I found myself with seven days of freedom and no supervision whatsoever a week or so before Christmas last year. With the shopping almost complete and only a 1,200 mile drive between me and responsibility, I decided to take a quick trip to relax and review the last 365 days. I knew fishing and backpacking were the main activities that I wanted to entertain myself with. After perusing some books, albeit quickly and without much thought, a Trailsppace buddy was poked and prodded for information on good fishin spots in the mountains of South Carolina by yours truly, the worst freshwater fisherman the modern era had seen. He responded in kind, and the race to gear up and get out was on! Destination; Eastatoe Creek HP in Pickens Co.
Eastatoe HP is an extension of the foothills trail, from what I could gather. It's really isn't directly attached, but if you want to add a couple of miles and at least a day to the trail, It’s well worth it. I parked just off of a really windy road, sort of like the “kank” for those of you from New England. I chuckled as I drove up the SC-Kank towards the trailhead, mostly because I'm a twisted individual, like the road, and partly that this road was a fun drive around hairpins and switchbacks in my rear wheel drive sedan. I parked at the trailhead, checked and double checked my gear (why do I always unpack, and then re-pack my gear when I have already done it several times before throwing it in the car?) and headed up the gravel road from the parking lot.
With no more than about .2 miles under my belt, I hit a little green sign pointing me in the direction of the trail. The path was really a partially maintained logging road from years gone by, but not to many years. There were signs of selective cut groves not ten years old throughout the hillside. The path cuts around the side of a hill, with steep banks on both sides. Often, the drop off the path would be hazardous to your health, so be careful if you do this hike at night. As the path meanders through the hardwood, you begin to hear a roar from the valley on the left. Just as soon as you hear the roar, the path is blocked, and a drop to the left brings you to the trail. Over a bridge, down some nice switchbacks and stairs the foliage changes from mainly hardwoods, to stunted Magnolia shrubs (I think?) and more green specimen that I won’t even begin to describe. Overall, it was a short hike to the valley floor, maybe a 45 min. jaunt?
There are about 6 fire rings in a camping area that is no longer than a long par 3. Some are nicely placed on flat ground, which is difficult to find as the hillside seems to run right into the creek. The water was cold, and the flume made by the creek over the millennia provides enough moisture for the valley to provide a unique environment to say the least. I found a spot on a rise that looked reasonable and made camp, set up the tent and scoured the barren valley floor for wood. Besides being void of any downed wood, most of the small stuff that I found was wet. It hadn’t rained in the last week or three, but the humidity left everything damp, and I wasn’t in the mood to go without a fire because it was cold, even for this crusty Mainer. I backtracked a bit up the hill and found some good dry wood a couple hundred feet above the valley floor, loaded up my pack and headed down to camp for what I had really come here for, fishin!
Wen I got back to camp, the sun had already tucked behind the steep embankment to the southwest, so I knew I had to act fast before nightfall came. After picking out some goodies from my first 2 day “meal kit” (a homemade freezer bag package with enough food, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, spices and soups for 3 days) the kit was hauled up into a tree just in case. I grabbed my rod and headed to the creek. I had barely nipped, tied on a 1/4 oz. jig and cast when the first fish hit. Nice rainbow brookie about 7” or so. I swear the jig wasn’t even in the water for 6 seconds before she was gobbled up! After reeling her in, I let her go sensing that this hole just below the flume was loaded with fish. The next three casts landed fish as well! Never have I, the master of backcountry mayhem had this kind of luck in freshwater. I was more inclined to falling into the creek, or losing all my spinners on fallen logs or even branches out of the water! I wanted to explore more, but the sun was well set and it was getting dark fast, so I caught two more reasonably sized rainbow and figured I’d eat like a king. I roasted them spit style and washed them down with a little rice pilaf and bourbon, before long I was ready for a doze. The wind was whipping and it was quite chilly in my large 2 man tent sans fly and 15 degree bag the first night. Not that I froze, but the chill caught me off guard, the humidity definitely had something to do with it.
The next morning, I dined on real eggs hard-boiled before the trip and some coffee before exploring the creek downstream. I lit a rubusto and headed downstream, rod in hand ready for some fishin and relaxin. The stroll downstream was not so easy, I dropped the pole three times in an effort to keep my cigar lit. This time I tried a small worm on a jig, and had just as much success only these fellas were bigger and more aggressive than the first hole. Three times the trout slipped my hook, and thought I was going to have to bring out the big guns, but before long I had managed to modify my technique (rod tip too soft?) and the fish came out of the water, at least for a spot. I played catch and release until about noon, when I made some lunch and collected some more fire wood. After lunch, with the sun at it’s highest in the sky I ate lunch, changed my clothes and did a little laundry (I know it’s only been a day, but fishing mayhem style with the sic team is messy business and I had bigger plans) and consulted the map, wondering where the gravel road led to.
So I explored a little more throughout the afternoon, almost falling into the creek while attempting a crossing to explore the sheer face of the hill on the far side of the valley, and took it easy for the most part. I fished for dinner again, knowing that I hadn’t touched my meal kits and had at least another four days supply of food without hunting and gathering, and lets face it, the hunting part was as easy as pie at this point. Near sunfall, I gathered more wood with my pack up the hill, and fished for dinner. This time, I roasted the yumminess until almost finished, then stuffed them with rice cooked with a half bullion cube and some chicken rub for seasoning, tied them around the spit and finished em off. Sort of like a trout burrito, with the skin on and the cavity filled with rice and boy were they good. Yup, a little more bourbon (ok a lot) and a smoke brought an end to the evening, but not before I put the fly on my tent and lined the floor with one of those emergency blankets you can find at wally world coupled with a healthy fire. That seemed to do it, and I was toasty and roasty for the evening.
The next morning, I broke camp and after some oatmeal and English breakfast tea I headed for the hills in pursuit of more adventure. If it was a little warmer, or I had a better air mattress (exped is good, but not perfect) I could stay there all week. I wanted to explore.....
After trudging up to the red gate (not a bad ascent at all) I dropped my pack, grabbed my trash & flask and headed down to the car to refuel. I updated my note on the front seat and headed back to the pack. The gravel road headed generally east was an easy hike. I saw the odd truck and 4 wheeler along with a Honda Insight, but generally it was traffic free. I made my way past a Foothills Trail crossing, and then couple campsites, one of which had an incredible view of the valley below to the north. As the late afternoon approached I took a northbound fork and wound up at a campsite near a small river that had a bridge and a place to ford the river with a truck. I made camp, pumped some water into my canteens, had some Mexican beans and rice with beef jerky, finished it off with hot chocolate and spent an uneventful, fireless yet warm night reading and relaxing. I don’t know if this is bear country, but it’s better to take all precautions so I hauled the dry sack up into the tree for good measure.
The next morning I was awaken by what sounded like an 18 wheeler rumbling through my tent. Turns out some off road enthusiasts had a Toyota FJ80 modded with a diesel engine and a snorkel. They were having a blast fording the 3 foot deep water over and over, so i kept my distance. I packed up and headed up the trail, wanting no part of that roc us party across the stream.
After a while, I came upon a lookout after ascending a hill and the view was spectacular, I have no idea what lake this was hundreds of feet below me, but the view was spectacular. I had some breakfast/brunch, and three cups of coffee, not wanting to leave the spectacular view. After brunch, I continued on, eventually taking a fork and heading down to a peninsula with an elevated campsite in the middle of a cul-de-sac type thing. A power plant/dam type thing was off in the distance, and the fishing was horrible. I lit a bonfire with the plethora of dry wood around, and had a little extra bourbon in an effort to cover up the taste of my Backpackers Pantry Red Beans and Rice in disgust (yes both servings).
The next morning, or um midday er.... I wanted to hit the road early but my head hurt because I forgot to take a headache powder the night before (love those things). I had made a cardinal mistake, not drinking enough h2o before bed and having 3 or 4 ounces of frontier whiskey in the process. The powdered eggs and bacon by Mt. House did nothing for me, so I had a portion of grits from my kit with a little powdered creamer and extra water to boot. Once my pounding hangover subsided I called on the gods to give me strength to make it home. We, me and my evil pounding head stopped for a while at the lookout again to take an afternoon picture and hydrate. It was getting dark, but I wasn’t about to stop because I slept in and needed to make up time. I strapped on my headlight, and trudged onward, wanting nothing more than to sleep some more. Although I have no idea how far I hiked, it seemed like forever and I finally made it to the campsite that I first stumbled upon in my trip inward. It was nice and elevated so I was above the main road and was already stacked with perhaps two nights dry wood. The fire felt good as I gazed at the stars and read my book healing my muscles. I would not forget the BC powder tonight. The next morning I broke camp early, and scoffed down some coffee and oatmeal with the remainder of my h2o. The pack was light, and my bones weren’t sore anymore so I moved quickly back down the road to the car. All in all it was a great trip. I explored some great backcountry, as well as the gravel road which I will be back with a 4x4 to help me explore the many gated forks in the road at a later date. It certainly made the 1200 mile drive to Maine for Christmas that much easier.