January 14th, 2017
On Saturday, Pam and I met bright and early in Picket Post, then headed towards Cleveland, South Carolina. This would be our second hike together in as many days. Just the day before, on Friday the 13th, we tempted fate and did a 10.4 mile hike on a section of the Bartram Trail in Georgia, along the Chattooga River.
Our destination for today was Caesar’s Head State Park, which together with Jones Gap State Park, combine to form the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Within Mountain Bridge there are over 11,000 acres of preserved wilderness, half a dozen waterfalls, a number of primitive backcountry campsites, and more than 30 miles of trails.
Our plan was to do a hike that would create a loop by connecting six different trails and finish back at Pam’s vehicle. We started out at the Raven Cliff Falls trailhead and hiked for 2.2 miles until we reached the overlook.
Across the valley from the overlook is the trail’s namesake waterfall. At 420 feet, Raven Cliff Falls is the highest in South Carolina. When I was last here in early November, the falls had been reduced to little more than a trickle because of an extended drought in the region. Fortunately, since then we’ve had at least some rain and it was good to see that the volume had increased considerably.
After taking a couple of pictures, we backtracked a short distance till we came to the junction for the Dismal Trail. The Dismal Trail is an aptly named, steep and rugged trail that drops about 1300 feet in a mile & a half. The twisted vine in this image reminds me of the circuitous routes of some of my recent hikes with Wayne and Pam.
At the end of the Dismal Trail, we turned left onto the Naturaland Trust trail, then continued to descend a couple of hundred more feet till we reached the valley floor and Matthews Creek.
The trail followed the creek for about six-tenths of a mile before turning left and beginning to climb. As you can see in this image, the trail was rocky and there were lots of leaves on the ground.
The leaves, together with slippery, moss covered boulders, made it hard at times to get solid footing on the increasingly steep terrain. Here, we passed under a huge and impressive rock face.
The sun was obscured by fog the whole day, while the the air temperature, which started out in the low 50’s, never rose more than a few degrees. Below is an image of one of the unique Mountain Bridge Wilderness trail markers that we saw during our hike.
A short while later, we passed beside another large rock face. From here, it was not too much further to where the trail would cross Hwy 276. Because it was not far from a trailhead, we began to encounter a few other people who were also out exploring the trails, including a couple of fellows and their dogs.
By the time that we had reached and crossed Hwy 276, it was close to 12:30 PM and we had hiked approximately 7.2 miles. When we spotted a log, we decided to take a break there and eat our lunches. After maybe 15 minutes, we finished eating, put our packs back on and resumed hiking.
The Naturaland Trust Trail, which we were still following, ended at the Frank Coggins Trail. The Frank Coggins Trail forms a bit of a lollipop loop and leads to the Coldspring Connector. The Coldspring Connector is a short half mile trail that descends steeply before crossing Coldspring Branch. From there, all that was left to do was a 300-400 foot climb back to the parking area and to Pam’s waiting vehicle.
In all, when we were finished, we had hiked about 11 miles and climbed over 2,800 feet. Our total elevation gain/loss was close to 5,700 feet The terrain was beautiful, but rugged. I think that we both agreed that this had been one of the more physically challenging hikes that we had done in a while.