Day 9: 12.6 miles
After we slept in and finished our town chores, we easily got a ride back to the trail with someone who either worked at or owned a golf course we passed. He originally was only going to take us part of the way to the trailhead, but once he realized how nice we were, he decided to drive us all the way there. That’s just how nice people are.
It was warm out, and there were these annoying little flies that kept on landing all over us. I tried to keep my mouth closed, but they found my eyes just as intriguing.
The trail took us just down the road from Whitewater Falls, an amazing waterfall that John has never seen before. I had the pleasure of seeing it with my mother a year and a half ago. This is definitely one of the best waterfalls I’ve seen.
At the viewing platform we noticed that there was a Carolina Hemlock growing next to an Eastern Hemlock. You don’t see Carolina Hemlocks very often, but it was unmistakable.
The Foothills Trail continued past the end of the staircase down to the falls, and we scurried down a long set of stairs that led us to a bridge crossing the river.
The trail climbed up and down, and I soon noticed that the air was becoming thick with smoke. Luckily, we knew what it was. John had looked up the map for Table Rock, and found information about a controlled burn at Table Rock, which was supposed to be happening today. It was making the air thick, and it was even obscuring the sun. I hate walking through smoke (something we did quite a bit of on the PCT), because I know how bad it is for your lungs.
Then, along the trail I spotted our first dwarf crested iris (I’m told these days they prefer to be called small crested iris). Such an amazingly colorful wildflower: mostly purple with a hint of yellow. Spring is finally here.
Besides the wildflowers, the temperature definitely feels like spring. I was too warm in a tank top and shorts as we climbed uphill past another river with a big bridge, the Thompson River.
Soon, though, we found a nice quiet place to pitch our tent by a babbling brook, and the temperature dropped, as did the smell of smoke.
Day 10: 19 miles
It was super warm last night. We wound up opening both of the doors to the tent, and in the middle of the night, I pulled my socks off because my feet felt like they were on fire. It’s strange to think that just a week ago we were waking up to ice on our tent.
Sometime mid morning I saw a cluster of white flowers out of the corner of my eye and stopped. I had just found the entire reason why we were on this trail right now (in late March). Oconee bells!! We were told by our friend Judy that she saw them here this time of year, and it was totally worth timing a hike based on it. Just to clarify: these aren’t flowers that you’ll just happen upon by accident. They’re very rare, and they’re ephemeral, so they’re only out for a couple of weeks each year. We were nervous that we somehow hadn’t timed our trip quite right.
We sat down and started taking pictures.
Steps later there were more. And more. In fact, for the next dozen miles we were surrounded by hillsides of Oconee bells. They lined the trail around each stream that we crossed. We took loads of pictures.
Besides Oconee bells, we were other wildflowers as well including foamflower, violets, dwarf crested irises, and wild ginger.
“I can’t believe we haven’t seen anyone all day.” I remarked.
“Well, it’s a Monday, and I’m pretty sure we’re in the middle of nowhere.” John replied.
We crossed over the Toxaway River on an impressive suspension bridge. We ascended a hill and got views of Lake Jocassee, which we’ve been walking around.
In the middle of the afternoon it started to rain. This is the first day of rain that we have gotten our entire trip. I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been given that this last year has been the wettest of recent history.
It was warm enough that a rain coat wasn’t necessary, but we pulled out our umbrellas.
As if on queue, we were reminded off why we enjoyed hiking in the rain when a red salamander appeared in the middle of the trail.
Moments later, a newt appeared. They’re so cute.
The trail was mostly easy going – often wide logging roads. Before we knew it we had almost hiked 20 miles, and we decided to end early so that we’d have some hiking left to do tomorrow before the last campsite of the Foothills Trail. We determined that we’ll finish the day after tomorrow by climbing Table Rock. Somehow the trail doesn’t go to the top of Table Rock, but it seems dumb to come all this way and not climb it. More bonus miles!
The rain subsided just as we started setting up camp. I was glad to put on some dry clothes and crawl into the tent.
Day 11: 17 miles
We knew we didn’t have too many miles to do today, so we attempted to sleep in. The attempt was laughable.
Everything was still wet from yesterday’s rain, but the sun was shinning, and droplets on branches and leaves glittered, We were in the middle of the section of trail that crosses back and forth over Laurel Creek, and for a while it felt like we were in a jungle. The rhododendrons looked so green in the morning sun, and we were constantly by gushing water.
I was admiring our surroundings when I went sliding of the edge of a small bridge made of wood right into the stream.
“Oh my god, are you OK!?” John called down to me as I scrambled to get out of the water.
I was surprisingly ok. I had banged up a knee, but otherwise I was just a little shaken up. It had been a small bridge, just three wooden beams nailed together, and slippery as all hell from being wet.
I put a bandaid on my bleeding knee and carried on.
The trail has been very nice about providing bridges for each water crossing. We came across one bridge, however, that had gotten completely destroyed by a downed tree. We scrambled over the ruins.
The trail has also been almost annoyingly good at providing little wooden steps each time the trail was remotely steep. At first I thought I liked them, but now that I had fallen because of slippery wood, I was much less keen. In some places these wooden steps are totally unnecessary anyways.
We ran into another hiker, and after we leap frogged a couple of times, we started hiking with him. His name was Will and he was a veterinarian from Jackson City. He had cleverly parked his truck half way along the Foothills Trail so he could do an out and back of each half and resupply in the middle using his own vehicle.
We got to Sassafras Mountain, the tallest mountain in South Carolina, but they had closed the top to repair or replace the observation tower. We put our tootsies on every rock that looked like it could be the natural top of the mountain. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything from the top of the observation tower anyway since we were fogged in.
After we had hiked a few more miles, we realized we had lost track of where we were on the map. The landmarks on our guide seemed very nondescript “boulder field” “creek, wooden stairs”, “good campsite.” We passed many creeks, loads of sets of wooden stairs, and many campsites some of which were better than others. We had no idea where we were.
We decided we’d just keep hiking until we got to the most obvious landmark – the trail junction to Pinnacle Trail. Luckily for us, when we did finally arrive at this unmistakable landmark, there was camping. We’re right where we want to be for tomorrow’s short hike to the top of Table Rock.
Day 12: Maybe 10 miles?
It was cold over night, and when we got packed up, we realized it was windy out too. We bundled up and started climbing Pinnacle Mountain. We were no longer on the official Foothills Trail.
As I mentioned before, we had figured out that the Foothills Trail ended at the Table Rock parking lot and not at the top of Table Rock (in other words, the trail did not climb Table Rock), so we figured we’d add a few bonus miles and climb the thing while we were in the neighborhood.
The easiest way, seemingly, was to take the trail that went up to Pinnacle Mountain first, and then carry on to Table Rock Trail.
It warmed up quickly, and soon we were on our way up Table Rock. It was a steep trail with lots of rocks, and obviously well used.
Once we got close to the summit, there were views of the surrounding landscape which seemed so flat in comparison to where we had come from. Down below we could see a lake and some little hills, and that was about it.
We were definitely the first people to reach the top of Table Rock that day, as there was nobody else around. As we descended, however, we started seeing other hikers making their way up from the parking lot.
As we got close to the parking lot, there were some nice waterfalls along the trail.
We reached the Nature Center, which was closed, and then the parking lot, which was practically deserted. There were a few cars there, but nobody came or left as we stopped to use the restrooms.
We decided we probably would need to walk to a bigger road. We found a bus driver sitting at a picnic bench reading a book, and we asked him the way out. He pointed down a road and told us it was about a mile to the intersection.
We headed that way, and nobody passed us going in the direction we were. We got to the intersection, but still no traffic. We kept walking. We walked all the way to Route 11 before we decided it was worth trying to hitchhike.
After some time, a pickup truck stopped and picked us up. it was a nice couple who were into hiking. We shared stories of local and far off trails, and they kindly drove us all the way to Route 25 so that we could get a direct ride to Asheville from there. That was super helpful.
I thought it was going to be tricky to get a ride on 25 with traffic going by so fast, but it didn’t take too long for a car to pull over and offer us a ride all the way to Asheville. I couldn’t believe our luck. We were about an hour away still, so we got talking to our new friend who was a parole officer for sex offenders. Interesting job.
As we got to Asheville, he told us that he was going to head to 12 Bones (our favorite bbq place), and we told him we’d love to go there too. After we were completely full of ribs and cornbread, he kindly dropped us off just down the road from our house. It was perfect.
We walked down our street and up to our house. Once inside, it was like we had never left. We turned the heat on, took a shower, made a pile of laundry and made a shopping list. It was weird to be back, yet not weird at all. We just finished 220 miles in 11 and a half days and all we had to show for it were some scrapes and bruises and a pile of dirty laundry. I think tomorrow we’ll go to the climbing gym.