Greenville County, SC
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
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It has been a while since I have done a nice long solo hike, but since none of my usual hiking buddies were able to get out on Saturday, I decided to plan a hike on my own.
When hiking solo, I like to stick with established trails, in places that I am familiar with. I also make sure that my wife Amy knows exactly where I will be and what trails I plan on hiking.
I decided on the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of South Carolina. I printed out an extra copy of the map and highlighted my planned hike route to leave with Amy.
Middle Saluda River
Jones Gap State Park
Mountain Bridge Wilderness, SC
Years ago I wrote and article for the Hiking the Carolinas website called "The Ultimate South Carolina Dayhike Loop"
It has been a long time since I have done this hike and I originally planned on doing the exact hike described. However, it was a dreary morning with thick fog and a light mist of rain. These are actually perfect conditions for photographing waterfalls and cascades.
Middle Saluda River
Therefore I decided to do the loop in reverse (counter clock-wise). This would give me perfect conditions for the Creekside portion of the hike, and hopefully allow things to clear up by the time I got to the higher elevation views.
I arrived at Jones Gap State Park right when they opened the gates at 9:00am and hit the trail. I was right about conditions being just about perfect for photography and took my time as I made my way up the Jones Gap Trail alongside the Middle Saluda River. Higher than normal water flow and blooming Rhododendrons alongside the creek was an added bonus!
Rhododendrons Blooming along the Middle Saluda River
There was also loads of trillium alongside the Jones Gap Trail. Most of the ones near the start of the hike had started to droop and fade away for the year, but as I gradually gained elevation the specimens started getting better and better.
About a mile in, I reached Jones Gap Falls. This is normally a fairly unimpressive waterfall, but with the water levels up it was more impressive than I have ever seen it. I've been to this waterfall dozens of times and this is the first time I got what I consider to be a good photo of it!
Jones Gap Falls
Me at Jones Gap Falls
After enjoying Jones Gap Falls, I continued along the Middle Saluda River to the Coldspring Branch Trail Intersection. The Coldspring Branch Trail has about 6 or 7 creek crossings. They are normally pretty easy to rock hop across, but with the higher than normal water, I decided to avoid all the creek crossings and instead take the Bill Kimbal Trail.
This would be the steepest climb of the day as the Bill Kimbal Trail gains more than 1,000 feet of elevation over about 2 miles. With 100% humidity, I was sweating up a storm. But suddenly, I broke through the fog and was above the clouds.
Along the Bill Kimbal Trail
Through the trees, I could see clear blue sky above and white clouds below. Unfortunately the Bill Kimbal Trail does not really have any open views so I was forced to do a bit of off trail bushwhack to reach a small opening in the trees.
View from slightly off the Bill Kimbal Trail
Back on the trail, I soon met back up with the Coldspring Branch Trail and took a couple of short connector trails to start the Rim of the Gap!
The Rim of the Gap starts at the top of Cliff Falls and switchbacks a few hundred feet down to the base. By now the sun was directly above Cliff Falls making for lighting so horrible that I didn't even bother to snap a shot.
The next 2 miles is the most rugged stretch of trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area as the trail hugs the base of a rocky cliff. You definitely have to use all four limbs to make your way along this trail.
Fiddleheads along the Rim of the Gap Trail
Several tributaries flow down the rocks and across the trail. During wet weather, many of these make for some fairly impressive waterfalls. Unfortunately, the trail is right up against them making it tough to compose a good photo. The bright sunlight which was now overhead did not help matters.
One of the many waterfalls flowing across the Rim of the Gap TrailThere was a nice display of wildflowers, and at one place along the Rim of the Gap I spotted the most Jack-in-the-Pulpit's I have ever seen in one place. While not the prettiest of all wildflowers, it is one of my favorites due to the fact that it is so unique and fairly uncommon.
Jack-in-the-PulpitThe are a couple of spots along the trail that offer up some nice views across the Gorge and down into the Middle Saluda Valley
View from the Rim of the Gap Trail
Another interesting feature along the Rim of the Gap is Weight Watchers Rock. If you can't fit through the rock, it is time for a diet. There are ways to get around, but it is more fun to just shed your pack and climb on through.
Me crawling through Weight Watchers Rock
Next up, I left the Rim of the Gap via the John Sloan Trail. This is a very unexciting trail, but it is always an enjoyable and welcome relief to hike this relatively flat and wide track trail after the grueling miles that lead up to it.
I turned on the Pinnacle Pass Trail which would take me to the final highlight of the day. The earlier fog was gone leaving an awesome view of the Valley below and the cliffs along the opposite rim of the Gorge.
View from the Pinnacle Pass Trail
The final 2 miles was mostly a steep downhill climb. By the time I got back to Jones Gap State Park it was swarming with people, but I only saw about 10 other hikers on the trails throughout the day.
It was a very enjoyable day! Here is a map of the area where I highlighted my hike route:
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The full set of photos is posted here:
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