Shake Down Hike on the Foothills Trail

The “Old Jackets Hiking Club,” my longtime tailgating buddies Robert, Jeff, and Bert, decided to embark on a section hike of the Foothills Trail in upstate South Carolina.  They have all been to Philmont with their boys as Boy Scouts and Jeff and Bert have also done some hiking out West on sections of the PCT and the Colorado Trail.  My middle son Jake did a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail and I went out and did the first big section that ends up in Breckinridge with him in 2018.  Robert intends to start the AT with me and do the first three weeks or so, but then he has a new grand baby due in May and will get off trail before he gets here.  Duty calls.  The hike also serves as a shakedown for Robert and me. I have never hiked more than a couple of days, so haven’t really spent much effort, (or money) trying to hike light, or for an extended period.  The big thing is the sleep system.  I figured I might not do well sleeping on the ground week after week, so I am trying to go with a hammock system that would be more comfy and I won’t turn into the hiker grouch or ogre or bigfoot, or whatever sleep deprived hikers turn into.

Let’s get Started!

We got a couple of cabins not too far from Oconee State Park for Friday night the 15th so we could get an early enough start on Saturday.  Built a fire, stayed up and had some brown, and some Hunt Brothers pizza from the Tunnel Town Express general store.  The pizza was actually not bad.  Got up at daylight and had a steak biscuit, which was very good, at Tunnel Town and then we piled in Roberts Expedition and left the other vehicles at the cabin office.  The plan was to hike from Oconee State Park to Sloan Bridge Access at Hwy 107.  We had originally planned to leave a vehicle at Sloan Bridge but decided against it after being warned about a rash of break-ins. there.  Bert-0 arranged a shuttle pickup on Monday.  The hike would be just under 24 miles and over 7,000 feet of elevation change.  About 330 ft/mile of elevation change, so have some grade, but not as steep as the Georgia section of the AT which will be in the 450 ft/mile range.

Old Jackets Hiking Club


The weather couldn’t have been better for mid-March.  Highs in the 70’s, lows in the low 40’s and no rain.  The trail was pretty “cruisy” for the morning.  I am led to believe that is hiker jargon for “not too steep” or “fairly easy.”  I am new to this so feel free to correct me if you feel so led.  Lots of stream crossings, very nice Eagle Scout projects for most of the crossings.  Early in the afternoon we took a break and had lunch at a waterfall on Licklog Creek.  The creek looked like a good trout stream, and Bert-o had brought his Tenkara rod, but reportedly the DNR has killed all of the fish in Licklog in preparation for reintroducing native trout.


Licklog Creek

I had downloaded an app to identify plants called “Seek.”  Thought I would use it along the trail.  So, since we are trying everything out, I thought I would give it a try.

Halberd-leaved Violet


First Day Bear!

I have read on a few other thru-hiker blogs where they lament the fact that they never encountered a bear on their entire hike.  What are the odds you come across one on the first day of a shakedown?

After lunch, the forest changed from just hardwoods to the rhododendron and hemlock dominated landscape typical around the Chattooga River.  If you have ever been to this part of the world, you were no doubt impressed by the massive hemlocks that provide a great deal of shade and a perfect environment for the mountain laurel and rhododendron.  In the last ten years or so, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive insect native to Japan, has killed an incredible number of these great trees and the landscape is in the middle of being severely altered.  Much of the shade will be gone for many, many years and will invite other type growth (thicker) until the trees become mature again.  Maybe my great, great grandkids lifetime?  End rant.

The trail plunged down to the East Fork of the Chattooga River and follows it for quite a few miles.  Our plan was to camp by the river.  Jeff and I were out ahead of Robert and Bert-o, so we were taking a break sitting on a rock overlooking the river.  I was looking back up the trail where we had just been and saw what I thought was at first a black plastic grocery bag blowing across the ground.  I was initially irritated that a plastic bag was way out here in the woods.  As I kept looking at it, I realized it’s not a bag, it’s an animal.  What kind of animal?  Why, it’s a baby bear!

Where’s Mama?

If that’s a baby bear, where is the Mama bear!  Jeff and I immediately started looking around for Mama.  No sign of Mama.  About that time Robert came into view and I was able to call out and stop him when he got to the bear, which was about 15 feet or so on the river side of the trail.  He took a quick video which you can find on my Instagram @Billybobhikes.  It was a very steep and long hill, not quite a gorge, but very steep down to the river.  Best we could figure, Mama had a den way up the hill and must have been out foraging for food.  The little guy, and I mean little, he couldn’t really walk well yet, must have wandered out and rolled down the hill.  We didn’t hang around long since Mama was bound to come looking, (we hope, he wasn’t going to survive long if she didn’t find him soon).  I hope she found the beehive that we found a little later crossing a tree that had fallen across the trail.

Old Jackets Find the Hive – Look close!

The Hammock is Sweet!

We camped at a nice site adjacent to the river and slept well.  Was very happy with the hammock setup, I went with a Warbonnet Eldorado hammock, with a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad, a Hammock Gear Burrow 30 degree top quilt and a Dyneema Tarp with doors.  I put the tarp in mesh snake skins, so deploying and packing up is a breeze.  It got down to 39 degrees the second night and I was plenty comfy.

Billy Bob’s Abode

We camped within a mile of the Sloan Bridge Access the second night, so we packed up on Monday morning and fixed breakfast at the roadside picnic table where we waited on our awesome shuttle driver, Jim “TAZ” Simpson.  TAZ dropped us off back at Oconee State Park where Robert’s vehicle was.  I was a dummy and left my hat in TAZ’s truck.  He was awesome enough to find it and mail it back to me.  Shout out to TAZ!

East Fork Chattooga River


Thanks also to the “Old Jacket Hiking Club”!  Had a great time and learned a few things I will definitely use on the AT!

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Comments 7

  • The Law : Apr 4th

    Love the article and can’t wait to follow your trek.

    • Cary Hannon : Apr 7th

      Thanks! Looking forward to getting started with Robert!

  • Julie McIver : Apr 5th

    Loved the article! Can’t wait to follow along with you in your journey!!

    • Cary Hannon : Apr 7th

      Thanks! Can’t wait to get started!

  • Jenn M : Apr 5th

    The Old Jacket Hiking Club is really awesome to read about. Having great friends to join together with certainly makes great memories, camaraderie, and internal joy that friends bring. I will be following your journey and hope it is a grand outing for you. Cheers!

    • Cary Hannon : Apr 7th

      Thank you! Cheers!

  • Gregg McIver : Apr 11th

    Great story, and I know it’ll only get better! Looking forward to your updates of your amazing adventure!


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