Signed up for a Meet-Up backpacking trip along Chattooga River months ago & completely forgot about it until Hiking Yoda mentioned it a few days before departure.
Weather forecast was gorgeous and supposedly the trail was mostly flat. I was nursing a cold or sinus infection which made me a bit concerned about going, but I figured I’d rather be sick on the trail than home, sick, wishing I was on the “mostly flat” trail…
We met early Saturday, figured out staging of vehicles, and set off from Russell Bridge at the GA/SC line about 10:30 am.
The plan was to hike approximatey 8 miles to a campsite our organizer had been to before and then another approximately 8.7 miles to the end point. Our group of 6 included 3 dogs – Gracie, Surge, & Sophie.
The trail was well-markedand well-maintained.Despite being a “river trail”, the trail was along the river at best 30% of the time. (Don’t let the picturesque shots deceive you to believe it’s all gorgeous views.)
Most water-crossings were via bridges (but 2 easily hopped mini-streams).The views were varied, some dense forests and grassy meadows, and some generic ‘walk in the woods’ parts.Thankfully, the majority of the trail was well-covered, so we were well-shaded. The few unshaded sections made us grateful for occasional breezes.
The combination of my ongoing hip issues, no sleep the night before & raging sinus pain, the hike wasn’t particularly enjoyable. The “relatively flat” didn’t feel quite so flat to me. If I had distractions of interesting views & wildlife, I might have been more enchanted. One of the problems of hiking with dogs is that it noticeably reduces probablity of viewing critters.
Our target camp was already occupied, so we hiked on a bit downstream to find an almost-nice enough location with a river view to set up. Plenty of wood. A few rocks to sit on at the campfire. We had plenty of room for our 4 tents & Hiking Yoda’s tarp shelter. I imagine 8 could have easily been comfortably accommodated in the area.The river was moving rather briskly at this section, so it wasn’t ideal for wading. It was invigorating (cold) nonetheless.
Watched 2 Canadian Geese swim on the opposite side, but no other wildlife. Supposedly wild turkeys in the area, but I didn’t hear any.
The large trees and storm debris visible from our camp was impressive. There was a bend in the river just south of our camp – amazing the see the power of the river that seemed mostly placcid along the trail.
We had a nice time at the campfire & discussed hitting the trail by 8:30. The remainder of the trail was unhiked by anyone in the group. My gps said we had hiked 6.47 miles, so we had a good 10 miles ahead of us. HikingYoda slept under his tent. (I think he’s nuts)
I didn’t sleep a wink for a 2nd night in a row. I tossed & turned and coughed my head off all night. About 3am, I decided I wasn’t going to hike thru, but hike back to Russell Bridge. I loved the dogs, but didn’t see a single animal on hike in. And I felt pressured to keep up with the rest of the group (all self-imposed). I could go at my own pace & enjoy the scenery.
The group was concerned but cool about me going my own way. I reassured them this wasn’t my first rodeo. We set off at 9:15 in opposite directions. I knew I’d finish my section long before them…
I saw so many things – from butterflies & moths, 2 red/black wood-peckers, several deer, tail of a black snake, a dove, several salamanders with crimson heads…
Many notable non-critter things I saw:
The trail passes by an area that was once a field. The old farming equipment was abandoned & rusted.
I made it back to the trailhead by 12:45. It was a comfortable pace and I really enjoyed the hike back. Here are some random shots along the way:
Then I decided to cool my feet off by the river. I followed a narrow path by the bridge to the water. I noticed a gathering of butterflies. I started taking pictures, taking a few steps & more pics. Then I was close enough to disturb them – the most magical thing happened – all of the butterflies surrounded me, fluttering around me. I’ll never forget that moment.
Slipped my hiking boots off and waded into the Chattooga River. Cold but felt soooo good.I noticed several small salamanders underwater. Started taking pics. The coloring of 2 were spotted w/ red dots. Fascinating watching them… One was quite a bully – he would run off other salamanders & I caught him biting another! Then he started approaching me!
My toes were chilly, so I left the water & investigated more of the river. I found a possom print.
I watched the butterflies and salamanders a little while longer and headed back to the trailhead for my compadres.
They said it’d take about 5 hours, so I figured I should be nearby at 2:30. They didn’t make it back to the trailhead until after 4pm. They said the remainder of their hike a lot of hills, stream crossings, and they wished they had U-turned with me. Here’s MY route: