Foothills Trail, finally Part 1

Well, I guess we see how much sway I hold over my bride, huh? She ain’t blogging!Since I have trouble remembering yesterday’s breakfast this should be an interesting recap of an event from over two months ago.We chose this section of the Foothills Trail for several reasons: 1. Much of this section runs parallel to the Chattooga river allowing us some primotrout-fishing along the way.2. Being our first “real” overnight hike with gear (Not to mention Dana’s first hike with gear or even over 2 miles) we didn’t wanna bite off more than we could chew.3. We would end our hike at Burrells Ford where we’ve camped and fished for 20years…kinda nostalgic.After dropping my truck at Burrell’s Ford we made our way in the van to the Nicholson Ford Road Access where our journey would begin. Since we were getting such a late start we planned to hike just a short ways and look for a campsite to start fresh from in the morning. We threw on our packs and I strapped on my 8″ Gerber knife just ‘cuz it looks cool. Maybe a half an hour down the trail we discovered just such a spot. A peaceful stand of pines within sound of a gurgling creek. We set-up our brand new used tent, stowed our gear in Brandon’s tent, built a fire, had a Mojo bar and some water and rested a few moments while the sun went down. It was already getting cold and really dark. I strapped on my headlamp and took off alone to find a spot to hang the food bag. Veteran hikers have taught us a few things about hanging food bags. Unfortunately you could publish an inch thick manual with the advice they give. If it’s possible to meet all the criteria for location of tent and subsequent hanging of your food-bag you wouldn’t know it by me. So, I do the best I can. I tear out through the darkened woods counting off my steps and trying to spot a tree with an appropriate branch. As I slow my pace I notice a sound as if someone is following me. I turn to find Josiah, Brandon and, struggling to keep up, Dana. Seems as though they were a little uncomfortable sitting in camp alone. More the merrier, right? We found our tree, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts finally worried the food-bag over the top of the branch and secured the rope to an adjacent tree. A quick jaunt back to camp and we were ready to bed down. Those of you who know me realize that this is the most difficult part of the wilderness experience for me. I don’t sleep. I just can’t get comfortable. Tonight will be my first night trying out my 18″ thick Thermarest (2″ actually but it’s enormous compared to what most hikers use…and heavy, which is a really bad idea when you consider that in backpacking every ounce matters.) So I rifle through my pack and dig out my copy of Waking the Dead by John Eldredge for something to chew on as I drift into unconsciousness. “Drift” turned out to be an apt description of my sleep as I drifted in and out of a restless slumber which was better than previous efforts but still not what I’d call refreshing. I, of course, was lying awake praying for the sun to come up, end my tormented night and begin our adventure on the Foothills Trail. After a bar and some notoriously bad coffee made with my French-press, we packed up, retrieved our food bag (which survived the night unscathed) stopped for a quick, cheesy, snapshot at the sign and tromped off down the trail. Not far into our hike we encountered our old friend, the Chattooga, who we traveled beside most of the day. We also encountered several other hikers, fishermen and hunters, all of whom seemed to have their bearings and felt confident in confirming that we were just where our maps and trail notes said we were. One guy in particular, who said he’d basically grown up in these woods told us we were just an hour or so away from our destination. “It’s all flat and an easy hike.” Our already high spirits were buoyed even further at the thought that we were making better progress than we’d imagined. (This same guy told us he’d encountered a hunter who had collapsed from exhaustion as he was chased by a black bear, a hunter who had allegedly had open-heart surgery 10 weeks prior. At this point Dana deemed it necessary to unpack her air-horn and honk it every 90 seconds or so. Nothing like the peace and quiet of the woods, huh?)We eventually passed thru a gentle wooded section known as Simms Field that, were it not for an infestation of gnats, would’ve been a great place to camp, even for a large group. We stopped to explore, scrambling across the boulder strewn river and snapping a few pictures. We climbed to the top of a mammoth boulder and while we were enjoying the view before us were quickly covered in a legion of lady-bugs. They were everywhere…thousands of them! Really cool stuff. After climbing down we decided that despite the gnat (and lady-bug) invasion this would be an ideal spot for lunch. So I broke out my hiker stove and prepared the golden standard of AT fare, Lipton noodles. I added a little protein by throwing in some vacuum packed chicken breast Brandon’s mom had bought for us. Not bad. Not sure I could echo those sentiments after 5 months of eating it every day…but not bad.We discovered early on that the Foothills Trail, for whatever reason, was not blazed out as well as we would’ve liked, so occasionally I’d scout ahead and come back for the others. One particular section led us directly along the river’s edge, hopping from stone to stone. At this point we lost the blazes, I ran ahead, found a blaze and a gorgeous sandy beach across the river from a big rock bluff, adjacent to a deep pool brimming with trout…big trout. We made camp, caught and released the biggest trout I’ve ever seen come out of the Chattooga, and then enough normal sized trout to have an incredible dinner grilled over a wood fire. We all looked like dirty Gollums, eating with our hands by firelight and sucking our nasty little fingers. “We likes ’em raw and wriggling”…or at least seared and juicy. Daylight found us fishing again, loading Dana’s pack with nearly twenty trout and back on the trail by noon-ish to reach Burrell’s Ford in an hour or so…or so we thought.

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