South Mountains State Park is one of my favorite places to introduce to novice hikers. Only 1.5 hours from my home in Charlotte, it’s the closest “real” mountains for us flatlanders. It’s off the beaten path and a few miles of rural roads, but well worth the trip. And there are several places to gorge on ice cream at the end of a fun hike.
On this day our group consisted of six teenage girls and four adults, including me. The sky was a marvelous blue, no clouds, and the trees were just beginning to leaf out in pale spring green. After checking on everyone’s water supply and 10 essentials (not everybody is 100% with these yet but we are improving) we started out on the High Shoals Falls Loop. The water was robust after a wet winter and the cascades were gushing as we crossed the creek on bridges. The girls continually stopped to play on the boulders and we had to coax them to get back on the trail. Ultimately, though, they had the right idea to just stop and enjoy where they were at the moment rather than chasing a path through the woods…but this is a hiking group, after all.
We continued climbing to the top of the falls and crossed the creek on another bridge. Here we took a snack break, adults on benches and girls down by the water’s edge. Then we completed the loop back, not the most scenic trail on earth, but we did scope out a few yellow and purple violets peeking out. Back on the main trail, we ate lunch at picnic tables.
Next we checked water levels and, as I suspected, some did not have enough, so the group had to backtrack to the bathrooms for water and a potty break. The girls are resistant to the idea of peeing outside, and in a state park on a Saturday I can see their concern for privacy. Note to Sharon: next time out I need to talk about this some more.
The girls were not enthusiastic about my planned second hike up to Chestnut Knob Overlook and during lunch had studied the map and made an alternate plan on an easy trail. They said they were “tired”, which I translated to be “bored”. I proposed that we go part way up Chestnut Knob and then reassess. The first section is .7 miles and extremely steep, so if they were tired then it would show.
Well, four girls sprinted ahead, leaving the four adults and two of the girls in the dust. The two left behind were understandably put out by this. When we all paused at the next intersection I explained that we should have a plan for splitting up so that everyone knows what to expect, that it’s not a good feeling to be left behind if you haven’t discussed a slower paced group and a faster paced group, that a hiker can go slower but can seldom go faster. Another note to Sharon: keep reiterating trail and group etiquette.
At the waterfall overlook we took another break and decided to split into two groups. Some of the jackrabbit girls and one adult opted for going back to the parking area and playing in the creek. One jackrabbit and the two slower girls (actually, slower is not the right word – they were more reasonably paced) and three adults opted to continue on to Chestnut Knob.
From this point the hike was not as strenuous and a well-paced walk. The overlook gave a stunning 270-degree view and we could see Crowders Mountain, where we had hiked the month before. Only one person was ahead of us and he left when we arrived, so we had the place to ourselves, a rarity. We stayed for over 30 minutes and explored the rocks, discovering little trails that I had never seen and climbing higher than I knew we could. The girls were very happy with their decision to continue on and felt a sense of accomplishment, and the adults were pretty happy, too.
After a quick walk back down to the parking area, we found the picnic area buzzing with families picnicking and enjoying the park. It’s great to see people outside enjoying their public lands.
The “creek” girls were happy, having played in the water and napped on the rocks. One girl told me that she had never played in a creek like that before – now that’s what I’m talking about, giving girls and adults opportunities to explore the outdoors. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke