As usual when I go hiking on my own, I got a late start. Carole wanted to use my truck to drive to work last night (she works nights in the maternity ward), so I had to wait until she got home at 8:00 am. Even though she got home at eight, sharp, I was still not ready and didn’t get underway until almost 9:00 pm. I had nothing to blame but my own dilapidated sense of punctuality. On the way out the door, she didn’t mention anything more about the nasty stomach virus that was going around at the hospital.
I drove uneventfully to South Mountains State Park, which is one of the closest mountain areas to my house. I was hiking by 11:00 am and had decided to first take the Chestnut Knob Trail to the peak to get some photos. The last time I’d been there it was rainy and I wasn’t able to get any good photographs. The first thing that I noted as I entered the park was that the new visitors center and office was not only completed, but open. So I pulled into the brand new parking lot and went inside where I grabbed a park map and asked a few questions of the ranger behind the big, huge, shiny, new counter. Yes, the new visitors center had been open for over a month. Yes, I could bring my travel trailer to the campground as long as the trailer was less than twenty-six feet in length. Yes, the Sawtooth Trail was closed, but only for those on horseback—hiking on foot was fine.
Yes, the restrooms are open they’re down that hallway on your…I didn’t hear her say “right”, because I was moving pretty briskly down the hallway and the door was closing behind me before she could finish, I’m sure.
With suspicions that I was witnessing the nasty virus that was going around the hospital where my wife works, I evacuated my bowels quite noisily and with not a small amount of fragrance. I wiped and flushed and washed and feeling much better I left to drive to the trailhead for Chestnut Knob.
If you’ve never hiked that trail, it’s moderately steep with a gain in elevation of about 600 or 700 feet in about two miles. Not bad, but I know some people have a tough time with the climb. There’s a nice spot to stop along the way where you have a great view of the Jacob Fork Gorge in which High Shoals Falls is located. Today the sky was mildly overcast and the air was very clear so I had the best views from there that I’d ever seen. Strangely, in spite of the cold weather we’ve enjoyed the past two weeks, today had turned out extremely warm and I soon realized I could have easily worn shorts.
I stopped at the overlook for a while and took some shots. After a couple of photos, my stomach started rumbling again and with no small amount of pain I realized that I would have to once more clear the contents of my gut. I opened my daypack and found a roll of toilet paper (never leave home without backpacking toilet paper!) and cast about for a private spot in the woods where I would be least likely to shock anyone who might happen along.
Walking down slope slightly and behind some low pines, I decided that this was as good a place as any and dropped my trousers. Barely in time.
The bug-infested contents of my bowels exited at pretty much light speed I have to say. The mass hit the forest floor and drilled right through it and into the bedrock beneath and kept going. I’m sure if I check the website for the US Geological Survey, I will see that they recorded a mild tremor centered near Chestnut Knob at about noon on February 21. Roughly as that mass was passing through the molten iron core of the Earth, some neutrinos caught up with it and they all passed through the mantle together and appeared through the crust of the Himalayan plate at roughly the same time. The stuff didn’t quite have enough oomph left to reach escape velocity and fell back, and I suspect a Tibetan monk is now puzzling over the frozen, yellowish-brown mass that plummeted into his village.
Here in North Carolina I cleaned myself up and covered the small hole I’d drilled into Chestnut Knob with some leaves and dirt.
I had expected to encounter some other hikers, but all the day long I seemed to have the park pretty much to myself. After spending a few minutes at the overlook I pushed on to Chestnut Knob. Happily, the weather had completely cleared by the time I reach the Knob, and the views were spectacular. I ended up taking about 100 photos from this spot alone. It was a little after noon by this point and I was feeling much, much better, so I took out a sandwich and some water. After about half the sandwich, I realized Mr. Stomach Virus had not run its course and that I would once more have to find a private spot in which to squat. With great impetus I had to scramble down from the peak, discovering as I did so a great view of the rock tower on which I’d just been standing. This virus was serious business. The runs. The squirts. The brown geyser. I was one sick puppy and found myself merely relieved that no one else seemed to be interested in hiking the South Mountains on this unseasonably warm February weekday. There was that, at least, I pondered as I groaned and smelled up the World.
From there, I decided to take the Sawtooth Trail down to the Little River Trail and catch the Jacob Fork Trail and then the Short Trail back to the parking lot. I was totally unfamiliar with this section of the park so this was all new territory for me. Sadly, most of the terrain I traveled after leaving Chestnut Knob was pretty boring. The trails are mainly the old CCC roads from the 1930s, so they’re very wide and are basically auto roads that are open to horseback, bike, and foot travel. I didn’t see anyone else, though. I did walk through the Sawtooth Campground and it’s pretty much nothing but a wide grassy field with three metal fire pits and fire grates and a privy (which I happily did not have to use, thank Jove).
The trails were turning out to be very boring with the forest cover composed mainly of relatively young scrub oak and pines—not very pretty to look at. Soon after descending several hundred feet I came to a river crossing. Looking to my right, I could see that the stream went down a very long sliding rock. For some reason, the park service has chosen this point in the trail to dump brush and debris, and I had to push through this dried stuff to whack my way down below the sliding rock where I could take a nice photo. Once I’d done that, I made my way back to the trail and continued on.
Soon I was on the Little River Trail. As I was hiking along, I could hear rushing water. Looking to my left I saw a fence with a sign indicating that this was a dangerous spot and to stay on the trail. Of course this is an invitation to explore, and I soon discovered a waterfall that I hadn’t known existed:
Little River Falls.
I had to very carefully climb down what amounts to a cliff face to get to the base of the waterfall. I used some old logs to maneuver my way down and so spent the next forty-five minutes taking photos of the falls and looking downstream to where there was another two sets of waterfalls that didn’t look to me that they were worth the trouble to photograph. A log had recently lodged itself below Little River Falls and I was able to use it as a kind of brace to take one really nice shot of the waterfall. Most of my other shots contain a lot of debris and vegetation that prevented me from getting a very clear photo of this waterfall. However, that said, it’s not a bad waterfall and I’d recommend finding it if you’re in the park.
After that I went back down to the Jacob Fork Parking lot and sat down at the picnic area and looked at my map. It was getting late—about 4:30 pm, and I decided to head up to High Shoals Falls and get a few photos there before heading back to Charlotte. As I set up my camera tripod for shots, three different groups arrived and left, all of them with dogs. I’m not a fan of taking dogs into our parks, so I’m always nervous when hikers bring their dogs along. These didn’t bother me, except for a moment when I was stuck between a boxer and a German shepherd who looked like they were about to start fighting (with me in between). Ugh.
Leave your dogs at home, people.
Packing up my tripod, I headed back down to my truck, pausing along the way to take a few dozen more photographs. Within two hours I was back home. It was a nice trip, and I really need to take my trailer to the park campground and set up shop for a few days and take my time hiking the few trails there that I haven’t seen.
And, hopefully, next time I’ll arrive at the park without my visitor, Mr. Stomach Virus.
(And, no, before you ask, it was not the pickled green tomatoes.)