I'm a tenacious peak-bagger. There's nothing I like better than hiking to the top of a named summit and standing on the highest point. Even if it's just an old, rounded, eroded mountain peak that's generally unremarkable I get a kick out of finding the top-most bit of real estate and hiking to the very highest elevation.
When you have occasion to bushwhack to a mountaintop, one comes to appreciate the labor, engineering, and effort that it took to create a graded trail to the top. And that, of course, is the easiest (and best) way to reach a summit--by hiking an official and well maintained trail. Bushwhacking is a lot of fun, too, but it tires you out not just physically, but also mentally. And there are ways to wear down your emotions as well as your muscles. Hiking cross country in the tortured landscape of a southern mountain is just one way to do this.
On our hike to find Sally Queen Falls we discovered that despite the fact that they South Mountains aren't really very high in terms of mean sea level, they are a stupendously rugged chunk of real estate. The hike took place in winter when the leaves are off the trees and it's easy to see through the forest. And although it was unseasonably warm that day, we didn't have to deal with much in the way of foot-snagging brush, nor blood-sucking crawling things like mosquitoes, gnats, deer flies, and ticks. Nor did we have to worry about snakes. If I ever bushwhack in the South Mountains, it will have to be in the colder months when conditions are against the bugs and thorns.
Following are some random photos that I took which, I hope, can convey the toughness of the hike we took to find Sally Queen Falls.
This is the actual summit of Richland Mountain. Now, normally I would have jumped at the chance to jog up this last bit of distance to the very top. But I was so exhausted after our day of hiking that it was the easiest thing in the world to just sit there in the leaves and look up at the summit and decide that it could wait for another day. So, technically speaking, I did not climb to the top of Richland Mountain.
You make your own trails when you go bushwhacking. You have to constantly stop and survey the territory and decide where your next step is going to go and what you should do to avoid trouble ahead.
Jack has already crossed a deep gully while Andy follows (Boone getting ready to go over the downed tree). You can't just bull straight ahead when bushwhacking.
I paused at one point after descending Richland Mountain to look back up the way we'd come. The peak might not be even 2800 feet high, but it's one very steep mountain.
For some reason I didn't take any photos while we were negotiating our way through that huge and monstrous rhododendron hell. But I did find that I'd taken one shot as we entered a small patch of such shrubs.
As I said, the slopes of the South Mountains are indeed steep and extremely rugged.
But you know what? There are great treasures often to be found off the beaten path and away from the marked and developed trails. Sally Queen Falls was worth the effort.