The drive back to the Cleveland, SC area started at roughly 9:00 am EST on Thursday the 10th of January. Wanting to maximize the offerings of my location I planned to knock out two of the Table Rock trails prior to meeting up with Chris Gandy at Caesars Head State Park. Chris had rented the Bear Scratch Cabin from Firefox Mountain Cabins and the plan was to meet up with him at 1:00 pm EST. This meant an early start as the collective trail time on Table Rock was 6 hours if I pushed hard (which is normally the plan).
Arriving in Greensboro, SC at 3:00 pm EST I unpacked my bags, attended to some work responsibilities and then closed the night with a filling club sandwich and two pale ales. While feeling grateful for the opportunity to experience the Blue Ridge area I was a bit disheartened by the weather shift which offered a 70% chance of rain with a temperature range of 40 to 50 degrees. My attention to detail for trail readiness failed to incorporate rain gear for the lower body and I was left hoping the precipitation would be gone by mid-morning. False hope.
Prior to entering sleep mode I finished reviewing the trail research compiled over the previous weeks. Links will be posted below and with total assuredness those resources get my complete backing. Before sharing the experience I want to speak a bit to preparing for any hike. Visiting a state park with well maintained and marked trails ensures a level of safety and confidence. However, you should never anticipate terrain and maintenance. Of this I was reminded as I began my ascent of Table Rock.
My primary trail need was a new set of hiking boots and my wife was kind enough to make my primary Christmas a pair of Keen hikers (I forget the name). While I love my Keen sandals the boots felt too loose and the overall foot support was harsh. Thankfully she purchased them from Black Creek Outfitters so my next 3 visits (yes it took that long to decide) yielded the Vasque Breeze. Highly recommended by the staff and by friends it is not a brand I would have looked to, another reason why shopping at your local outfitters is worth the extra money. Trail conditions would further validate the purchase.
My Osprey Raptor 10 hydration pack was well surplused with Clif bars, a compass, rope, first aid kit, toilet paper, knife, extra socks and of course water. I was properly layered with a Mountain Hardwear polyester blend base layer, an Outdoor Research Radiant pullover and a water resistant Endura Stealth jacket. While my Marmot light weight hiking shorts were a good idea they were not quick drying and on the descent it was all I could do to not have them fall down my legs.
Let my mistakes be your lesson learned.
Breakfast was free so I loaded up on oatmeal, granola and a few bacon-egg-cheese english muffins. My departure time of 7:00 am EST was honored though the cold and wet morning made me rethink things. Estimating a drive of 1 hour and 30 minutes I knew the wet terrain would cause a change of plans both driving and hiking so I spent my dark, wet morning deciding which trail would win out. A quick stop at a drive-thru Starbucks helped change my mood as the kind person in front off paid for my Americano. Of course this meant I had to “pay it backwards”. Fueled by a good deed, and more than enough caffeine, the day began to brighten up in spite of the overwhelming gray that was disclosed as night slowly took its hiding place.
With XM radio 1st Wave my soundtrack the awe inspiring drive to Table Rock took on a movie-like quality. The mountain ranges seem to hold the roads in place as you wind past oddly place mobile homes and remote communities. Table Rock itself is divided into two areas: one being the Welcome Center (situated by a meditative lake) with group parking, cabins and camp sites, the other being the start of the trail, offering further residences along with a variety of recreational treats.
Pulling into my parking space an unloading my gear was water torture. The steady rain was enough to be annoying, just short of refreshing. My running cap ended up being the smartest accessory for both heat retention and keeping the rain off my face. The trail begins, as all good ones do, with a sign-in card for the hiker to complete. Should anything happen this is your lifeline as it allows you to give your destination, start time, emergency contact and expected return. I filled mine out along with a fellow enthusiast dressed well for a challenging mountain run (he was going the full extent of the course) but not for the weather conditions. Upon leaving I would find that his car was gone, hopefully meaning he realized his gear mistake.
The “gift shop” at the trail head was closed but the bathroom was open. Care has been taken with this area as the entry is a newly built wood bridge and walking path. Maybe they did this to give you a sense of calm at start and relief upon return. All references to the challenging elevation would speak nothing to how much worse the wet conditions would make it.
http://www.brendajwiley.com/table_rock.html (Brenda’s detail is priceless.)
The full hike was wet and misty. The elevation was challenging but not impossible, save for a fallen tree. Moving was a requirement simply to keep the body temperature at a comfortable level. I learned very quickly that all the gear that was presumed to be perfect for the known conditions would not completely answer the call to functionality. By the time I was coming down from the peak of the trail my shorts were falling off my hips due to the all the water that it consumed. Additionally my Endura jacket did not match the environmental conditions and eventually gave up its resistance.
Yet I love these moments. These humbling moments through which learning to be in the wilderness is better defined. I wish I could remember the quote or the news article but it is true that we should never enter any wild place with arrogance.
Apart from this minor inconvenience the hike itself was worth the trip. Sadly the low hanging clouds kept me from fully appreciating the view, although the haunting death call of the wind whipping over the rocks at trails end did its best to make up for it. There is always something stirring about not being able to see your destination all the while knowing what lies ahead thanks to nature’s not-so-subtle clues. Add the stairs carved in stone and the heavenly silence to the brochure and I found myself wanting to stay.
But I had to meet Chris.