Thursday, June 17, 2010

1 Down- 98 to go!

The countdown is on!!! the first trail has officially been marked off the list.


This was my selection for South Carolina. It is located in Caeser's Head State Park in the upstate area, of course. The BACKPACKER Nation selection (Raven Cliff Falls Loop) is also located in this state park. David and I have been out to this park a couple of times. Although my experience within the boundries of state parks is limited, I haven't been to one in the south east that has a better trail system than this one. If you throw in the very closely neighboring Table Rock State Park, I think its the hands-down winner. I've decided that my blog should be more photo's and less words, so I won't get into too much detail about the trip.

The Rim of the Gap trail is considered very technical, and gets a lot of mixed reviews from local hikers. A lot of people love its difficulty for two reasons. First, they love that it scares off most day hikers, keeing the trail traffic low. Second, they just love the challenges it offers. But some people hate it for that same reason. Rarely does anyone argue the scenery though. I can say that I was blown away by the trail. We were on a strict time limit to be back in Greenville for dinner, but I blew that because, for the first mile of the trail, there was waterfall after waterfall, and huge exposed granite faces. You could tell that during the winter months, views of Jones Gap below would be stunning. Even in full foliage we got some pretty awesome vistas. This trail was certainly no let down. Simply put, it was jaw-dropping.

For more information on Rim of the Gap, and other Caeser's Head trails, check out their website.

This is the overlook platform that is located a short walk from the Caeser's head visitor's center. Its an awesome place with amazing views of neighboring mountains, including Table Rock.

This is one of many small trickling waterfalls cascading over exposed granite faces. There are probably close to a dozen in the first mile of this trail.

....and again.

and again...

.and again. There were tons of opportunies for great pictures, but I had already slowed us down substantially with all the picture taking.

This is just one of many "technicalities" you have to maneuver while on the trail. I felt they were well maintained and as safe as they could be.

This shot gives you a little perspective on how the trail was truly skirting the rim of Jones Gap

More granite and running water.

The hardest thing was trying to get a good picture that showed just how big and imposing these granite faces where.

One of the reasons I thought this hike was the perfect SC hike was, after negotiating the trail as if skirted the upper rim of jones gap, for the last section, like walking into a new geographical region, you were back on typical Carolina terrain; an old logging road converted into trail. This was where the spine of the ridge flattened out, heading into Jones Gap State Park

There were well-placed man-made objects to help with the difficult terrain throughout the trail, but this one gave me a laugh. David had been talking about this "cable repel" for about an hour before we got to it, really making it sound like a dangerous undertaking. It, infact, was nothing of the sort.

And just when I thought the hike couldn't get any better, it did. The Rim-of-the-Gap trail ends at Jones Gap State Park. This park and Caeser's Head State Park share the same trail system, but have visitors' centers located at opposite ends. This entire area is called the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Its an absolute must for any hiker looking to spend some time in the Souch Carolina portion of the Appalachian foothills.

At this point, the trail brings you down to the park visitor's center, and the Middle Saluda River. Again, if it wasn't for our time crunch, I could have spent every hour of daylight taking pictures of the scenes at this park. But we were running well behind schedule at this point. Without much delay, we filled up our water bottles, and used the Jones Gap trail, along with a couple of small connectors at the opposite end, to make our way back to the car.

The picturesque park office at Jones Gap, which is open from 11 a.m. to noon... seriously.

The Jones Gap Trail follows the Middle Saluda up the valley floor. After about an hour, you come to the very short spur trail for Jones Gap Falls. It's a really nice waterfall cascading about 65-70 feet, I would guess. The only frustrating thing about this waterfall was, no matter where I took the picture from, the waterfall came out looking like it was maybe 20 feet tall.

More Jones Gap Falls.

At this point in our trek, I really put the camera away for the most part, because we were all but sprinting back up the trail. The humidity from a passing storm system was really thick, and we were in a hurry! But the valley floor was really awesome. The trail was in great condition, following an old logging road grade along the banks of the river.

This is towards the end of our hike, where the trail finally left the river, and headed back up the valley wall to meet up with the connector trail.

(I have no idea what kind of flower this is)

This ones the last footbridge, over a small stream as it dropped into the Saluda River

We finally met up with the connector that took us from the Jones Gap Trail back to the parking lot. (And we made it in record time!)

And we're back. We both talked on the way home how we wish we would have gotten to the trailhead about 4 hours earlier, so we could have really taken our time on the hike. Even with the time crunch, it was one of the better day hikes I have done. As far as South Carolina goes, this is as goos as it gets. I think the readers of BACKPACKER avoided voting for this trail because of the technical portions. I would agree that, even as an experienced hiker, you shouldn't go this one alone (and thats coming from someone that does most of his hiking alone). Be sure to find a trail partner before you try and tackle this one. And, while I am sure the views of the gap are way better during the winter, it there is any risk of ice, stay away from this trail. But if the conditions are ripe, this trail is worth the undertaking.

Well, the competition is underway, and its out of the gates with a bang! I've debated exactly which trail to get started with. Being that I currently reside in Georgia, I thought maybe the two GA trails would be the most fitting start. I also considered started in North Carolina, in the Smokies, one of our nations true hiking Meccas. But now that its done, its hard to imagine a better start than this one. The bar has been set, and its high!