Thursday, September 18, 2014

Observations on Thru Hiking the Foothills Trail

I have just come off an interesting adventure thru hiking the Foothills Trail. This unique 77 mile long trail straddles the North Carolina / South Carolina border in what could be called the foothills of mountains that extend into the Nantahala region and the Smokies. The trail runs from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park, both in South Carolina, with other spur trails off this trail. It also
traverses the highest peak in South Carolina – Sassafras Mountain. And for those looking for an even greater adventure, you could begin at Table Rock on this trail, hike to the Chatooga Trail and from there to the Bartram Trail all the way to the AT just north of NOC.

First off, in planning, etc., I highly recommend the guidebook put out by the Foothills Trail Conference. They also have a map, but I found it hard to read and rather useless. The guidebook, however is a handy piece to have while you’re hiking. It is very thorough, contains maps and mini maps of each section, and will guide you from point A to point B (though it is only written in one direction – Table Rock to Oconee. I saw no advantage one way or the other with starting at either point. But I liked starting at Table Rock as I got the uphill climbs on bare rock out of the way and did not have to read the guidebook backwards, which to me is bothersome). I carried the guidebook the whole way and referred to it many times.

The Foothills Trail is abundant in water, waterfalls, established, campsites, bridges, and steps. I was amazed at the trail work that has gone into this. The trail leading uphill often had wooden steps built in. The intricate bridges crossing the waterways were amazing. The trail is easy to follow using the
Stairs and Railings
white blazes and signage, and coupled with the guidebook, you can’t get lost.

I hiked this trail in early September and with that, it was humid and warm. I was constantly wet. Probably the best time to hike this trail would be spring, with the abundance of rhododendron and with better temperatures. I did not see one person hiking this trail when I was out. In all I saw maybe six people. A family on Sassafras, and two kids swimming near Toxaway. Other than that, I was alone. I managed to dodge most of the thunderstorm activity though I did have one all night rain. What I could not dodge was the thousand upon thousands of spider webs, stretching even over vast logging roads (!). Since no one had likely been on the trail for weeks, the spider webs were everywhere! One cannot get squeamish then picking webs and spiders off glasses, gear, and clothes. It came with the territory. I did end up with a hornet bite on day four. It became infected when I got off, so be sure you do First Aid out there and carry an adequate kit.

Bridges galore

There is no resupply on this trail, so I carried food for six days. It was pretty heavy, but I figured out where to put the food in my pack so it worked out good. There is one place on the trail where you can dump your garbage – at Whitewater Falls area (which the falls is seen by a side trail). Since the weather was warm though I went with summer gear. Some stuff I could have left home, like any kind of jacket, and rain gear. I just let the rain cool me as I was constantly hot, sweaty, and yeah, smelly.

The great beauty and tame terrain of this trail make it a nice adventure. Yes there are some steep areas, but not too bad. The campsites are everywhere as is water. It makes for a simple but rewarding thru hike. 

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