Of course, it always starts out easy enough, this hike, with the wooden board walk and paved walk ways, winding around the gentle water falls cascading down the mountain. It’s really not far to the trail junction where all the trails head in different directions. Pick your poison as they say. We turn left, and head west, along the Pinnacle Mountain trail for the start of a two day trek through one of my favorite, but probably one of the most challenging, state parks in South Carolina, Table Rock.
I am lucky to take another group of new backpackers out in to this wilderness again. Our overnight trek will loop around the outer perimeter of the park in a +-12.5 mile loop. Honestly, the distance is the easy part. We will gain and loose thousands of feet over the next mere twenty four hours. With the weight of my pack, it feels good to be back on the trail again. It’s been a couple years since I was here last (with my son and daughter, it was late fall I think) and the trail is familiar, yet some how different. We slowly climb as the trail winds towards Pinnacle Mountain. Our goal is the campsites just out of the west end of the park on the Foothills Trail. It’s only 5 miles away. The trail generally keeps climbing, but we’re moving slow. We pass under a small water fall. Some of the spur trails are closed and there seems to be a lot more green underbrush growth than I remember. We hike on to the the west to Bald Knob Outcrop and take a needed break. The view here is amazing in the late afternoon. Inspirational probably really doesn’t describe it well. I would love to sit there and watch the sky roll slowly from baby blue to a darkening deep purple as the night advances, but it’s getting late, and we have miles to go before we rest. Really, miles still. We reach the Foothills trail spur from the Pinnacle Mountain Trail and begin our 800 foot decent in to the valley where we’ll spend the night. Every step down hill will be a step up hill tomorrow as we come back this way. We reach our camp with just enough light to set up camp, make dinner, and relax a little before the darkening deep purple rolls to the blackness of night. The ground is hard and uneven but we’ve hiked our five miles in just under six hours and I sleep well anyway.
It turns out there was a wildfire a last year which burned over 10,000 acres around Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountain. This explains the charred and burned trees, and the subsequent rebirth of the green undergrowth I’ve seen. Kind of like natures way of re-freshening things. Unfortunately there are also signs of beetle damage killing back some of the trees. And there is plenty of recent storm damage with yet uncleared down trees crossing the trails. There so much unrecognized work in maintaining trails, most people take clear trails for granted.
I’m up early before the sun, I pack and eat while the rest of the crew is starting to stir. Morning camp chores need to be done, water gathered, and sleepy hikers motivated. Finally we are hiking, in a light morning drizzle of course. It wouldn’t be camping if it didn’t rain. We hike back up that 800 feet now to regain our trail and on to the top of Pinnacle Mountain at 3415′. We are painfully slow this morning. The slow grinding up hill takes it’s toll on time. I fuss but it’s really all good, I think. The east bound Ridge Trail is good to travel and regain some time. I love being on the ridges. It’s just getting to them which is the challenge. We’re making good time. We’ve planned to meet our main group of day-hikers on Table Rock for lunch, so we’re hiking under a schedule, which can add a pesky “time” element to things. We make Panther Gap, thank goodness. Here we drop our packs and just take food and drink with us for lunch. Two miles to go. The Table Rock summit is guarded by the approach to Governor’s Rock. You need to climb now to get to Governor’s Rock, then you’re allowed to climb some more to get to the Table Rock summit of 3124′. It’s really kind of amazing when you round one turn in the trail to face a 50′ rock climb, only to crest it, and look up at another. Governor’s Rock is a bald outcropping which offers an amazing view of where we came from. Sitting on the warm rock face, Pinnacle Mountain to the west and the ridge between look so green and pleasant. We finally reached the summit, passing our day hiking group on their way down. The overlook views from atop Table Rock allow you to see virtually the entire South Carolina Piedmont region, almost all the way back to Columbia, on a good day, when the clouds don’t roll in. We had a few moments of great views before the clouds wrapped around us. Alas, lunch is over and we must go, we have a couple miles to go back and pick up our packs, then another couple miles to get down and off trail before dark. we’re descending 2000′ in those sweet short four miles.
While this Table Rock Trail is rated “Very Strenuous” (I may just have a few other special words to describe some of it), I do find it rewarding to take this hike and bring others along to share the joy of these special mountains. Hopefully this will warm the embers of outdoor exploration in some of these these new hikers, the way it has in the past with the young hikers before them. I’ve hiked these mountains many times now, at the end of the day you know you’ve done something, okay maybe not, but even tired, with aching knees and sore feet, there are times I would rather be on the ridge, walking under the shade of the forest canopy, than anywhere else.