Sunday, May 4, 2008

Caesars Head State Park SC

I am planning my next trip to the Smokies, but in the meantime our Hike For Discovery group is still training and preparing for our Grand Canyon adventure. Three of us have signed up for one of the more ambitious hikes at the Canyon, so yesterday we put ourselves to the test with a trip to Caesars Head State Park in South Carolina. If you have never visited the state parks in the mountains of upstate South Carolina, put them on your list because they are magnificent and Caesars Head SP is outstanding. It is part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. (Click on the photos below to see full size.)

I have chosen this hike because I went on most of these trails in the summer of '07 with the Berg Wanderers and it nearly killed me. So...if we made it back out I knew we would be okay in the Grand Canyon. And this time I had more experience and training and wanted to see if it was any easier. A map and detailed description of this hike can be found in Hiking The Carolina Mountains by Danny Bernstein.

Joy, Liana and I met up at 8:00 AM Saturday morning for the 2-hour drive. Joy's sister, Julie, and Joy's four-legged friend, Frisco, were along for the ride and would romp in the park while we hiked. We were on the trail by 10:45 AM. The first 2.2 miles is an easy-to-moderate walk to an overlook that is very popular - across the gorge is an amazing view of Raven Cliff Falls, possibly the most photographed waterfall in the area.

But...seeing the falls from across the gorge is simply not enough for the mighty hikers - we must experience its spray on our faces! There is a suspension bridge that crosses near the top of the falls. Off we went whistling on the Dismal Trail (I'm not making that up), 1.5 miles down, down, down into the gorge. As we walked I'm thinking that I'm glad we're not going up this trail, especially since I knew what was up ahead. I wanted Joy and Liana to be happy as long as possible.

At the bottom of the Dismal Trail we turned onto the Naturaland Trust Trail and the fun began. First was the crossing of Matthews Creek - what, no bridge? We have to walk across a tightrope? Okay, so there's a cable to step on and a cable overhead to hold onto. Are we having fun yet? You bet!

Naturaland Trust Trail climbs up Raven Cliff Mountain, up, up, up, up, up! The trick is put the slowest person in front to set a reasonable pace and just take your time. If the fastest person is in front then others feel pressed to keep up and then you have panting, cursing hikers. So we stopped to examine flowers and peek at the views through the young leaves and made our way along to the Cathedral, an incredible 120-foot semicircular rock cliff face. (If you do this hike, there is no sign designating the Cathedral, but you will know it when you see it.) This was a prime place for a snack as we felt water droplets falling from the cliff tops and dribbling down the rocks. In the summer this natural shower is a lifesaver. This stop was made all the more enjoyable by an extremely cute guy (not that I'm looking, of course) and his extremely cute dog and his....girlfriend. Sorry, Liana...didn't know what he was missing, did he?

Onward toward the suspension bridge crossing over Raven Cliff Falls..but just how far IS it? We climbed up ladders and walked on narrow rock ledges and stomped up switchback after switchback. Just as I could feel imaginary daggers in my back from my fellow hikers (are you sure there is a bridge??) we came around a corner to the falls. The bridge crosses near the top of the upper falls and...well, you simply have to go there to understand how incredible it is. Flowing water is fascinating, from the smallest creek to the largest gush at the top of a mountain, and the closer you can get to it, the better. Standing on this bridge, facing across the gorge, directly beneath your feet the water falls away, down and down. If only we could have stayed there a little longer...

Still miles to go before we were done, and the hour was getting late so we picked up the pace. What's this? More ladders and climbing and yet no more vistas? We finally intersected with the Gum Gap trail, which is an easier walk, but the group was ready to mutiny. I thought to myself, they will thank me someday, because this is where the REAL training begins. How do you keep on going when you are tired and there are miles ahead? Yeah, just like you know your teenager will call you up and thank you one day! But look up ahead -- it's the cute guy, his cute dog and his...girlfriend. Can we push her off the next cliff? Well, at least we have something to look at for a few minutes before they move on out of sight.

On the Gum Gap Trail we met a young woman on her way back from a weekend backpack trip. She had done 45 miles along the Foothills Trail. One look at her loaded pack and we were humbled, mere dayhikers. She was very nice, chatted for a few minutes, and went on down the trail. We took our last turn, back onto the Raven Cliff Falls trail heading back out to the car, where Julie and four-legged Frisco were excited to see us. Our trek took just over 5 hours, including our stops, and was about 8.4 miles (except Liana says it was 10).

Today I am feeling just great, except for my sore feet and sore thighs and sore calves. It's all good.


Lydia said...

I absolutely love the mountains, and my family and I vacation there every year. I can't wait to get back.. The pictures you took are beautiful.

Liana said...

I will always maintain that it was more than 8.4 miles...although after the Grand Canyon Hike, Caesar's Head could be done in my sleep! :)