Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Golden Corner Never Disappoints

Man! Did it ever feel good to get back out on the trails. It seems like it's been forever. The last post had me thinking surely I wouldn't get to head back out for another 2, probably 3 months. I bumped into Dennis at work and he was chomping at the bit, ready to go. I, of course, had to oblige him. We made plans for a night hike into Burrell's Ford campground. It's a super short walk into a semi developed primitive camp site along the South Carolina side of the Chattooga River. Laura decided to give this one last go. The hike to the campsite was a short one and the next day she would spend most of the time acting as our taxi, rather than hiking with us. We'll call her the Prego Trail Warrior. Things went off pretty much without a hitch. Dennis brought along his brother, Robert. They decided to drive up separately and meet us at the trailhead. We walked down with headlamps blazing and got to the campsite without a hiccup. The weather was a little chillier than anticipated, but other than that all was well. We set up and got ready for bed. That night the trip appeared to be taking a turn for the worst. We already knew that Laura was pretty much done with the hiking part of our weekend adventures, but the sleepless night in the cold and on a very thin ground pad proved to be the end of her camping part of our weekend adventures as well. (That is, of course, until after our bundle of joy arrives.)

The next morning I was up bright and early and wanted to get at least a little fire going so Laura could get some sort of warmth when she rolled out of her bag. Dennis joined me shortly there after, and along with his brother we decided to make the short hike over to King Creek Falls (above). This was one I visited back in the fall of '07 and it certainly made an impression then. The trail from Burrell's Ford is only about a half mile, but is very pleasant. The rhododendron makes a tight canopy overhead for the first portion of the trail. Then you meet a junction with the Foothills Trail, cross a short bridge over King Creek, then follow the tumbling creek up to the falls. We hung out there for about a half hour. I got busy snapping photos. Notice that the north (left) side of the falls has icicles clinging to the granite. Geez... last night was colder than we thought!

I snapped a few more pictures of the remnants of the winter storm that had blown through only about 48 hours earlier. We then headed back to camp to be sure Laura hadn't been eaten by any bears. To our surprise she was up and at 'em, and doing a better job of gathering fire wood than I had. At that point we decided to head on over to another short hike, this one to Spoonauger Falls. On my trip to the area in the winter of '07 this waterfall eluded me. At the time I had no GPS. Without a GPS, you have to be a little more careful on searching for unknown trails. After a short search, I called the search off, only to find out after looking at a map I had turned around about a quarter mile short. SO! Off we headed, GPS in hand, to find Spoonauger Falls.

I tried climbing the battered south (left) side of the creek bank to get a better angle on the falls. The angle from down low makes this one seem much shorter than what it is. Compared to the above picture of King Creek Falls, you would think Spoonauger was much short, but actually it measures about 5 feet higher. Some waterfalls are more photogenic than others. The creek valley formed by this unnamed stream appears to be pretty hard hit by downed trees and erosion. The hike over to the falls parallels the unpaved Burrell's Ford road. At this point the trail overlaps the Chattooga River Trail (a multi-day trail on my short list). After the trail crosses the road it's only a short distance, and a hop over a small stream, where the Spoonauger Falls trail climbs slightly up and to the right. An interesting piece I read about this waterfall, the name of the falls comes from a family that used to live at the top of the waterfall. That came as a shock to us who saw the relief of the mountains in that area. We're still not sure where they would have put a house. We played around a little, then headed back to the campsite to pack up and head out.

Our original plan to do an 8 mile point-to-point hike was quickly thwarted when we saw that the forest service was doing a controlled burn on one of the mountains we were planning to hike on. So we headed in to town and decided to make new plans over Arby's. First up, we were going to hike down the Winding Stairs Trail. This trail is named for its short series of steep switchbacks. The little secret it holds is in the form of the Miuka Falls Series. It really isn't a secret. The secret is actually getting down to a place where you can view the waterfalls, rather than just hear them.

It wasn't easy getting this shot. The well hidden side trail comes in from the north (left). The interesting thing about this creek is that there is no creek bed. Because of there being an abundance of granite in these mountains, sometimes the water can't cut into the rock to form a bed. That's part of the reason you see so many granite faces behind the waterfalls in my pictures. Well, where this water is trying to escape the mountain happens to be a long running vein of granite. So instead of the stream flowing down the mountain in a creek bed, its sliding down the mountain almost like water would flow down your windshield. Getting across to the other side of that slippery slope was a scary prospect. If you slip, the angle isn't dangerous, but who knows when you would actually find a stopping point.

(This is a shot of Austin trying to manueuver the aforementioned slippery granite.)

From here we made our way back up to the trail and headed on down. Lower Miuka Falls was a little of a let down, especially after the off-trail bushwhacking we had to do to get to it. The walk down from there was nice and relaxing. It was a pretty steep descent. Lucky for us we had a ride waiting on the bottom, relieving us of the duty of climbing it back to the top. At the bottom we stumbled upon some huge wads of course black animal hair about 2 inches long. Don't worry, no bear encounter. We met back up with Laura (who was trying to recoup some of her lost sleeping time from the night before) waiting in the Jeep. At that point we decided to head on up another trail for a short half mile romp to another waterfall.

Crane Creek Falls isn't overly impressive. Its unusual shape and flow are really what sets this one apart. The hike over is a really short walk up Crane Creek from the parking area. About half way between the falls and the camping area there is a nice clearing in a bend in the creek perfect for setting up camp. We didn't spend too much time here. The sun was heading down and we really wanted to get in one last trail.

We can undoubtedly say we saved the best for this trip, and that's saying a lot. The guide book warned us, "Lee Falls is the Upstate's best kept secret." The trail is apparently very lightly used by locals, and almost unheard of to most people who come to the area as tourists. (The only way I found out about it was by getting a hold of a cheaply made SC waterfall book.) We got to the trailhead knowing time was going to be a crunch. Laura decided to hang back on this one since we would be double-timing it in and out to beat the sunset. Just in case, we stuffed our headlamps into our pockets and pushed off. The trail started by leading us through, of all things, three pastures. I can see why many avid hikers would avoid this trail. You start by walking nearly a mile through a tractor-maintained pasture. Shortly after you join up with Tamasee Creek. The guide book talks about an old gold operation that used to be in the area. On the way back we found the old gold smelter. Neat. Because of its light use, the trail was hard to follow. But after about a mile and a half we were not disappointed.

Lee Falls drops softly in three sections about 100 feet before coming in contact with the base of the cliff. It continues to fall sharply in smaller sections for another 50 feet before leveling out. I could have spent an entire evening shooting this waterfall. Unfortunately time was not on our side. I tried to scamper up the steep banks quickly to get a good shot. Again, it was pretty cool seeing portions of the cliff face frozen from the winter storm. We didn't get to spend much time here, but the time we were here was spent looking up and gawking. Dennis quickly tagged it as the most impressive he had ever seen. It certainly falls into my top five (not exactly sure where). I still leave Virgin Falls, Tennessee, at my number one (see my first blog entry for details). We all but ran back to the parking area, getting back just before the last rays of daylight slipped behind the Blue Ridge.

WHAT A DAY! We had planned to camp that night as well, but with Laura having such a rough go the night before, I didn't wanna put her through that again. Luckily, Dennis' parents live in Greenville. We headed over and got a fresh shower and a nice meal. It was a prefect ending to a great day on the trail. As usual, leaving this area for Augusta made me wish I could spend every day in the Upstate. We'll be back first chance we get!!!!