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Memorial Day Weekend: Backpacking Along The Foothills Trail

May 31, 2016

This was our first Memorial Day Weekend back in the South, so we decided it was the perfect time to kick off our backpacking season.

Turns out, backpacking in the summer in the South is the WORST. So hot. So humid. So many mosquitos.

We still enjoyed it anyways.

We decided to re-hike the first ever backpacking trip we did together 5 years ago: section A4 – A5 out-and-back on the Foothills Trail. This time around, we added a few more miles, kicking off from A3 instead. We had the same backpacks, same hammocks, Matt’s same shoes; but the rest of our gear had been upgraded. I was breaking in a new pair of trail shoes, and it was Moose’s longest trip since Seward last year.

The Foothills Trail is a 77 mile long trail, starting and ending in Upstate South Carolina, passing through Western North Carolina. It starts at Table Rock State Park, and ends at Oconee State Park, and has several spurs to take you to see cool waterfalls. It also circles Lake Joccasee, giving a great place to relax and swim.

We started our hike Saturday at lunchtime, parking at the Chimneytop Gap Access Area located on F Van Clayton Memorial Hwy, Sunset, SC. The first section was 2.4 miles of woods and rocks, and mostly downhill. Which meant that it was all uphill for the end of the hike. Probably the hardest two mile hike home I’ve done in a looong time.

When we reached HWY 178 & Horse Pasture Road, we stopped at the river under the bridge to give Moose some water, and to begin a hike we had done exactly 5 years before. Ahh, memories.

The hike to where we camped is only 8.1 miles, but it goes through some really beautiful scenery. There are woods for sure, but there are waterfalls and hills and streams. You can tell you’re in the foothills of the Carolina Mountains, because there are stairs. So. Many. Stairs. Walking through the Laurel Valley was the flattest part of the trail, and a really peaceful section of the trail.

When we made it to the camping area, we were surprised to see a lot of other backpackers. 5 years ago, we had been alone on this hike. Now, it had several people! We quickly threw up our hammocks and grabbed our swimsuits and a MountainHouse dinner and headed another mile down to the Lake to cool off and dine.

Exhasuted from a long afternoon, we hit the hammocks around 9:30, reading books we had brought on our phone until we fell asleep. One major improvement this time was having sleeppads in our hammock – this led to incredible warmth. The only downside was trying to get a rectangular sleeppad to stay in one place – leading to Matt saying “I swear I am never camping with just my hammock again.”

Our original plan had been to lazy around Sunday – float on our sleeping pads in the lake and get some sun. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy in the morning. We started to do a day hike with Moose further along the trail, but it looked just like the rest of the trail we had been seeing. So we decided to head back to camp and hike out that afternoon. With the heat, we didn’t want to make Moose go farther then she was capable. We especially didn’t want to carry that 65 lb. nugget out on a 12.5 mile trail.

As we hiked back to our vehicle, the weather got darker and rain drops blissfully came down upon us. The humidity and heat was incredibly high, reminding us why we didn’t backpack all that much before we moved to Alaska. We laughed at landmarks we remembered from our first trip, noted how much stronger we were since the first trip, and stopped at every water feature for Moose to lay down in.

I also got to break in my new shoes: Solomon SpeedCross 3 Trail shoes. Technically, they’re for trail running, but I had been admiring their grip and I prefer a low ankled shoe. They ended up doing amazing: I know you’re not supposed to break in new shoes with a 30 mile hike + a 35lb bag, but I’ve always been too excited to put new things to the test. They did so well, Matt ended up buying the same shoes (for men) on Monday. His trusty hiking shoes gave out on him Sunday, finishing on the trail they were initiated on.

There’s something about the circle of life there, but I can’t think of what it is.

After a strong hike out, and the toughest 2-mile finish I’ve experienced in a long time, we finally made it to the car! We changed clothes, gave ourselves babywipe baths, and headed to the nearest DQ for a cold reward. Our legs were tired, but feeling good. We had some scratches from briars, I had several mosquito bites, and we both had matching blisters on our right heel. Overall, it was a good weekend.

Can I get back outside yet?

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