A Mini Nimberwill Nomad At Jake’s Mountain

The Nimberwill Nomad is an incredible long distance hiker. He’s kind of like wonder lust personified, or maybe Odysseus if Odysseus had said “screw this getting home stuff, let’s just turn this thing into a magical mystery tour instead”. The Nomad’s treks are described as odysseys for a reason on his personal website (https://nimblewillnomad.com) because frankly, what this guy does isn’t really comparable to what the rest of us mean by “hike”. He hiked the Appalachian Trail of course, but he’s also walked Route 66, across the entire United States in a big loop, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, and basically anything that might be described as “epic”.

While he’s originally from up North, he retired to the Nimberwill area here in North Georgia. For those not versed in North Georgia’s many microcosms, Nimberwill is the area around Nimberwill Creek, Nimberwill Church, and in short, the area where Jake’s Mountain State Park lies. So one of the internet’s more insane hikers comes from here. Maybe hiking the goat here will inspire it to want to climb mountains too…

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One of the Nimberwill Nomad’s treks – Route 66

Is it goat approved? They let horses in here, so I am going with “yes probably”.

How you get there: Park here at Bull Mountain Parking Lot: 34.580633, -84.144667. The parking lot is not so much a lot as an overgrown, rutted field. I got stuck in a 2 wheel drive pickup in the rear of the field. Be careful where you park!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.2 miles round trip out and back. The going is easy, with only two moderate uphills and down hills. There are three seperate fields starting at 1 mile in that would make good camping locations in the Fall and Winter. Summer the flies would be bad as we are near the lake *ahem* make that swamp with a drainage system and a dam.

Best season to do this hike: Fall, winter, and early spring. Summer the flies and mosquitoes will probably be bad.


Trails to Take

Starting off in the parking lot, (or well, unmowed field you left your truck in and hope you can get it back out of), you want to go back up the road to the trail kiosk. Behind the gate just beyond the kiosk is the “trail” though it will look more like a road at this point.

This is technically the Bull Mountain Connector Trail at this point. In about a quarter mile the road intersects with Jones Creek Connector Trail, (or again, at this point, road). Go right on this.

The road winds out through the woods, gradually becoming less and less defined. It crosses the first field at around a mile, and finally becomes a track instead of a two track. The trail winds down hill into a second field, then across the dam for the “lake”. The dam is humongous, but the lake it was meant to contain has either succumbed to the drought last summer or a lack of funding. The dam is holding back an underwhelming shallow water water mosquito breeding mud sucking swamp. With a rather expensive looking drainage set up.

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One of several camping fields
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The swamp at the bottom of what probably was meant to be a lake…

The trail continues across the dam amid late fall wildflowers, climbs a hill, and reaches another field. This one is probably the best camping spot – large, well drained, protected from high winds and far enough away from the swamp to thwart the worst of the insects. I will definitely back here for an overnight hike!

This little training jaunt ends at the fork of Jones Creek Dam Trail and Moss Creek Trail. A good 4 miler for a 3 month old kid, and a good leg stretch for a lazy human hiker.

 

TRAIL MAP

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BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. Bull Mountain Parking Lot is a very…optimist…name. The field at the end of the road isn’t that great for parking. It is rutted, with bad traction, no mowing, and a general sense that you are going to get stuck. I got stuck in the Ranger. Bring 4 wheel drive if you have it…and if you don’t, be careful how you park.
  3. Bikers, runners, and to a lesser extent horseback riders all do big get togethers at this park. You may arrive at a free for all Jamboree that you were not invited to. But that’s cool – cause a goat is always in fashion!

In sum: 

I once read an interview with the Nimberwill Nomad during his trek of Route 66. He doesn’t carry much of anything – no extra food or a heavy pack. The answer to why he doesn’t I found kind of profound. In his words, every piece of gear you have is an expression of your fears. You bring a first aid kit because you are afraid of injury. Food because you are afraid to go hungry. Boots because you are afraid to twist your ankle. A tent because you are afraid to sleep outdoors. What must it be like, to walk alone and unafraid?

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Bridal Veil Falls at Dupont State Forest

While I don’t think anyone’s ever been married here, the waterfall certainly has quite a train of cascading water to go with the otherwise unassuming 4 foot drop at the top. Even better, this is the most explorable and interactive of Dupont’s available falls, and is less popular because it takes a lot more work than the main showpiece falls to reach.

Along with the waterfalls, this hike passes the horse barn, air strip, and Fawn Lake. The airstrip and barn date from a time when the current park belonged to the Dupont family and was used as a vacation retreat. The names of no longer resident horses are still on the stalls in the barn, and the old aircraft hanger and managers house still stand at the air strip. However, unlike the defunct film plant lying at the center of the park, these relics are accessible to the public, (though the managers house is now ranger housing).

Is it goat approved? Yes. I have blanket approval to hike as often as I want with goats.

How you get there: You want the Fawn Lake parking area off Reasonover Road.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 4.5 miles round trip out and back. It’s pretty easy going except a serious uphill on Airstrip Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

 

Start out at the parking lot. Go out to the left up Fawn Lake Road (23). This trail goes up to Fawn Lake, a small pond popular with sunbathers and swimmers. Fawn Lake Loop (22) goes behind the lake and makes a good short cut around the more popular road when the park is busy.

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Fawn Lake

Past the lake the road meets up with Conservation Road (18) on the other side of the power line cut. Conservation Road runs up to the airstrip, airplane shed (redone now as a shop), and the managers cabin. The view off the airstrip is fairly impressive, but beware as this area is extremely popular with the less polite version of the common mountain biker. The rare German mountain biker may also appear in unexpected flocks in the vicinity in nice weather.

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The airstrip

Conservation Road crosses the airstrip, descends past the workshop and the gravel pit, and then runs past Bridal Veil Falls Road (6). Turn onto Bridal Veil Falls, and no shock here…you get to go to Bridal Veil Falls. The road runs past the horse barn too.

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The horse barn

The Bridal Veil Falls Road dead ends at a turn around, then a short stretch of trail leads to a viewing platform and eventually the falls themselves. You can walk up to the upper most 4 foot fall on the rock face by climbing down some boulders.

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The 4 foot upper falls and the start of the very long cascade

The way back is via Corn Mill Shoals (19) because by midday you do NOT want to go back down Bridal Veil Falls Road – the tourist horde will be approaching. The turn for this trail is between the falls overlook and the actual gravel Bridal Veil Falls Road.

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Pools on the Bridal Veil Falls rock face sometimes have tadpoles and salamanders in them

Corn Mill Shoals will dump out on Shelter Rock Trail (67). At this point, turn left, proceed across a few creeks and listen for the screaming. The way back to the parking area is up Airstrip Trail (1), the mecca of mountain biking for the park. The crazy wheeled nutcases come screaming down the trail at regular intervals and slide to a stop at the bottom. Can you go up this on foot? Yes. Should you? Well, that depends on how relaxed you are about confrontation and how fast you (and the goat) can get out of the way. I made it to the top, so you can too! The trail itself is rather fun to walk, and it comes back up at the, no shock here, airstrip. Then you can take Conservation Road and Fawn Lake Road back to the parking lot.

TRAIL MAP

Map

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. Bridal Veil Falls is popular with tourists. Don’t get trapped by hordes of small screaming kids.
  3. Airstrip Trail is very popular with screaming mountain bikers. Don’t get run over by hordes of screaming twenty somethings on mountain bikes.
  4. When the fourth person asks if they can pet or take a picture with the goat…the correct and appropriate answer is no. Embrace it. Own the “no”. It’s not rude, it’s standing up for your red blooded American right to be left the heck alone. If you don’t, you won’t get off the trail till after dark.
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Bridal Veil Falls Overlook

 

In sum:  

Life is better in the woods. Well, in the woods with a goat.

Yonah in the Distance at Unicoi Gap on the Appalachian Trail

Why is it every winter I forget how hot it gets in the summer? Till of course that agonizing day where the morning starts out at 50F and quickly becomes 80F by 1 pm. Seriously mother nature, go easy on us mere mortals with the temperature swings!

At least she installed a pretty awesome view from this trail to make up for it…

Is it goat approved? Dunno, but the thru hikers were pretty chill about the goat.

How you get there: Park here: 34°48’05.5″N 83°44’35.1″W. There is a HUGE gravel pull over on the side of Hwy 75. But it does get full on good weekends. Also, beware of hitch hiking thru hikers who want to pile in the truck to go to Hiawassee at this spot.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 9 miles out and back.  Yes, I know what the map says, but Google doesn’t know about all the switch backs. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, though the rocks at the Yonah Overlook section are probably going to ice a lot in winter. Also this area is very close to the start/end of the Appalachian Trail. This means the traffic is very heavy in early spring (start of the hiking season) and fall (end of the hiking season). However, the wildflowers won’t be in bloom unless you go after April 1st, (the trilliums were beginning on April 1st).


Trails to Take

You must take the “trail” as the thru hikers refer to the Appalachian Trail. They speak as if it were the only one in existence, or perhaps that it is both a physical and metaphysical journey that they have undertaken to prove to themselves…whatever it is they decided to spend 6 months of their lives proving.

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Boulder Field

The trail starts in the parking lot, climbing up in a long arc through a boulder field then bast a stream. It intersects with Rocky Mountain Trail at about 0.5 miles.

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Yonah Mountain view (its the weird prominence in the distance)

At 1 mile you will see several campsites, including 2 official ones behind the “camping” wooden sign post that are particularly fancy. The trail makes its way for the next 0.5 mile or so along rock face amid stunted and windblown oak trees. Views of Yonah Mountain and general foresty/mountain goodness abound.

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Stairs from hell section

The trail descends steeply, reaching a saddle with a large boulder in the bottom, the makes a short climb…followed by the downward stairs from hell. They just keep going and going and going. You will feel like you’re on a stair master at the gym, and worse yet, it is annoying to let people around the goat through this section because you have to step off the stairs to provide room for hiking poles. Expect to be delayed here.

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The rhododendrons

The trail reaches Indian Grave Gap Road where a trail to a campground peels off to your left (blue blaze). It crosses, then climbs through some particularly pretty rhododendrons, back out into the open, and back into rhododendrons again. The hike is not particularly difficult in this stretch.

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Trillium on the trail

The trail comes up on Tray Mountain Road, where it crosses and ascends a set of wooden stairs. It passes through a stand of rhododendron, past a not very appealing campsite and then into an open area that is clearly heavily camped, backed by rhododendron. This is the Cheese Factory. The “trail” runs right through it and ascends on the other side.

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Final overlook under storm clouds

 

Another 0.5 miles or so brings you up on a small overlook and another campsite, followed shortly thereafter by a meet up once again with Tray Mountain Road. There is a large “Jeep pit” in the road that fills with water and some Jeepies may be playing in the mud. Around the 1st of April every year some boy scouts do trail magic (pancakes and sausage and eggs!) at this crossing. Cross the road, climb a stretch of switch backs, and you will reach your final destination – a major overlook.

From here, turn around and head back.

Map
Map of hike

BE WARNED

  1. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – most campers show up in the late evening.
  2. The stair section is tight and you may be delayed there allowing others to pass.
  3. The last overlook is very popular – go early (before 9 am) or late (after 4pm) to have the place to yourself for photography.
  4. This is bear country. Bears eat goats. Be aware of the tasty hamburger on leg’s vulnerability.
  5. Parking can be full during the summer and wildflower season – this place is popular.
  6. The section with views of Yonah Mountain gets a lot of sun exposure and gets extremely hot late in the day making it a challenging stretch for a tired goat and human on the way back.
  7. Don’t be surprised if hitch hiking thru hikers want you to give them a ride to town. This is perfectly normal.

In sum: 

Keep an eye out for “trail magic” at the parking area and other road crossings. If they have extras they feed even stray day hikers. Thumbs up on the sausage boy scout troop!

Taking Cherry to the Cheese Factory on the Appalachian Trail

No, they don’t still make cheese on the Appalachian Trail, but one of the best shady and soft grounded camping areas in GA is named for a long vanished dairy operation. The original cheese factory was started by an eccentric New Englander in the 1800s, and those familiar with historical agricultural will agree he must have been very eccentric. The site was 15 miles from the nearest farmhouse in the 1800s, it is rocky, rugged, lacking in water, and not highly productive pasturage. While other Georgians sold their government allotted parcels to speculators in the 1830s, this crazy New England dairyman apparently tamed the rugged mountain sides, installed some cows, and went at it. He managed to run a successful dairy and even produced cheese that actually won awards.

This is a great hike for landscape photography and for getting that goat out for a quick trip on an otherwise crowded weekend.

Is it goat approved? Dunno, but the thru hikers were pretty chill about the goat.

How you get there: Park here: 34.791716, -83.706993. Be warned the road in up Tray Mountain  Road is pretty rough, but not impassable. It will take you about 30 minutes to reach this point from Hwy 75.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6 miles out and back. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: NOT SUMMER. You won’t be able to get a campsite. Also this area is very close to the start/end of the Appalachian Trail. This means the traffic is very heavy in early spring (start of the hiking season) and fall (end of the hiking season). However, the wildflowers won’t be in bloom unless you go after April 1st.


Trails to Take

You must take the “trail” as the thru hikers refer to the Appalachian Trail. They speak as if it were the only one in existence, or perhaps that it is both a physical and metaphysical journey that they have undertaken to prove to themselves…whatever it is they decided to spend 6 months of their lives proving.

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Cheese Factory Campground

Anyway, the trail goes up some wooden stairs, though a stand of rhododendron, past a not very appealing campsite and then into an open area that is clearly heavily camped, backed by rhododendron. This is the Cheese Factory. The “trail” runs right through it. The blue blaze trail leads down and across the road to a small spring, (this may be dry in summer!). There are further campsites in the rhododendron. Personally, set up your tent here early in the day…so you have a spot when you get back.

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Peach blossoms bloom at the first overlook

The trail climbs out of the Cheese Factory, then along a ridge line to the first small overlook at ~0.5 miles. This picturesque spot is also a campsite and has significantly more goat forage than the Cheese Factory.

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At the second (and biggest) overlook with a yearling trainee

Shortly after leaving this overlook the trail crosses a road near a giant pit dug into the road by jeep traffic for some reason. It then climbs a relentless series of switch backs, culminating in a gorgeous summit and overlook at 1.5 miles. This is the best spot on the hike for photography.

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Storm clouds roll in over the Appalachians at the second overlook

The trail descends from the summit and travels another 1/2 mile to the trail shelter, (off to the left on a blue blaze trail). There is also another spring here. There is an overlook area that is worth visiting down the blue blaze trail before you reach the shelter. The hike continues another mile down hill to complete 3 miles out. Then turn around and head back for your second chance at photographic bliss at each of the three overlooks.

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Sunset after a day of photography

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BE WARNED

  1. The spring at the Cheese Factory does go dry in the summer sometimes.
  2. Get your campsite at the Cheese Factory early.
  3. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – while goats were tolerated, expect to tether them and provide some type of food to them. Despite being described as “grassy” it is not a good spot to let them loose to forage and there isn’t much goat safe forage in the area. The campsite at the first overlook has significantly more forage if you need it or carrying chaff hay.
  4. There is a trail shelter on this hike. Don’t camp there. It’s generally full of young-ish males comparing their gear and bicep muscles.
  5. This is bear country. I use a bear canister, but many people also hang their food here to make sure your breakfast “hangs” around.

 

In sum: 

Appalachian is the fourth oldest surviving place name in America. The Spanish came up with it when they first arrived in Florida around 1528 to describe the territory of the Appalachee Indians they encountered (and subsequently enslaved/slaughtered/ converted/sickened).

 

Urban Goat on The Go: Columbia’s Canal Walk

Columbia, South Carolina is not the location most people would pick if you said to name a place rich in history. Which kind of makes it a secret! Only in the last fifteen years or so have the numerous ruins and historical structures been brought to wider appreciation.  One such gem that the people of Columbia have recently rediscovered is the 1891 canal that once brought cotton bales around the rapids on the Broad and Congaree Rivers. It is a great place to spend an afternoon bomb proofing a baby goat and rediscovering some history for yourself.

If you are interested in more less well known Columbia history check out Underground Columbia, the mill ruins at Riverbanks Zoo, and the network of underground tunnels beneath downtown Columbia that are currently used for storm drainage. Note these are not goat friendly…

Is it goat approved? Yes, at least for kids. The park ranger seemed amused

How you get there: Google Columbia Riverfront Park. That is the parking location. Yes, it is a ritzy looking spot for being right next to the water and sewage treatment plant.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5.2 miles out and back to canal locks for the historical Columbia Canal.

Best season to do this hike: Any time but dead heat summer. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is going to be coated in people regardless of when you go, so you might as well please yourself in terms of the weather.


Trails to Take

There is really only 1 trail – it goes along the original tow path for the canal. To reach it there is a paved trail from the parking lot which starts near the red school house building, (this is an original school house built in the area).

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Training on the canal walk

 

The paved section descends down between the water treatment plant and the original retaining wall for what was once Columbia’s oldest, largest, and certainly creepiest jail. The Central Correctional Institute (or as my parents referred to it, the Columbia Penitentiary) was a massive granite block structure that was in use for 150 years until finally being decommissioned in 1994 after decades of complaints about how outdated the facility was. For a while you could take tours of the place, and my parents were fond of retelling stories about the walkways without rails, some of which were many stories off the ground…and how unpopular inmates were pushed to their deaths from these. The obviously very ominous and atmospheric jail, with its wonderful rusting razor wire fences, intact guard towers, looming stone walls, and even an inmate baseball diamond, was demolished several years ago to make way for some hideous cookie cutter condos. But the retaining wall is still impressive, if less creepy.

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Inside the jail before it was demolished. Note the very long drop from the upper floors…

The trail crosses over the canal itself a metal I beam bridge, to join the canal walk. Directly across from the bridge are the original Columbia Water Plant pump houses, which supplied water from the river to the city of Columbia until the modern water treatment plant was built. The modern water treatment plant lies on the opposite side of the canal and draws its water from the canal instead of the river.

To the left of the pump house buildings is the dam that powered the historical water plant and also contains the waste weir for the canal. Waste weirs are used to drain canals for repairs and to adjust water level. Unfortunately, this system was insufficient to keep the canal intact during the devastating 2015 floods, and damage to the canal, including a wall breach, is still being repaired. Interestingly, the canal we walk on today is the 1891 canal, but the first canal in this spot (built in 1820) was also destroyed by a flood. Given the nature of the Broad River to stay “broad” by flooding several times a year I suppose canal damage is inevitable.

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2015 flooding punched a hole through the canal wall and drained it

In the distance you may be able to spot the Columbia Cotton Mill, which is today the State Museum, and Gervais Street Bridge, hands down the prettiest route into Columbia. There are further canal and industrial ruins between here and these landmarks, but for whatever reason they had this section of the walk locked off today.

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Diversion dam that feeds water into the canal

Following the paved canal walk away from the water treatment plant and down the original tow path you pass under a rail line and highway bridge and by several overlooks. The canal today looks very different from when I first walked it 20 years ago. Back then it was, in the words of my hiking elder and grandmother “kind of dumpy” and significantly less busy. Today the thorny undergrowth is gone and you can see the river and the canal for almost the entire route. There is a small paved trail that comes off that you can take to get closer to the river, which is popular with fishermen and highly recommended because it sees less traffic and lets you get up close and personal with the water and the rocks of Broad River. In the spring, watch for the protected shoals spider lily, which blooms out among the rocks.

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The canal lock

The walk is easy, flat, and unless you are into swimming you can’t get lost. The tow path terminates at the restored canal locks. 20 years ago this area was fenced off, but now you can walk across the locks to an upper parking lot and there’s an actual plaza to overlook the diversion dam that feeds water into the canal. This spot is popular with fishermen and with bird watchers for the abundance of feathery mayhem that collects at the diversion dam.

Then turn around and head back.

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BE WARNED

  1. Traffic is heavy and parking is tight at Riverfront Park. Bring you something small and people friendly for this one, (and be prepared to pick up after it).
  2. Apparently they have problems with alligators in the canal now. Avoid feeding the goat to the wildlife.
  3. While this is such an urban walk the backpack and hiking gear will be unnecessary and totally out of place, bring a water bottle if you are going in summer – the asphalt bakes you to death.
  4. The area is patrolled by bored park rangers. If you need to avoid the rangers go to the new parking area at the canal locks instead of going to the one in Riverfront Park. However, the ranger I ran into did not seem bothered by the baby goat.

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In sum: 

Water manager during the 2015 flood: “Nobody panic okay, but I think we just poked a giant hole through the canal supplying all of our water…”

Sweet Home Alabama at Sweet Water Lake in Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest is a bit of the mountains in the middle of the plains, but for most of this trip to its northern tip you’ll feel like there’s more pine trees than rocks and elevation. And like the favorite anthem of Alabama state pride the ride in is pretty sweet – sliding around on white gravel roads weaving off through controlled burn pine forest.

The only downside is it might make you nostalgic for places whose full address is not only in space, but also, alas, in time.

Is it goat approved? Yes, I have official permission to hike with a goat out here. Thank you Talladega National Forest!

How you get there: Parking is at Pine Glen Campground – google it! The last several miles in will be a series of poorly marked gravel roads (look for brown forestry signs for the road number). Oh, and the Skyway Motorway is not fancy here – its just a bigger gravel road than the rest of them. Over all the general road maintenance is excellent and even low ground clearance vehicles won’t have trouble.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6 miles out and back to Sweet Water (yes, that is really the name, I know it sounds like something out of a made for TV movie) Lake.

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Pinhoti Trail Marker

Best season to do this hike: Any time. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is mostly shaded. You will probably encounter more activity in the summer as it ends at the lake and starts at a fairly well maintained rustic campground.


Trails to Take

 

The trail starts across the bridge from the parking at the campground, and follows the river. The blaze is blue, and this is also the Pinhoti Trail but instead of Georgia it is the Alabama Edition.

 

The trail meanders along a series watercourses and climbs several times up through fire cleared pine forest. A few wildflowers and a flat, placid river are the main points of interest. There is also an old stone wall just before the trail heads up hill for the final climb to the dreadfully named Sweet Water Lake.

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Sweet Water Lake plus a less preteniously named goat

Just before the lake the trail passes through a fun little field of yellow grass that may make you feel like breaking out the katana if you’ve been watching too many bad martial arts movies lately, then the lake comes in to view.

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The field – a good spot for a goat lunch

The trail takes its time along the lake shore, and the turn around point is the road down to the small boat ramp.

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BE WARNED

  1. Parking is limited at Pine Glen Campground. As in like only 3 official spots for hikers at the entrance…and in winter I got the last spot.
  2. The Pine Glen Campground (and thus your car) are in a flash flood zone. So is most of the trail. Maybe not a great spot to hang out if its raining and stuff. Especially since the last water course before the lake also appears to be the drainage for the lake.
  3. To hike with goats the park requires that goats be fed with weed free hay for 96 hrs before you arrive. I use a heat treated timothy/alfalfa blend chaffe hay in place of my usual stuff for this.

In sum: 

When the welcome sign to your state says “Sweet Home Alabama” it means you recognize you’re the source of the only politically correct anthem for the South. And you’re a tad smug about that…

History in Motion: Train Trestle on the Silver Comet Rail Trail

What do you do when an unexpected on trail injury cancels the main event for your weekend at Panthertown? You go home, get lazy, and decide to go on the second in the series of lazy day hikes for lazy people on the Silver Comet Rail Trail.

*Note: if you like scenery and enjoyable hikes, skip this one. But if you are trying to complete the whole Silver Comet…well, grinding is boring, what were you expecting?

Is it goat approved? They allow horses, so goats should be okay.

How you get there: Go to Rambo Road Trail Head at 33.914894, -84.868738

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6.5 miles in a loop. About half of that is the unbelievably boring and flat Silver Comet and the other half is me getting impatient and doing some off trail walking.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. The route is exposed to sun and would be ticky, sticky, and bitchy in warm weather.


Trails to Take

Get to the trail head. Go right. Walk…and walk…and walk…The train trestle is the bridge in the first picture – it doesn’t really look much like the historical trestle it was before the renovation.

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Spacious parking at the trail head and a water fountain? We’re lost in suburban hell again aren’t we…

This makes a good bomb proofing hike because it includes bikes, dogs, people, tunnels, cars, and off and on leash sections. As you go, watch for little blue signs on your left that say “Silver Comet Side Trails”. These are short (think a couple footballs fields in length) sections running parallel to the Silver Comet in the woods. When there aren’t a lot of mountain bikers around they are a great ways to add variety to the monotonous Silver Comet.

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The two tunnels on the route are good for bomb proofing goats to traffic. Without, you know, having to stand in the middle of the road.
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The powerline cut – a great way to go off leash and around private property

At the power line cut, I went right, walked down the dirt road through the cut to Willow Springs Rd, then turned right and went down Mt. Olivet Road back to the tunnel the Silver Comet takes under Mt. Olivet.

Then back to the truck.

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BE WARNED

  1. The website calls this a “remote” section of the Silver Comet. There ain’t noth’in remote about this place. Expect high traffic, high density subdivisions, and low quality scenery.
  2. If you really like train trestles the train trestle over which the Silver Comet travels on this hike no longer resembles a train track in anyway. Not worth walking out to if that’s what you came for.

In sum: 

Fortune cookie say “better to endure misfortune with your spouse, than to say something that will get you left in the woods by yourself”

How to Find the Waterfall on Three Forks Trail in Warwoman WMA

The boss says “You work too much!”. The husband says “You hike too much!”. I say I obsess over waterfalls too much. But really, if “work” and “non-work” are no longer options…what am I left with exactly?

That’s kind of how you too will feel if you don’t read these directions and try to find the right trail to the waterfall off Three Forks Trail.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But with this much unmarked awesomeness any boys in green or unexpected families with quadruplets will be easy to escape.

How you get there: Get to here – 34.962330, -83.228944. There is plenty of pull off parking. .

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 2.5 miles round trip out and back including the Pothole Falls and the Chattanooga River. The hike in to the pothole falls is very quick if you are coming from parking at Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road, which is what I did instead of hiking the whole Three Forks Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Winter or early Spring. This area appears to be a popular camping area.  To really enjoy it with a goat you probably don’t want tasty snacks and interesting humans around to tempt the goat into…well, being a goat.


Trails to Take

The trail head is right off Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road(s). There’s some obvious pull offs and another one of those excessive engraved boulders marking the trail. You want to go towards the river, not down Three Forks Trail away from the river! The blaze is grey metal diamonds nailed occasionally to trees.

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Go this way! This is the trail head!

The official trail winds out into the woods, interrupted on a pretty regular basis by serious piles of fallen trees, (at least, there were a lot when I went). As you descend keep an eye out for a large, obvious UNOFFICIAL trail heading off to your left. It will probably have a piece of orange tape tied to the rhododendron surrounding the entrance. The entrance to this trail is also in a curve of the official trail. If you reach a large, open area, you have gone about 20 paces too far. If you reach “Three Forks Spur” signs you have gone too far – the spur is harder to follow than this unofficial foray.

When you find the trail, go straight down, following it with a dry creek bed to one side. The trail will dump you out on Holcomb Creek right at the Pothole Falls, (GPS 34.965919, -83.216288).

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Pothole Falls

Climb back out to the main trail, and go up to that clearing, (which is the official end of the Three Forks Trail). Now the fun begins. There’s the trail you came up. There’s the “Three Forks Spur”. There’s a trail headed up both hillsides. Then in front of you are another two trails, one wide and the other going over a hump and headed down hill. You want the trail with the hump.

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Yay! We found the Chattanooga River!

Follow it. It goes along a ridge, continuously headed downwards. Eventually…it just kind of stops. Ahead the ground drops off fast to the Chattanooga river. Follow your ears and slide down for the last 1/4 mile to the river and a fantastic array of potholes and rapids. There’s also an actual campsite down here!  GPS coordinates for campsite: 34.963132, -83.209032 .

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Rapids on the Chattanooga

Then, climb back out, find the trail again, and head back to the truck.

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Basic map – see text for GPS coordinates of campsite and falls

 

BE WARNED

  1. The main issue with this hike is it takes you off trail. If you are not comfortable with finding your way back, don’t have a compass/GPS, or tend to get lost in a crowded room, this is not the hike for you.
  2. If climbing up on your hands and knees while bushwhacking is not your thing, skip the Chattanooga side trip. Also, if it’s raining the slog up will suck and is best avoided.
  3. The Chattanooga loves to flood. That campsite – it ain’t exactly on high ground.
  4. The road up to the trail head is best traveled in a high ground clearance vehicle. In snow/ice/heavy rain the Overflow Creek Rd is not your friend as it is very shaded and has been washed out in the past, (it is as of this posting, however, not washed out). Take Hale Ridge instead, and be prepared for predatory potholes, unexpected gravel cavitation, and serious suspension surprises.
  5. More on the road – there were a lot of downed trees next to or partially blocking the road in winter. If it’s been stormy or windy you would benefit from bringing the chainsaw and some gas if you plan to reach the trail head in the truck.

In sum: 

Off trail means being willing to admit to yourself when you’re lost! Or you might be dead…

It also means when you come upon a random sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere…you make sure there isn’t someone still in it (or what’s left of them anyway).

 

Instant Gratification Waterfalls in Warwoman WMA

For those days when you just can’t wait for your reward, need the pay off now, or frankly, have along the friends who want the water more than the work, here’s the easiest damn waterfall hike ever.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But I wouldn’t bring a goat to Holcomb Creek Trail in the summer…it looks popular.

How you get there: Get to these GPS coordinates: 34.978542, -83.266237. This is the intersection of “Hale Ridge Road”, “Hale Ridge Road”, and Overflow Creek Rd. Hahaha Google…you’re funny. But seriously, the trail is right at this intersection.

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Take this sign literally – the trail is actually behind the sign…heading off in the direction of the arrow

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a phenomenally lazy 1 mile round trip out and back.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. This is a dead end on a viewing platform. Its akin to entering a box canyon with a goat while be followed by a pack of wolves. You won’t get out with your skin if you go during regular people weather. I had it to myself midday in February.


Trails to Take

 

Easy peasy. Find aforementioned intersection. Find a place to park. The trail head is right next to a brown and white forestry sign listing distances to various points of interest. It is further marked by an engraved boulder that will make you feel really ritzy after driving this far up into the maze of Warwoman WMA.

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Goats beat dogs when it comes to rocks!

The trail drops quickly via switch backs and within 2 minutes you hit your first waterfall, which you cross directly in front of via a bridge. This is Holcomb Creek Falls. The rocks are worth a climb.

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Holcomb Creek Falls

Wind up through the woods and back down and within a few more minutes your at Ammon Creek Falls and a very nice viewing platform.

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Ammon Creek Falls

From here you trek back out and tell your buddies that they should be grateful you brought them on this one and not what you usually do on the weekend.

BE WARNED

  1. There is no real off road parking at this trail head and people drive very fast on the straightaways in the forest to make up time. Try to pull off as much as you can.
  2. The road up to the trail head is best traveled in a high ground clearance vehicle. In snow/ice/heavy rain the Overflow Creek Rd is not your friend as it is very shaded and has been washed out in the past, (it is as of this posting, however, not washed out). Take Hale Ridge instead, and be prepared for predatory potholes, unexpected gravel cavitation, and serious suspension surprises.
  3. More on the road – there were a lot of downed trees next to or partially blocking the road in winter. If it’s been stormy or windy you would benefit from bringing the chainsaw and some gas if you plan to reach the trail head in the truck.
  4. This out and back dead ends at a viewing platform, despite previous posts elsewhere online that say it is a loop. I guess things have changed?

In sum: 

Sometimes you just need it right now. Like chocolate.

 

The Great Waterfall Hunt at Warwoman WMA and Warwoman Dell

I heard there were waterfalls in Warwoman WMA, but no one knew where they were, (or at least, they weren’t telling). So I did the only logical thing there was to do – pack the goat and the backpack and go find them for myself!

Along the way I found some cool ruins. CCC trout ponds long abandoned. Remnants of the Blue Ridge Railway – a never completed pipe dream that also gave us Stumphouse Tunnel, the original source of Clemson blue cheese and stories about bears popping out of the shrubbery from my mother. Overall, there’s a lot more out there than waterfalls, but I can also confidently claim to have found at least 4 falls: Warwoman Dell Waterfall, Becky Branch Falls, an unnamed small fall, and Martin’s Falls.

Bu-yah useless internet. I can find stuff the hard way if I want to!

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But I wouldn’t bring a goat to Warwoman Dell in the summer…it looks very peopled

How you get there: Google Warwoman Dell – its a nice little picnic area off Warwoman Road just above Clayton, GA. That is the parking location (or you can park on the paved pull off in the turn just before the picnic area on Warwoman Road). There is a brown and white forestry sign just before the turn if you are coming from Clayton.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5 miles round trip out and back to Martin’s Creek Falls.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. The Dell and the area waterfalls see a lot of traffic in the summer months, especially this close to Clayton. I went on a day forecasted for snow and had the place nearly to myself. Then of course it snowed and I had to worry about getting back home…


Trails to Take

Start off in the first pull over once you enter Warwoman Dell. Cross the wooden bridge and take a right at the ridiculously massive picnic shelter. The stone steps will take you up onto the old railroad grade for the Blue Ridge Railroad, which was never completed. Stone ruins remain however, to remind us of John C. Calhoun’s ambitious project that was cut short by an even more ambitious project of his – succeeding from the Union. Had this section of the Blue Ridge been completed it would have joined up with the unfinished Stumphouse Tunnel, a fascinating ruin above Wahalla, SC that was actually used to make Clemson blue cheese at one point.

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Stairs to railroad grade

Past the railroad ruins the trail runs to the upper parking lot and more of those really ritzy picnic shelters. A rock marker for the Bartram Trail (yellow blaze) will crop up just before the picnic shelter, but first, a quick waterfall break. Walk through the fancy shelter and head towards the stream beyond it. At the end of this short trail is a small waterfall, and the trail turns and returns to the upper parking area.

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Warwoman Dell Waterfall in drought

So ends the busiest portion of the hike. To continue on the Bartram Trail go back to the stone marker, then walk down the gravel access road. You will see the yellow blazes start up and then Bartram will peel off to your left. But before you leave the small children swarms behind, walk down to the trail kiosk right past where Bartram heads off. A small side trail at this kiosk takes you out to some nice concrete trout ponds built by the CCC, now long abandoned, but still interesting in their own right.

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CCC Trout Pond

The Bartram Trail climbs towards Warwoman Road in a series of tight switch backs. At the road it passes a historical marker about, no shock here, Bartram Trail and the naturalist who first made the trek that became the 37 mile trail.

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Becky Branch Falls

The trail crosses Warwoman and ascends steeply past an old pump house up to Becky Branch Falls. If the yellow blaze Bartram is crowded don’t take the goats up it – this trail is really narrow! Instead, about 50 feet away from the yellow blaze on Warwoman Road is a green blaze – This trail ascends towards Becky Branch Falls but allows you to bypass the falls and get on Bartram without all the drama.

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Not impressed with the trail difficulty…not at all. Where are the rocks they say…

Whichever route you take  Bartram heads off away from Clayton along the ridge line paralleling Warwoman Road down below for a while before moving off. It’s quiet, in the sun, and has a nice mix of pine and mountain laurel. It’s almost completely flat too. You’ll cross a gravel road which may in deer season host a check station…with the associated boys in green. If the forestry service is not who you want to meet, plan ahead.

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Creek along Bartram Trail

The trail eventually descends down towards a low flow creek, crosses it on a bridge, parallels for a while, then wanders back off into the woods. A gravel road will be visible in winter at this point down hill from the trail. Bartram runs up to a sizable creek and turns left onto what looks like it used to be another trail – an access trail coming up from the aforementioned gravel road. However, fallen trees have blocked easy access from the gravel road and Bartram travels on alone up the creek.

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What you can see of the small waterfall when goats are in the way

The first waterfall is small, but worth walking down to for the Watkin’s Glen like potholes cut into the rock by the water.

From here it gets better. The trail continues following the creek, which at first stops looking promising at all. The land levels out, and its clear this is a popular location for camping along the placid banks of what you thinking is going to be a thoroughly disappointing stretch of water.

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Martin’s Creek Falls

However, after you enter a large clearing with evidence of camping the trail turns, comes up along the creek and ascends to the best waterfall of the hike in my opinon – Martin’s Falls. There is a big wooden boardwalk for this waterfall (it must be popular in warm weather). You have to walk through the boardwalk to continue on Bartram, which heads back to the big clearing, then turns sharply and ascends up the hill headed back towards the creek. It will eventually reach the creek once more, but unfortunately at this point snow-maggedon began and I realized my truck was parked in a thoroughly in appropriate location for frozen precipitation….so I had to head back. In the future I will try to hike the rest of this potentially waterfall rich stretch…

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From Becky’s Branch to Martin Falls
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Warwoman Dell Map

BE WARNED

  1. Martin’s Falls and Becky Branch Falls have loop trails that allow you to go up to the falls and then take a different route back. This is a sure sign that they are insanely popular in the summer. However, if you find yourself being pursued by some selfie stick toting wannabes who are dying for a picture with a pack goat, remember you have an escape route!
  2. You’ll cross a gravel road which may in deer season host a check station…with the associated boys in green. If the forestry service is not who you want to meet, plan ahead.

In sum: 

Hiking should be relaxing…not 2.5 miles worth of trail run to beat the snow back to the pickup…