Monday, March 7, 2011

Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Greenville County, SC
Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Photos are posted here:

There are many waterfalls that we come across and think, "This one is nice, but it would be really spectacular after some heavy rainfall"

Since the Upstate of South Carolina was hit with some very heavy rain showers this weekend, Johnny suggested a hike into the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve to check out some tributary waterfalls under much higher than normal flow. Tim and Caroline were up for the hike as well

We decided to play it by ear Sunday Morning, checking the weather radar so we could time the start of our hike to begin after the heaviest of rain had past. The rain lingered on a bit longer than originally forecasted and we ended up beginning our hike shortly after 12:00 noon.

Hiking in the Rain

It was down to just a light drizzle as we started our hike along the Chestnut Ridge Trail, but the effects of the earlier deluge was obvious. What normally is a small trickle of a stream that runs parallel to the first part of the trail was now a raging torrent of whitewater falling just short of escaping from its banks.

Raging Tributary

This immediately caused some concerns about our days plans. If this small tributary looks like this, what would the South Pacolet River look like? Will we be able to get across the river to check out the waterfalls on the other side? We decided to press on and worry about that later.

Even if we can't make it across the river, there are plenty of other things to see in the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve. For early season wildflowers, this trail has the highest concentration of Bloodroot I have ever seen. Unfortunately any blooms that had already opened up had been beat to heck by the earlier barrage of rain.


Also abundant alongside the trail is Toadshade Trillium. The skies had darkened up and heavier rain started falling as we passed the most impressive wildflower displays, so we decided to save any wildflower photography for later.

The trail gains about 600-feet of elevation cresting at a 5-way intersection along the ridgeline of Squirrel Mountain. Instead of continuing straight along the main trail, we turned left and continued up the ridge towards the North West.

While none of us has ever gone this way, the map suggested that this might be an alternate way down to the South Pacolet River, upstream from where two major forks merge into one. Hopefully this would offer us the best chance of crossing the river as two smaller streams should be easier than their combined forces further downstream.

After a short climb, the trail started descending and eventually met up with a tributary stream where we spotted a fairly significant waterfall through the trees. It looked like there would be a safe way to get a closer look, but since the rainfall was fairly heavy, we decided to save that for later.

The Southern Branch of the South Pacolet River

Eventually we got to the crossing of the southern branch of the South Pacolet River, which is the smaller of the two main tributaries. Johnny, Tim, and I were able to traverse it by finding a narrow section to leap across, while Caroline decided to ford a wider, but shallower (knee deep) section.

Caroline Crossing the River

Next up was the main branch of the South Pacolet River. On a normal day you can rock hop across without even getting your feet wet, but today any rocks were underwater. The powerful current of the river looked very intimidating and we contemplated our options.

Since none of us are Olympic caliber long jumpers we would not be able to leap across. It was too muddy to see the bottom, so we had no idea how deep it would be and what kind of footing we would encounter.

Muddy South Pacolet River

Eventually we all came to the same conclusion that it was not worth the risk. While we most likely could have made it across safely I think the key deciding factor was that it was cold enough that any accidental swims would have resulted in an extremely uncomfortable situation. I am sure the risks of crossing the raging river would have seemed far less during a warm summer day!

Instead we explored another side trail that ran parallel to the main branch heading uphill and eventually ending up at a cul-de-sac of "The Cliffs at Glassy" community. Since we didn't feel like strolling along paved roads looking at Multi-Million dollar homes, we decided to head back the way we came.

The rain had stopped and we decided to take the opportunity to check out the waterfall we spotted earlier. Even under very soggy conditions, it was fairly easy to safely navigate our way down to the base of the waterfall.

This one was actually much more impressive than can be shown in photos. I would estimate it to be about 25-feet high, but the heavy vegetation surrounding the waterfall made it impossible to get the entire falls in one photo. Even though the rain had stopped, the intense wind was blowing drops from all the saturated limbs and leaves making it impossible to keep the water droplets off my lens.

I am sure the heavy rains made this waterfall much more impressive than usual, but it is on a significant enough tributary that it should still be pretty good during times of normal flow. I'll just have to return and check that out sometime!

Returning to the aforementioned 5-way intersection, we decided to head east up the ridgeline to the summit of Squirrel Mountain. While there are no 100% wide open vistas, some recent logging did thin out the trees enough to offer some views.

View from Squirrel Mountain

We took a nice little break on the summit where Iggy decided it was time to crawl out of my pack to pose for a few photos.

Iggy goes out on a limb

By now the rain was history and the sun decided to make its first appearance of the weekend. Tim and Caroline decided to head back to their vehicle via an old logging road, while Johnny and I returned back the way we came along the main trail.

Johnny and I had hoped to get some photos of the Bloodroot and Toadshade Trillium mentioned earlier, but the strong wind and now bright sunlight made wildflower photography conditions less than optimal.

Toad Shade Trillium


Despite the rain, it was still a very enjoyable hike! Thanks Johnny for giving me the excuse and motivation to get off the couch and out onto the trails

The full set of photos is posted here:


HemlockMan said...

I'm sorry the water was up too high to attempt a crossing. What was weird about that storm was how cold it got behind it. Falling in would have been truly a miserable experience.

wayne15575 said...

Totally awesome photography on this set Jack. It's alway a pleasure to see your blog.