Snow Hiking In The Sumter National Forest Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area

This past Saturday, I did a 10.2 mile solo hike in the Sumter National Forest Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area.

Established in 1975, the wilderness area encompasses more than 9,000 acres surrounding the point at which the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina come together.  It also straddles the 15,432 acre Chattooga River Wild and Scenic Corridor with numerous mountains and waterfalls.

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The hike forms a loop by joining three trails: the Foothills Trail, the Chattooga River Trail, and the East Fork Trail, with a short road walk from the South Carolina Fish Hatchery back to the start.

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I was on the trail by 12:30 pm and my hike began with an immediate climb.  This section of trail was completely covered in hardened snow; as was much of the trail on my loop.  I was wearing my micospikes so I had good traction the whole way.  

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There are about four or five climbs and descents along this part of Medlin Mountain before it begins to descend in earnest.  As I hiked, I noticed what appeared to be canine tracks in the snow.  At first, I assumed that it was another hiker and his dog, but after a while, it became clear that there were no accompanying shoe prints.  The tracks followed the trail for a long ways.  When the trail came to a switchback, the tracks finally went off-trail and continued down the mountainside.  I’m guessing that it probably had been a coyote.

It only took me about 75 minutes to hike the first 3.3 miles.  From here, I could have hiked 1.1 miles to the Chattooga Trail Junction if I had wanted to shorten the loop.  I decided instead to continue and hike the remaining 6 tenths of a mile to Burrells Ford.

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From Burrells Ford, I had to walk a short distance on the gravel road to reach the Chattooga.  Once I reached the river, I stopped to take some pictures and to eat a snack.

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Along this section is a short spur trail (two-tenths of a mile total out and back) that takes you to Spoonauger Falls. It’s a bit of a climb, but well worth the effort.  The 50-foot falls are also known as Rock Cliff Falls. The falls are fed by Spoonauger Creek and are set back into the hillside, surrounded by heavy vegetation.  I spent about 7 or 8 minutes enjoying the falls and taking pictures before I resumed my hike.

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After a while, I came upon this campsite where large stones have been used to make a fire pit and several high-back chairs with armrests.

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I also came to a shallow area where I was able to rock-hop out to the middle of the river to take some pictures.

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Immediately after crossing this wooden foot-bridge, the Chattooga River Trail bears left, but the East Fork Trail turns sharply to the right. 

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The trail climbs as it follows the East Fork of the Chattooga all the way to the Fish Hatchery.  This 2.5 mile section is something that I had not done before.

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The East Fork is a very scenic trail.  You’re never far from the water and there are several nice cascades along the way.

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There was also this huge scoured rock wall.  I couldn’t step back far enough to get a picture of the entire rock-face.

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There were several places where trees had fallen across the trail.  At this location, I couldn’t go around to the right because of the water and I couldn’t go to the left because of the steep mountainside.  I had to go directly through the tangle of branches.

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There were lots of these little footprints in the snow headed up the trail along this section.  I’m not sure whether they were made by an Opossum or a Raccoon.

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The East Fork is a wilderness trail and is not blazed (at least, I didn’t see any blazes).  It’s mostly easy to follow, although there was one spot where the trail was not obvious.  Fortunately, there were some shoe prints in the snow to point me in the right direction.

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When I reached the Fish Hatchery, I passed a picnic shelter and stopped at a picnic table near the water to eat the lunch that I had packed.  Lunch consisted of baked beans with Tabasco sauce followed by a box of raisins for dessert.  I must have been pretty hungry because I was lovin’ those beans!

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All that was left to do now was the 1.8 mile uphill road-walk back to my car.

I hadn’t been able to do any hiking this month yet, so I’m happy that this worked out.  It was a nice hike and something that I would definitely do again.

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