Friday, October 22, 2010

Formerly, Friday: Raven Cliff Falls, SC

My favorite hike so far was with my dad; the Raven Cliff Falls loop at Caesar's Head State Park in South Carolina. It's a nearly nine mile loop that serves as an incredible sampling of the versatility to be found in the scenery at Caesar's Head!

Dad and I parked near the trailhead where you can access the Coldspring Branch Trail and Tom Miller Trail for access to the Jones Gap Trail! The sign is a bit odd, though; the sign on the side of the parking lot that you take for the Raven Cliff Falls trail to the overlook says Foothills Trail.

The Natureland Trust Trail continues west as the Foothills Trail; as always, keep your eyes open for your blazes!

Head out on the red blazed Raven Cliff Falls Trail (#11) for a pretty moderate hike that has some stellar views of the Blue Ridge! If you choose to continue along the red blazes to the overlook for Raven Cliff Falls about a mile further. If you're interested in the loop we did, take the Gum Gap Trail (blue blazes, #13)! This is where the trail gets fun! There's a moderate stretch for the first chunk of the Gum Gap Trail, but the closer you get to the water, the more you have to scramble downwards towards the creek that feeds Raven Cliff Falls. There was some moderate bushwhacking; nothing serious, just some intensely overgrown rhododendrons! We followed along the Matthews Creek and passed some pretty cascades!

Gum Gap Trail meets the Natureland Trust Trail (pink blazes, #14) and the Foothills trail at the suspension bridge that goes over the top of Raven Cliff Falls. Dad and I took the pink blazes for our loop... and this is where you really have to scramble down the mountain, but not after some spectacular views! 
As I said, after the suspension bridge, be prepared to use all fours to wedge your way down the rocky trail that goes down into the cliffs. This part of the trail seriously slowed us down, and really tested my leg strength. As always, bring plenty of water. At this point, Dad and I were throwing back handfuls of trail mix to help us keep at our best!

The Natureland Trust Trail is a beautiful trail... there are so many huge boulders, and once you get down into the cliffs, your mind should be thoroughly blown!

Honestly, this was one of my favorite moments from this loop. I just was not expecting such an impressive sight! I'd love one day to hike the entire Natureland Trust Trail, and spend more time down in woods like this spot! Unfortunately for us, though, our last mile on the Natureland Trust Trail was only the beginning of our work! Before we moved on to the next segment of our hike, we had the pleasure of climbing across a pretty stream by two tow lines tied to trees about four feet above the surface of the water... FUN!

It was a ton of fun once I got over my slight fear... note the death grip! The key was to slide your feet, not step with them, and alternate moving your feet, then your hands [thanks for sharing this piece of information with me before I attempted it and landed in the stream, Dad(and yes, he's typically capable of such tomfoolery)]. I don't necessarily think this tactic of getting across the water is necessary; the water isn't that deep and certainly wasn't moving very quickly while we were at this spot. I suppose it's mostly a convenience factor, as not every one plans on wearing water sport socks. Next up was the Dismal Trail!

The Dismal Trail (purple blazes, #12) is quite dismal indeed! All of that elevation that we'd lost headed down to the suspension bridge, and then even further down into the cliffs (over 1000 feet) we had to make up: in half a mile.Wow. Yap. Dismal.

While Dad and I struggled up this part of our loop, Dad noticed some rocks to our left that looked out over the park; and behold! Dad found an awesome overlook to the Falls minus the crowd at the official overlook!

We had some water, one by one snuck behind some bushes to take care of business, ate some more trail mix, and headed back to the Raven Cliff Trail to hike the nearly two miles back to the parking lot; after such a convenient yet private overlook, who needs to go to the public spot?!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. This trail was my favorite, and mostly just because it was with Dad! We had so much to talk about! For Dad, hiking is a familial association, as his father taught him to respect the outdoors. There is a lot of peace for Dad in being on a hike or camping, and I'm grateful to have been welcomed into the fold!

Aside from me walking straight into the mud on the trail while Dad walks around into the bushes to avoid the mud, he also had to point out that the "bear tracks" were in fact dog tracks. Yap. We talked about how much water you took out on the trail with you sometimes depended on the temperature; this came up as a way to lecture me about how it wasn't always a grand idea for me to fill my water bottles on the rocks of waterfalls, like I have been known to do on hikes with my husband. Thus my new camel bag for my pack, and Dad's ownership of a water filter! We've also discussed picking up walking sticks for me; I have a weak ankle from an incident I had when I was a kid, and that ankle still turns dangerously on a dime when I'm climbing.

All in all, this fabulous day spent with Dad back in August is truly what got my brain so fixated on camping, backpacking, and hiking with my Dad. I'm glad he's so excited to take me along, as I know I have so much to learn!

Trail Recap to get the most out of the fantastic Raven Cliff Falls area:
Raven Cliff Falls Trail (red blazes, #11)
Gum Gap Trail (blue blazes, #13)
Natureland Trust Trail (pink blazes, #14)
Dismal Trail (purple blazes, #12)
Raven Cliff Falls Trail (red blazes, #11)

Well, Sunday's hike to Falls Creek Falls is still a go, but that may be our last one for a few weeks. Work schedules are not cooperating. On the flip side, though, my husband and I will have a chance to take a little day trip to some waterfall hubs that involve far less intensive hiking! I'll try to post again soon; either a recap of Falls Creek Falls, or a post I've been pondering for a few days about healthy eating habits while on and off the trail. This could be interesting, as while I don't claim to be a nutrition whiz at all, I seem to be in the best shape of my life, without really trying... could be an interesting conversation!

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