Jones Gap Backpacking Trip
Jeremy Dolby, Tim Hewitt, Joe Reaper, Adam Thompson, and I decided that we wanted to spend our sophomore year Spring Break on a backpacking trip. A couple of years earlier, I had taken a backpacking trip to Jones Gap State Park in South Carolina. I suggested that we go there as a group since it was close to my house. That would allow us to stay with my parents before and after the backpacking portion of our trip. They guys liked that idea, so we ordered maps and started making plans.
We decided to set up a base camp so that we could go on day hikes without carrying the full weight of our gear. We picked group site B on the Coldspring Branch Trail, just off the Jones Gap Trail, as our home base. To give ourselves maximum flexibility, we chose not to plan the day hikes in advance.
With the basic planning done, we rounded up packs, sleeping bags, and other equipment for the guys that didn't have it. We shopped for most of our food at Aldi. Once we got everything packed, we crammed all the equipment and the five of us into my Subaru station wagon. The back of the wagon was packed to the ceiling with the backpacks, and the three guys in the back seat took turns leaning forward because the seat wasn't wide enough for all of them to lean back at the same time. Once we got to my parents' house in North Carolina, we spent the weekend there, finalizing our shopping and packing.
Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, and we headed for the park. Our first task upon arrival was to buy camping permits at the ranger station in the day use area of the park. Once that was out of the way, we headed down the Jones Gap Trail toward our campsite. We quickly discovered that we had packed too much stuff; our packs were weighing us down. The first thing that we wanted to do was find a waterfall just off the Jones Gap Trail that I had hiked to on my previous trip to the park. We hid our packs at the junction of the unmarked side trail and went looking for the waterfall. We never did find it, but we did find a pristine stream, which we followed until we got back to the main trail. We shouldered our packs and finished the trudge to our campsite, where we set up camp for the week.
The next day, we chose Ceasars Head as the destination for our first day hike. The blue skies of the previous day had been replaced by clouds. It looked like it might rain buckets at any moment, but we left on our hike anyway. We followed the Coldspring Branch Trail, Coldspring Connector, and Frank Coggins Trail to Ceasars Head. A few drops of rain fell during our hike, and we even donned ponchos for a few minutes, but the rain never turned into the torrential downpour that we feared.
Once we got to Ceasars Head, we sat around enjoying the view for a while, and we chatted with a lady who had driven to the overlook in her car. She expressed surprise that we had hiked several miles to get to the same place she was able to reach simply by hopping in her car and driving a few miles. We played with our new acquaintance's golden retriever for a few minutes, walked down a short trail and gave us a good view of Ceasars head, and then returned to our campsite the way we came.
That same evening after supper, it started to rain. We quickly put a tarp on the ground, put most of our gear on it, and covered it with another tarp. Then we crawled into our tents to wait out the storm. The rain continued to fall through the night. We had set up our two tents on a single tarp, which turned out to be a really bad idea. There was a low spot in the ground between the two tents that filled with water. A small lake had formed on one side of my tent by the time morning arrived. My synthetic bag and inflatable foam mattress kept me warm even though it was wet, so I managed to get a decent night's sleep despite the rain. One of the guys didn't take a foam pad and didn't get much sleep at all because he was so cold. At one point, I woke up to see him sitting miserably on the one dry spot on his sleeping bag. Other backpackers, take note: foam pads are vital for staying warm on cold nights.
It rained most of the next day as well, stopping just before supper time. We played cards, read, and generally tried not to die of boredom. We were pretty wet by the end of the day, as were the sleeping bags and other gear that was stored in the tents. The gear that we had stowed between the tarps was perfectly dry.
The next morning, there was a short debate about whether we should go home to dry out or stay for the rest of the week as we had planned. We decided to stick it out, much to the chagrin of one of the group members.
Raven Cliff Falls
On Thursday, Adam, Tim, and I took a day hike to Raven Cliff Falls. Adam and Joe elected stay behind and hang around the campsite rather than join us. The three of us who were hiking followed the Bill Kimball Trail to its junction with the Coldspring Branch Trail. At one point, the trail climbed a brutally steep hill to a ridge with a view that made the pain worthwhile. Next, we followed the Coldspring Branch Trail to its terminus, and then we walked the length of the Raven Cliff Falls Trail.
When we arrived at the overlook for Raven Cliff Falls, we were disappointed to see a fog bank instead of the waterfall. All the rain from the previous day had left a white blanket spread over the entire landscape. Since we had travelled far, We decided to wait around to see if the fog would lift. We were not disappointed; the fog lifted a couple of hours later, leaving us with a view of the majestic and beautiful Raven Cliff Falls. We drank in the view, ate our lunches and then headed back to camp. We retraced our steps on the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and then took the Coldspring Branch Trail all the way back to our campsite. We returned to find that Joe and Jeremy had dried the sleeping bags over the fire and used the heat of the fire to dry piles of firewood they had collected. We hung out at the campsite for the rest of the day, and then turned into dry sleeping bags for our last night in the woods.
Friday, the last day of our hike, greeted us with clear, blue skies. I really didn't want to go home. I had never been in the woods for an entire week before, and I felt like I was just starting to get used to the experience. I would have loved to have stayed another week. Nonetheless, we packed up our gear and headed back down the Jones Gap Trail to our car. My car almost overheated driving up the mountain on the way back to Asheville because of a hole in a radiator hose. We made it home, though, to hot showers, comfortable couches, and mom's home cooking.