Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Upper Chattooga River

I've repeatedly hiked the Chattooga River Trail between the 76 bridge all the way up to Ellicott Rock, but I've always wondered about the headwaters and upper reaches of the Chattooga.  This weekend I finally backpacked the Chattooga Cliffs Trail and Ellicott's Rock Trail (connecting the two with a 1.3 mile roadwalk), and then headed over to hike Whiteside Mountain, where the Chattooga River originates.

Chattooga Cliffs Trail
The 5.1 mile Chattooga Cliffs Trail, within the Wild and Scenic River corridor, featured spectacular whitewater and scrambles along steep river slopes. The path only rarely followed the river, though narrow and slippery fisherman paths snaked down beneath the rhododendron to provide river access.  Sounds of the river- the steady roar echoing up the steep valley walls- were ever-present.
The Narrows- where rock banks squeeze the Chattooga River into a fast-flowing chute.
Iron bridge over Mill Creek where it joins the Chattooga below the Narrows.
Rocky cliffs jutting over the trail.
Boulders provide good places to stop and soak your feet.
I finally found out why there was no info on backpacking this trail.  It's used by fishermen and dayhikers, not backpackers.  Footing is tricky (someone had helpfully added rope handrails in some dicey spots), and quite a few downed trees in the trail required fancy gymnastics to scale or squeeze under.  Not ideal for most backpackers.
Campsites are very limited along the Chattooga Cliffs Trail, but with my hammock I can always find a spot.
Ellicott Rock Trail
The 4.3 mile Ellicott Rock Trail follows old road beds from Bull Pen Road down to the Chattooga River near Ellicott Rock.  Both ends provide not very convenient connections to other trails-- getting to the Chattooga River trail (on the opposite bank) requires a ford, and the northern trailhead was a 1.3 mile roadwalk to the Chattooga Cliffs Trail.  Which may explain why this trail doesn't see much use from backpackers either.  Or dayhikers-- hiking the heavily overgrown trail was like passing through a car-(un)wash with outstretched branches depositing layers of grime and pollen all over me.  It was such a relief to finally get to the river to rinse off.

Whiteside Mountain
On the way home, I stopped at Whiteside Mountain and hiked the 2-mile loop that climbs 500 feet up to the 4,930 foot summit.  "Verticle awesomeness" is the best way I've seen these 750 foot sheer granite rockfaces described.
View of Whiteside Mountain from near the trailhead for the Chattooga Cliffs Trails.
The small spring on the north side of this mountain is considered the headwaters of Chattooga.  It was awesome to stand on the summit and think about the water that flows all the way from here down to join the Savannah River, and finally into the Atlantic.  Incredible!
View from the top of Whiteside Mountain overlooking the Chattooga River valley.

Another great thing about Whiteside Mountain was all plants rare to our area like this wild sarsaparilla.
For more information:

 I use the excellent guidebook Hiking Trails of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, Ellicott Rock Wilderness, and Chattooga River by Tim Homan.

The Trail Illustrated #785 Nanatahala and Cullasaja Gorges is my favorite map for this area.

Read more about the hike and flowers at Whiteside Mountain here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Another Hang on the Chattooga River

Hammock Forums is an online resource for all things hammock-related, and one of the cool things about the forum is that they have group hangs.  These informal gatherings provide the perfect opportunity to talk about gear, and just, well, hang out.  It's fun meeting new people, and this being my third hang (previous hangs here and here), it also was great catching up with folks that now have begun to feel like friends.
Hanging around and talking hammocks. (Photo by Maddog)
Our large campsite was in South Carolina on the Chattooga River Trail at the intersection of the East Fork Trail.  It's about two mile hike from Burrell's Ford, but I choose to park at the Walhalla Fish Hatchery so I could hike through the flowers along the 2.5 miles East Fork Trail.
Hammock hangers are the only group I know to have a genuinely good time hanging in the rain.  We enjoyed the first evening having great conversations huddled under a large tarp during heavy storms.  Then, all retired to our hammocks for the night.  I was positively delighted by the performance of my new tarp in the rain-- stayed dry and there was a pleasant ping when the rain pelted the cuben.

It was a laid back group, and some folks stayed around camp fishing, napping, and relaxing.  We went hiking to Spoonauger Falls, which had a ton of water from all the rain. 
Spoonauger Falls, a short distance off the Chattooga River Trail.
After the first hike, we picked up some more folks to go on a treasure hunt for hard-to-find Ellicott's Rock (which may be more accurately called Commissioner's Rock) marking the NC/SC border. 
On an adventure to find Ellicott's Rock on the Chattooga River Trail.
Thanks to the awesome navigational skills of two of the guys who'd seen it before, the historic rock was located and we scrambled down the steep bank to see the inscription right above the high waters of the roaring river.
Ellicott's Rock inscribed  "LAT 35, AD 1813 NC + SC"
On Sunday, instead of hiking directly back to my car, I opted for a longer hike.  I headed north on the Chattooga River Trail 1.8 miles past Ellicott Rock, then turned right on the unsigned Bad Creek Trail for 1 mile and then joined the Fork Mountain Trail for 6.4 miles to Sloan Bridge, where I picked up the Foothills Trail for 3.3 miles to where it intersected the Fish Hatchery Access road, then 1.7 mile roadwalk down to the Fish Hatchery and my car.  All great trails, and a nice end to a fun weekend.
Mountain laurel along the Fork Mountain Trail.
Rosebay rhododendron near Spoonauger Falls.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Completing the Duncan Ridge Trail

The DRT lives up to its reputation for being the most strenuous trail in Georgia.
Year I made hiking the Duncan Ridge Trail my New Years resolution =  2012
Number of previous trips hiking sections of the the DRT = 3
Number of times the guidebook uses the word "strenuous" to describe the DRT = 5

Total number of other cars in the parking lot = 0
Ratio of turtle to human encounters on the trail, 1:0
Number of exciting flowers seen = 0
This turtle is the only other creature crazy enough to be out on the DRT in stormy weather like this.
Percentage of time not raining = 35%
Seconds between lightening flashes and thunder during the worst of the storm = 2
Minutes spent questioning the sanity of being on a trail with the word "ridge" in its name during a storm = 25
Minutes spent imagining all the other wonderful trails with pretty flowers I'd rather be on =  124.
Minutes spent doubting whether I would actually finish the DRT = 1 1/2

Total miles hiked to finally complete the DRT = 15.8
How come the lightening always seems to get worse when I neared the top of a mountain?
The route:
Parked at GA 60 at Little Skeenah Creek, hiked north on the Duncan Ridge Trail Section 2 (sharing tread with the BMT), climbed Wallalah Mtn, Licklog Mtn, Rhodes Mtn, took a right to follow the DRT, then continued over Gregory Knob, and Payne Knob to Fish Gap.  Then turned around and retraced my steps back to my car.