Chattooga – Part 14

31 12 2006

…continued from Saturday, December 30.

Not much further ahead a small, flat area about ten feet above the riverbank looked to be a suitable spot to set up camp for the night. Local regulations which require campsites to be set up no closer than fifty feet from the river were decidedly ignored. The rain had increased to a soaking downpour and complicated the setup. There would be no dry place on which to set up the makeshift “tent.” The “tent” included one large piece of plastic, nylon string and the tan poncho to be used as the floor. The plastic was quickly strung up between a few small trees and provided barely adequate shelter.

With the “tent” finished, the gathering of wood for a fire commenced. Finding dry wood immediately presented itself as an issue, but with enough time and energy a suitable pile of kindling and timber found its way into the pile. Starting a fire using wet wood is complicated at the very least – frustrating and nearly impossible are probably better descriptions.

Check back soon for the next installment…


Chattooga – Part 13

30 12 2006

…continued from Friday, December 29.

Big Bend signaled its goodbye as we plodded away from it and toward the next set of waterfalls – Licklog and Pigpen. Miles separated Big Bend from the others, but the trail lay flat between and weaved a serpentine path along the ravine walls.

Puffy, white clouds slowly became grey and covered the sky as far as the limited view would permit. The thickening humidity warned of an ominous peril for hikers: thunderstorms! The search for a suitable place to set up camp began, but the steep grades would allow no such thing. Long, low rumbles came rolling over the ridgelines, quickening the walking pace. It would be nearly an hour before the first raindrops softly pattered the leaves.

The forecast for the day had mentioned a forty percent chance of rain which, according to Murphy’s Law, meant precipitation was inevitable. The slow rate of the rainfall picked up until clothes and packs became damp – an indication that it was time for ponchos. One GI style, tan poncho emerged from a pack along with an “engineered poncho,” a euphemism for a piece of plastic with a hole cut for one’s head.

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Chattooga – Part 12

29 12 2006

…continued from Thursday, December 28.

Back on the journey, the trail tightened to a corridor of trees on each side with the river visible through the braches on the right – the path still a distinctive dirt strip. A slight, downhill grade made walking nearly effortless and afforded a chance to concentrate on taking in the natural beauty of the area.

The dominate green of the leaves oversaturated the view in an almost surreal way, contrasted only by the deep brown hues of the path and the tree trunks. The thick sound of water rushing over large rocks complimented the deep colors of nature. Glimpses of the rapidly quickening water and the growing cacophony signaled the approach of Big Bend.

Big Bend Falls spans the entire width of Chattooga, plummeting 15 feet in its entirety. Though a modest waterfall, Big Bend makes up for is small size with volume. A wall of water drops over the first ledge and creates a roar that can almost be described as deafening.

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Chattooga – Part 11

28 12 2006

…continued from Friday, December 1.

The dirt path meandered by the last campsites and drew close to the river’s edge. Feet strode no more than a couple of absent-minded steps from a fall into the deep, cool water. The walk traversed mostly level ground and would have been a boring section without the quickening pace of the watercourse.

Empty stomachs brought up the discussion of lunch. The next open area with a fire pit would signal time for a meal. Forty-five minutes and more than a few voiced complaints about lack of viable stopping points later, packs were opened for the first time since setting out on the trip. Food and fire-starting gear were brought out and a small, efficient fire was started.

Canned food is generally a bad choice of hiking provisions; the extra weight adding unnecessary pounds to the packs. An exception to the rule found Chef Boyardee ravioli sizzling in tiny mess pans. An attempt to produce forks from the bags proved a moot trial. Silverware: a forgotten necessity. Out of the packs came the knives. A nearly weightless skeleton knife and the legendary BFK would have to function as forks. One is extremely careful when endeavoring to eat with a razor-sharp utensil.

Mess kits met river water and knife blades were wiped clean of victuals. The intricate packing of mess kits can be an art in itself. Memorization of the order is essential. The diminutive cup rests inside the miniature pot. The pair then lies in between the plate and the pan, the handle of which acts as a latch to hold it all together. The process is comparable to opening and closing a Russian nesting doll.

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Chattooga – Part 10

1 12 2006

…continued from Thursday, November 16.

The first campsite offered a strange encounter: Adventure Scouts, the co-ed version of the Boy Scouts. The co-ed crew was anything but mixed gender, consisting of 5 girls under 18 and a forty-something woman scout leader. Disheveled hair and grungy clothes marked the woman, who had obviously seen her share of the outdoors.

The first sight of the camp revealed three small tents, a more than adequate fire pit, between-the-trees clotheslines, a large pile of firewood and the aforementioned group. Appropriately located nearest the “bath house”, the oversized campsite was anything but shabby. Everything was placed neatly but efficiently. Nothing was unnecessarily unpacked and everyone shared what was used. It could be called a perfect model for a recreational pleasure-seeker.

The six companions – a later conversation disclosed – had been hiking for five weeks already and had two more weeks to go before the summer expedition was complete. The girls had driven from the unexciting terrain of Florida up to the lower end of Appalachia. Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina trails had previously been navigated and South Carolina was the last destination of their journey. Oconee State Park for the Fourth would be their final stop before packing up and heading home.

A light conversation turned into an hour of spent time. After the standard topics of discussion were covered, dialogue ranged from life dreams and aspirations to random hiking adventures. The majority of the conversation was one-sided, coming mostly from the woman. A short while later, following goodbyes and a declined offer for dinner cooked by the girls, eyes turned south and on toward Big Bend.

Check back soon for the next installment…