|Hike Name:||Jocassee Gorges on the Foothills Trail|
|Trip Date:||September 1, 2011|
|Trail Conditions:||Fair to Good|
|Trip Weather:||Partly Sunny|
|Trip Temperature:||High: 81-90, Low: 51-60 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Trip Report:||We arrived at Bad Creek around 9 a.m. For this trip, my hiking buddies were my Northbound 2012 friends(Hot Sauce and Easy Turtle), The Godfather, The Godfather's dog Brody, and of course my dog The Situation. For more info and to support Northbound 2012 go to www.facebook.com/appalachiantrail2012. In a matter of minutes we had walked the .7 mile Bad Creek spur and were standing on the bridge over the Whitewater. From there we joined the Foothills Trail and made our way to the Thompson river less than three miles away. There was a decent climb after we joined the Foothills then it was mostly downhill into Thompson gorge. I had heard about a waterfall called Big Falls that is a half mile upstream from the bridge that crosses the Thompson. I believe most people access the falls from a trail upstream off of Brewer Rd. but our only option was to rock hop to them.
After lunch, we climbed out of the Thompson Gorge and descended to Bear Camp Creek.
By the number of spider webs we had to clear it was obvious we were the only people on the trail. Actually, we didn't encounter another hiker all weekend. We did see some boaters camping on the Toxaway but that was it. Since we seemed to have the trail to ourselves we made it a naked hiking day. Just kidding, that would be frightening! When we got to Bear Camp Creek and crossed the bridge there was a campsite and a spur trail to Hilliard Falls.
We thought this was the campsite we were looking for but the next day we found out that the official campsite was close to a mile away. The campsite was nice however and during the night the sounds of coyotes and an owl echoed throughout the forest. I slept like a baby. Day One - 5.7 miles.
On the second day, we were walking by 9 a.m. This was to be our long day. Our goal was to get to Rock Creek at just over 13 miles away and to get there we would have to make some of the toughest climbs on the Foothills. Challenge accepted!
The first mile followed Bear Camp Creek and was mainly flat. The morning sun peaked through the trees, spotlighting the lush forest floor. The creek trickled in the background and the forest buzzed with life. It was a moment of bliss. We reached the official campsite for Bear Camp and from there the trail joined an old logging road. We gradually ascended the next two miles and then made a steep descent down to the Horsepasture using several sets of stairs.
We stopped for a snack and to appreciate the beauty of the river. When the lake is full, boaters can ride all the way up to the bridge but summer has been tough on the water level so we had the river to ourselves. At the end of the bridge is one of the biggest sets of stairs on the Foothills. It looks intimidating but we just lowered our heads and pushed our way to the top.
The climb didn't end there but continued on for the next mile. It was tough but the group was strong and kept moving. After a couple miles we came to Bear Gap. We ate lunch at one of the few campsites there. This is a nice flat area that would make for optimal camping but the area is very overgrown. Not too long after we returned to the trail The Situation waged battle on a large Eastern Garter snake. A race through the woods ensued and finally the snake disappeared into a stump. Hmm.... not a fan of my dog fighting snakes. Hopefully, that will be the last time. We gradually climbed from the gap then entered Gorges State Park in NC (the foothills enters NC several times in this section) and descended to a very nice creek bottom. Vibrant plants lined the pine covered trail, mountain laurel sheltered us from the sun, and the air coming off the creek was nice and cool. The tough miles we had already walked were forgiven and once again we were all smiles. From there to Canebreak there were several ups and downs we encountered but nothing too bad. At a small bridge crossing, Brody lost his balance and fell off. He slid down a bank but after a few minutes we were able to coax him back up.
We reached the Toxaway River and, like children, had fun bouncing across the 225' suspension bridge. Rock Creek campsite is less than a mile from the bridge but to get there you have to climb over Heartbreak Ridge. Rightly named, this brutally steep climb involves over 300 stairs. A bench is placed halfway up so you can have a seat and cry if you'd like. This is the first climb that really put some distance between members of the group. Easy Turtle and I climbed it without taking a break but by the time we reached the top our legs were on fire and depleted of all energy. We continued down the other side of the ridge to Rock Creek and waited for the rest of the group. Minutes later Hot Sauce arrived and few more minutes later The Godfather came straggling in. The heat and effort had overexerted him and shortly after arriving he was vomiting. I felt bad for him as it reminded me of our Bartram disaster.
After dinner, we found a way down to the lake and went for a swim as the sun dropped behind the tree tops. The day was tough but worth it. Day 2 - 13.2 miles.
The night was cool and quiet so we all got some good sleep. In the morning, we all ate a good breakfast and headed out around 9:30. Immediately, we hit a big climb that involved several sets of stairs and a steep climb up a logging road. At the top, we regrouped and made our way towards Laurel Fork Falls at around 4.5 miles away. Within a mile the group got separated again on a short climb. The trail to Laurel Fork was mostly downhill and wide in many parts. Hot Sauce and I hit a long straight of nice pine covered trail and our pace accelerated but within the blink of an eye Hot Sauce was on the ground clutching his ankle. After a few minutes he was able to walk it off and we made it down to Laurel Fork then waited on the rest of the group.
We had a nice lunch at the campsite above Laurel Fork Falls and then continued on to Virginia Hawkins Falls. This is one of my favorites stretches of the trail. It follows Laurel Fork creek for a few miles, crossing it several times, and meanders through tall pines and wildflowers. As soon as we left the campsite above Laurel Fork Falls my mind drifted off into a state of meditation and reflection. I watched the group disappear ahead of me. I was having a great time hearing my own thoughts and singing to myself, then I came to a deep creek crossing. There was a foot bridge that had collapsed and no footprints in the sand around the creek. I was on the wrong path! I followed the logging road I was on back down and found that the trail had went up the side of a bank about a .25 mile back. It didn't ruin my mood and I was once again lost in my thoughts but I did remain cautious every time the trail crossed a logging road. I finally met back up with the guys at Virginia Hawkins Falls.
We chilled out for an hour there because we were going to be early for our ride that was scheduled to meet us 3 miles up Horsepasture Rd. The Godfather was having a rough time and was once again vomiting. We had about a mile and a half left with a good climb to get to the road. I told The Godfather about a shorter alternate route up an old logging road to get to the same pickup spot. We all headed out and arrived at our pickup location at the same time. Another great trip in the books! I could do this one over and over and never get bored with it. Jocassee may mean "place of the lost one" in the Native American language but to me it's a place where one can be found. And there I was, in the perfect place.
by Jeremie Owens at 3:52 pm