Sunday, September 06, 2009

is that a banjo i hear?

i'm moving a little slowly this morning, but it's for a good reason- SO and i went hiking yesterday on the winding stairs trail, near walhalla, sc.

(we thought a hike might be a good idea because, for his upcoming 40th birthday, SO and i are going to visit his family in phoenix, arizona. as usual, there is a strong possibility that sooner or later, we will find ourselves enjoying the local terrain on foot. since most of our daily exercise is limited to walking on flat land, clearly a little conditioning is in order.)

this 3.5 mile trail (which, according to this link, apparently features a bonus waterfall, secret falls, which we somehow managed to miss completely) was done as an out-and-back hike, totalling 7 miles.

the parking area for this hike was pretty easy to find, and not just because we overshot it and wound up at the entrance to the cherry hill recreational area. we actually parked in the same pullout we used a couple of years ago, when we hiked the big bend trail (which i didn't blog about, for some strange reason). however, a lesson was learned after our last hike in this area- ticks are abundant. so, before heading out on the trail, windows were rolled up, the sunroof of SO's spiffy new chariot was closed, and we doused ourselves in mosquito/tick repellant.

we started our hike from the northern trailhead, on sc 107, which, according to hiking south carolina by john clark & john dantzler, is the easier way to approach the hike. after a slight incline just past the trailhead, the trail descends over a thousand feet, mostly through a series of switchbacks- which, i suppose, inspired the name of the trail.

our first stop was fairly early on- a photo op along the west fork of townes creek.

(forgive the blurriness. this was the best of a fair bit, i assure you.)

the trail was pretty flat along this section, and we marveled at the variety of mushrooms along the trail. there were huge yellow ones, smaller red ones, oddly shaped large white ones.....the smurfs would have been proud. i would've snapped some photos, but was excited about the waterfall and wanted to get to it as quickly as possible, so pictures would have to wait until the hike back to the trailhead.

miuka falls can be heard after the first switchback along the trail. there's a little bit of a scramble to get a decent view of the waterfall, but i managed to stay on my feet without the assistance of too many trees. i believe SO even managed to stay upright, which will spare me the prospect of having to presoak his shorts in oxyclean and half a bottle of shout.

miuka falls is a 75-foot cascade reminded me of oconee station falls, which i visited about 10 years ago, before moving to south carolina. like oconee station falls, i had a serious desire to have my photo taken at the base of the waterfall.

(this was taken at oconee station waterfall- 1998 or so, i think)

however, my plan was foiled on two counts:

1. SO was highly squeamish about the idea of yours truly walking around on slick rocks.....i believe he may have said something about "plunging to (my) death" or something like that

2. my camera battery, which was just charged my next-to-last day on st. john, decided to give up the ghost while SO was squatting down in an attempt to achieve the sort of angle that would catch both myself and the waterfall in the photo.


so much for that new facebook profile picture, though i managed to get a couple of good shots before the battery gave up the ghost.

in retrospect, it's probably just as well that we somehow missed secret falls, as i wouldn't have been able to capture it on film (or is it "in pixels" these days?) anyway....just another reason to go back sometime.

beyond the waterfalls, the trail seemed to be far less traveled. at a couple of points, we wound up on alternate paths, skirting around the edges of fallen trees. thankfully, major scrambles weren't involved, and we were able to continue our hike at a fairly decent pace. (i figured we should be able to handle 7 miles in under three hours- a shorter period of time was preferable, given that we didn't hit the trail until 4pm.)

wildlife encounters were limited mostly to yours truly walking into spiderwebs (which would be one of the ways i figured out the section of the trail beneath the falls wasn't nearly as well traveled as the section above the falls), which generally wasn't a problem....except for the one that left me with what seemed to be a ginormous tarantula on my shoulder. (in retrospect, it was probably just a small, harmless arachnid, no bigger than a dime. i was too busy shrieking and flicking it off to really check it out, though.)

about an hour and fifteen minutes into the hike, just as i was wondering when we'd reach the southern trailhead, on tamassee road, SO commented that he heard music.

this was a good sign. music meant we were getting close to the road.

at the southern trailhead, the source of the music became clear. since i have no photos to share with you, i will have to share my artistic rendition of the scene we encountered:

1. yes, matisse would be proud. and by "matisse", i mean john matisse, the half-blind homeless man i saw talking to himself last week downtown.

2. there are multiple reasons for SO's exclusion from this drawing:

2a. as you can see, i only draw handless, anorexic nudists, which SO most certainly is not, by any account.

2b. upon realizing that banjos were, in fact, featured in the music we were hearing, SO turned around and headed back up the trail faster than i've ever seen him move before.

time to get from northern trailhead to southern trailhead (over 1000 ft. descent in 3.5 miles, with photo stops): 1 hour, 20 minutes

time to get from southern trailhead to northern trailhead (over 1000 ft. ascent in 3.5 miles, without photo stops): 1 hour, 15 minutes.

i believe the numbers speak for themselves, folks. clearly, this boy has watched deliverance.

the trip back was fairly uneventful. SO realized that having a towel in the car might be a good idea, as he didn't really like the idea of his sweaty t-shirt stinking up the driver's seat of his new chariot. since he didn't come to this realization back at home, where we have an abundance of towels, he made do by using my spare sweatshirt as a barrier between his sweaty back and his seat.

a couple of swigs of warm gatorade later, we were heading back toward greenville on sc 107, which ran into sc 28- the road that heads into walhalla, where we pick up 183, which heads into greenville, where it runs into 385, which runs into I-26, which gets us most of the rest of the way home. it's a fairly simple route, and not long after reaching 183, i instructed SO to stay on the road and closed my eyes.....opening them about 45 minutes later, expecting to see the sights of northern greenville.

(our planned route)

funny thing- one does not expect to see the sign for issaqueena falls in northern greenville. in fact, one expects that sign along sc 28.....not far from where sc 107 splits off toward cherry hill recreational area.

needless to say, i was a little surprised.

about two miles from where i closed my eyes, there's a stoplight along 183. one must turn left to stay on 183. otherwise, one winds up staying on whatever road merged with 183 a few miles back, and, as my trailblazing SO discovered, if one stays on this road and doesn't make any turns whatsoever, one winds up back on 28, bound for the georgia and north carolina borders.

(our actual route)

i pointed out a few (i thought so, anyway) memorable sights and asked if he'd seen them before, but it seems SO takes the whole "keep your eyes on the road" line of thinking to heart, as he responded that he hadn't noticed anything unusual.

to his credit, he turned around fairly quickly, and about twenty minutes later, when we made the turn onto 183 again, he realized his mistake.

i did not close my eyes again until we were safely on 385. during the intervening time, SO apologized multiple times. i pointed out that it was no huge deal to me- after all, i was planning on sleeping on the way home, and i did not have any sort of interest in the college football game of which he'd now be missing the first hour.

maybe for his 40th birthday, i'll teach him how to make sense of a map.