Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mountain Bridge Wilderness

I've always heard how quickly water levels rise during flash floods, but it's something else to experience it directly.  To slosh through ankle high water on trails that were only just dry.  To hear the surreal roar of a ranging river crashing rock against rock.  This makes you understand how water can carve something like the Grand Canyon.

But this was in the rain-soaked southeast, in the Mountain Bridges Wilderness Area in South Carolina.  The Middle Saluda Scenic River cuts a gorge as it flows away from Caesar's Head State Park and through Jones Gap State Park.  I'd heard about the spectacular waterfalls and miles and miles of inner-connected trails, so even though it was a long drive, I finally decided to get a (required) reservation for a backcountry campsite.  A few days before, flooding and mudslides closed most of the trails.  However, the park rangers said my campsite was still accessible, so, with more thunderstorms in the forecast, I headed out for an overnight with my friend Still Waters.
Blue skies before the storm.  From the top of Caesar's Head, a granitic gneiss outcrop
As afternoon thunderstorms dumped rain on already saturated ground, I decided to backtrack to check out a falls I'd past earlier, Dargon's Cascade, rather than risk continuing on when we got to a ford that looked too dangerous.  Even so, the stream water crossings I'd rock-hopped were now up to my calves.  At the falls, the change in water level was astonishing to see.  The difference in the sound level was even more humbling. 
Dargon's Cascade before
Dargon's Cascade after
I was glad our campsite was perched on a low ridge well above the river.  Just minutes after pitching tarps and getting set up, another wave of evening thunderstorms came on suddenly and strong, and lasted well into the night.  Happiness was watching the storm from the shelter of the tarp while airing out waterlogged feet.  Backpacker entertainment- just sitting and watching the rain falling and lightening flashing, and rolling thunder, feeling appreciative for our little patches of shelter.
Campsite #14 on the Jones Gap Trail
More waterfalls.
The next day, water levels were down again.
200-foot Raven's Cliff Falls.

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