The second night on the ground brought about for both of us a bit of recovery. It actually provided a bit of moonlight which was a bonus since the weather for Tuesday was supposed to be rain. As a matter of fact all of the terrain that we had hiked to that point was supersaturated with precipitation which supported the fact that this area has the second highest rainfall totals in the nation second only to the Northwest in Washington State.
Whitney was already tired of oatmeal so one dirt bar later we were on the road…..er….trail…which….of course…..was straight up. Soon enough…actually too soon… we met our first hindrance in the form of a misguided tree which had inconveniently fallen across the trail. Promenade right was in order to step over this mess.
The day promised at least some downhill hiking in that we would be hiking through the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve down to Laurel Fork Falls. The Preserve is a 1,361 acres portion of the Blue Ridge Escarpment of the Jocassee Gorges. It is populated with massive tulip poplars as well as many other forms of plant life including the Oconee Bell. The Audubon Society has declared the area an “important bird area” because of the wide variety of flying critters living there.
The relief of a bit of not too drastic downhill hiking was a blessing which was much needed. I actually was beginning to feel a bit stronger. Before we reached Virginia Hawkins Falls we came upon a sign which informed us that the trail ahead was impassable and a detour had been created. The detour left us 0.2 miles below Virginia Hawkins Falls. Whitney had never seen it before so she hiked back up the trail and took this picture. Basically it was a “what falls” moment. Even in this wet environment the falls was suffering. This is a double falls known for its plant and animal life and water purity. Water purity….ah yes…we did a resupply.
We had reached a point of comfort….. It was short lived but while we were here it allowed us to regroup and enjoy a few miles. I even allowed myself the now minimal pleasure of looking a bit to my left and right to take what was growing around us. Hiking with imbalance allows only one thing…..keeping your eyes straight ahead and down at your feet.
Speaking of feet…at one point I mentioned to Whitney that I had a hot spot developing on the middle toe of my left foot. That’s always a bad sign….the probability that a blister was developing. Her response……..”I’ve got about 8 of them!” Uh-oh.
It really is quite beautiful out here. As a matter of fact several years ago the National Geographic magazine had an article in which it named this area of South/North Carolina as one of the 50 of the Worlds Last Greatest Places: Destinations of a Lifetime!. Right here in our back yard. Having said that it also comes with some pitfalls…such as that flat rock in front of Whitney. It was like walking on ice. I’ll never forget hiking with Ron Aubert one day on the Chattooga/Foothills Trail along the Chattooga River. He steped on one of these slanted flat rocks and went down harder than I’ve ever seen anyone fall. I just stood there and watched him as he assessed himself before getting back up. Somehow all in one piece…we hiked on.
Laurel Fork Falls camp area marked the end of 7.4 miles by noon and nearly the end of our downhill hiking.
Whitney took a seat as we ate our lunch as she announced that she should have taken care of it last night but she really needed to do something about her feet.
I’m sorry Fallon but I didn’t have any Lucite tape. I don’t get blisters often so I’m still carrying old school Moleskin. It seemed to do the trick. Whitney spent some time patching up her mangled feet at Laurel Fork Falls. We were only about 8 miles from Highway 178 but she decided that she would hike deeper into the Gorges. I hoped that would be a good decision because it would be about 40 miles before there would be another road.
Laurel Fork Falls actually lies outside of the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve. The write ups in print state that it is very easy to get to……..if you have a boat. Whitney and I, of course, did not have one of those things so we got to view this beauty by hoofing it.
Here is good example of the difference between my daughter and I. Once we left Laurel Fork Falls we were faced with several uphill miles. While the downhill was a relief I still had a problem with climbing up out of the valley which contained Laurel Fork Creek. That strain shows on my face. My daughter, on the other hand, is carrying a pack that is almost as big as she is and is by this time dealing with two wounded feet. She is all smiles….me? Not so much! We had reached a landmark….entrance into the middle section of our hike and the Gorges State Park of North Carolina.
It was time to tackle Heartbreak Ridge. We had not been looking forward to this. It contains several series of steep steps with long sections of just plain up hill climbing between the steps. This picture appears to be flat…..wrong…it’s nothing but a climb. As was the norm on this hike Whitney was already on the top and looked back to see me slowly making my way along the pull up the hill.
It had rained on us at Laurel Fork Falls enough that we had applied our pack covers and jackets. About the time we were tackling Heartbreak Ridge it began to lightly rain again. Getting to the top of the ridge was a relief…as hard as it was to climb it was just as hard to get down the other side. They had built a ladder into the side of the hill to scoot down.
My respect for Whitney has always been maximized but it was lifted to new heights on this day. I had seen her feet. They were extremely blistered with the entire front pads torn away. And yet she never complained. She matter of factly told me that she had blisters, we cut moleskin and applied it and she hiked on in some very adverse conditions. When this happens it actually hurts more to hike down and flat then up. She never said a word. When I was close enough to hear I could make out her slightly moaning with each step. On this day 13.1 miles of pain. Don’t mess with Whitney.
Some kind soul or souls had hefted this bench to the ridge along Heartbreak. It was a welcome sight but we could not stay long. The bridge over the Toxaway River was within reach and once we gained the high ground we could see that there was a major rain storm on the way. In a light rain we trudged on toward our intended goal…a small campsite across the bridge and just before the spot that boats oftentimes shuttle hikers onto the trail. We hiked past about 6 perfectly great campsites but we wanted to break 13 miles and get to a point where we would be climbing the first thing the next morning.
As it approached 1730 hours we reached Toxaway River and Bridge. Our goal was within reach. If it hadn’t been for Whitney’s feet it would actually have been a very decent day. Once in camp I got water and heated it for supper and Whitney then “cooked” supper. A lasagne from Mountain House…..not bad actually.
It had begun to pour just as we got our tents up….gear had been tossed into the tents. There was no phone signal…….sleep came early that third night. Whitney was silent only a few feet away in her tent but I knew that she was nursing her feet and wondering about the next day. The bonus about being on relatively flat ground near the lake would end tomorrow…actually as soon as the day began. We had hiked 13. 1 miles bringing our total to 28.2 miles. Just over a third of the trail complete. Whitney told me that she had forgotten how much she had disliked dealing with blistered feet when we hiked the Rockies a couple of years ago. The pain had faded from her mind, she said. Well it was certainly back now. I hoped that it wouldn’t sour her from further hikes. I would have to worry about it later…it was time to enjoy an evening in the rain on the edge of Lake Jocassee.