a person down in that hole." The hole was stuffed with a tent, backpack, chair, clothes, and other random things. About ten feet away were more clothes. We looked around for a minute but didn't see any signs of a person. Something went down here and all I can hope for is that someone just decided that they didn't want to carry their gear and trashed it all. But still, that made me feel uneasy. We continued on with our imaginations running wild.
At 6.3 miles the trail came to an intersection. One direction went to Bull Pen Road and the other went down to the Chattooga. The next mile would be our only significant elevation change, dropping 700 feet to the river. We enjoyed lunch on the river and were tempted to go downstream to Ellicott Rock but one of the guys had an obligation later in the day. In saying that, we thought Ellicott was over a mile downstream but later discovered it was only two-tenths of a mile away.
Now it was time to return. We tackled the climb up from the river with ease and moved with great pace. About midway, we walked right up on a deer and didn't notice it until it took off running with that white flag waving. The Situation wanted to go after it but was restrained. Crazy dog! There didn't seem to be much elevation change throughout the day but as we neared the end my legs started to cramp. It turned out we had three good elevation swings but they were so gradual that we didn't notice. Well, everyone except for Brody. That dog was pooped!