Sunday, November 13, 2016

Foothills Trail to Laurel Fork Falls in Jocassee Gorges, SC

A couple of weeks ago me and Kermit hiked a portion of the Foothills Trail to Laurel Fork Falls, and a bit past there and back again. It was a beautiful out-and-back hike from the Foothills Trail trail-head at the gravel parking area off the narrow dirt Horse Pasture Road, which is in the middle of a large conservation area known as Jocassee Gorges. This area abuts the southern Appalachian Mountains and is part of the geological feature known as the,"Blue Ridge Escarpment." It is a mountainous region that separates the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Piedmont. Check out these two interesting links here and here on Jocassee.

Source: WNCVI   

Kermit really enjoys getting out in the woods.

Water break along the trail. Many of the small headwater streams that feed Laurel Fork Creek were dry

Vast portions in the canopy of the forests of the southern Appalachians are dead. The eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, is being decimated by the invasive pest known as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) (Adelges tsugae).  The mite attacks the phloem of the hemlock, going after the nutrient-rich sap, which ultimately kills the tree. When I worked at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook NY, I was able to see some of the damage the HWA can wreck on trees, but I never saw anything as widespread as the forests in Jocassee Gorges. Dr. Gary Lovett, a Forest Ecologist at the Cary Institute, is a fantastic scientist and does some really great, and important, research on the HWA, as well as other invasive plant pests. I did not see a single healthy (and only a few) living adult trees. The scattered small trees were few and far between, and they were all in very poor condition. I was, and still am, shocked by the havoc that the HWA has done to the southern Appalachian forests. I have read some of the peer-reviewed research on it, so I was aware of it from the intellectual side, but seeing the damage first-hand was eye-opening. I first saw it last November when I was in Jocasse for work, but spending two days and a night in the forest was a different experience. 

Laurel Fork Falls, which feeds into Lake Jocassee

I arrived at the trail head close to 2pm, I left my house several hours later than I anticipated, when life got in the way of my plans. So I hauled down the trail to the falls, which me and Kermit checked out from the overlook, before cutting back and exploring a way until we found a secluded spot to camp. 

Kermit was pooped after a solid afternoon of hiking

I used my homemade alcohol stove to cook up some pad-thai, a recipe my twin brother showed me. 

We camped near Laurel Fork Creek, it's a beautiful area. I had just enough daylight left after hiking the 9 miles at a breakneck pace to make camp and scrounge up wood for a nice relaxing fire. 

pad thai!

Sometimes I wonder if Kermit is confused as to why we spent hours walking in the woods to then sleep in the woods, and walk up and do it again the next day. Like any dog, he loves running around in the woods, but he also appreciates the finer things in life, like leather couches and warm houses. 

Kermit is a beautiful dog with a great temperament 

Me and Kermit on one of the footbridges over Laurel Fork Creek

The valley the Foothills Trail cuts down into is stunning, with mountain laurel and rhododendron dominating the understory of the forest. Sometimes I felt like I was walking through a green tunnel.

A portion of the stairs along the Foothills Trail down to Virginia Hawkins Falls

The trail passes by Virginia Hawkins Falls, which right now is only a trickle. When I saw it last year during a work trip, it had much more flow, and was quite impressive. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Mount Fremont to the Burroughs and Sunrise Rim Trail

This beautiful little yellow pine chipmunk (Tamias amoenus) shared the view of the Berkeley Park area with me and my brother, from the Fremont Trail, on our way back from the tower to the Burroughs Mountains.

After waking up, enjoying the view, and immediately wanting to the leave the "fish bowl" that is Fremont Lookout (it's a popular hiking spot, especially on on such a nice day), we headed back down the Fremont Trail towards First and Second Burroughs Mountains. While there was still quite a bit of cloud cover, the views were spectacular, even though Rainier and Little Tahoma were back in the clouds for most of the hike out that day. 

These photos were taken from the Fremont Trail and merged. On the far left, Frozen Lake is visible. Straight ahead is First and Second Burroughs, Third Burroughs is in the clouds, as is Rainier and Little Tahoma behind it.

This is looking back up the Fremont Trail, where it was completely foggy the day before

Along the Fremont Trail adjacent to Frozen Lake. First and Second Burroughs are straight and to the right

Berkeley Park area, the Wonderland Trail cuts through this valley, the trail is faintly visible in this photo. Rainier is blocked by the clouds!

Another view into Berkeley Park

If you look carefully, on the third hump from the right, Fremont Lookout is just barely visible in the clouds. That's where we spent the previous night!

Another view into Berkeley Park

The view of the Inter Branch to White Fork River, from Second Burroughs

Third Burroughs (and Rainier) is engulfed in clouds. 
The above photo was taken from the top of Second Burroughs. The trail stops along the slope of Third Burroughs, there's no trail to the summit. My brother, Jonathan, has been up it several times. At this point in our hike we were both hungry and tired (a mouse kept us up much of the night in the tower), and we opted to skip breakfast to hike and munch on snacks while moving. Those factors, combined with the cloud cover, we decided to continue on our way along the Sunrise Rim Trail, which takes us back to our vehicle, to form a big loop started yesterday.

Emmons Glacier!! Goat Island Mountain is the mountain above it. 

With the above photo, we had another perspective on Emmons Glacier. Two days earlier we saw it from the ridge on Goat Island Mountain (the mountain dominating the above photo), and now from First and Second Burroughs. The next day we get to see it up close and personal after bushwhacking to it! (next post!)
Jonathan on Sunrise Rim Trail, in the alpine tundra! 

Unnamed subalpine lake, White River, Emmons Glacier, and Goat Island Mountain. 

White River, Emmons Glacier, and Goat Island Mountain.

Jonathan was telling about some of his (crazy) experiences on this sketchy trail, in the winter. 

Jonathan along the Sunrise Rim Trail. The White River is visible below.

Me on the Sunrise Rim Trail

The trail is beautiful and more than a little sketchy, definitely not a place you want to lose your footing.

An impressive stone overlook built by the CCC in the 1930s

Me and Jonathan at an overlook on the Sunrise Rim Trail, built by the CCC in the 1930s

Goat Island Mountain (right) and Emmons Glacier and White River (middle, below)

Goat Island Mountain and White River
unnamed pond along the Sunrise Rim Trail

Jonathan cut this tree as part of his trail work. He's laughing because it's not the most impressive example of his work  :-) 

Taken from towards the end of Sunrise Rim trail (Emmons Glacier is visible)

This was taken towards the very end of the Sunrise Rim Trail.