August 10, 2002

The Gentle Horsepasture River. Right.

As I have confessed in these pages before, I chose to find something I like, and hold on to it. Let these posessions become worn with age, soft, tattered, familiar--the older the better. TThis goes for old shoes, ancient shirts, favorite camping gear...and my good hiking stick. I have had my old staff now for more than fifteen years, after cutting it from a favorite red cedar that the phone company saw fit to cut down from the edge of our farm. I darn near lost it, once upon a time.

I was invited to go with the 'Old Farts Club' on a hike down southwest of Brevard, on a stretch of a body of water called the Horsepasture River. Wow, never heard of it, but that sounded idyllic, placid, about what I was up to--a leisurely ramble along the banks of meandering river. Sure, count me in.

We gathered at the trip leader, Bob's, house early on Friday morning. There were maybe ten of us, the youngest a 10 year old boy, and the oldest, old Harper-- who was 70 at the time. All the more reason to expect a nice, slow-paced, gentle rise and fall among the grazing horses along the river. Ah, bliss.

I suppose I should have done my homework. This was before the day of easy internet access to topo maps and trail information. I just assumed Bob Benner, old Bushwack, had taken our age spread and the general gluteal spread of most of the group into consideration when planning this trip route. I assumed he had planned a route. In retrospect, that was an erroneous hope.

It turns out that the Horsepasture, in its course south, drops some 1200 feet in less than three miles of river, coursing through some of the most magnificent, if precipitous and unmarked country in the south (good pictures here, plus Dueling Banjos in the background-- I'm serious). Now after the trip is nothing but a painful scar, I learn from the guidebooks the Horsepasture trail is described as "treacherous and obscure". The first several miles of the trail is thick with waterfalls that can only be reached on foot, and with care. Then the going gets serious. We were planning on hiking about 12 miles through the area, starting Friday afternoon, and getting back to the cars by mid-day on Sunday. After seeing the Rainbow Falls in the first mile or so, I was sure this was going to be a memorable trip. I had no idea how memorable.

The trail taken by reasonable dayhikers ends at about three miles. Most people with good sense turn around and go back to their cars at this point. We followed blindly behind tripleader Bob, the authority on all things wilderness, the author of books on hiking and him, he said. He had a map.

To summarize the next 48 hours of agony: We attempted to cut cross-country to pick up a river trail that crossed to the other side of the river, somewhere down there. Maybe five times, we plunged down a ravine toward the creek to find that dangerously steep bluffs would keep us from getting to the river, and we were NOT where we thought we were. We, all of us-- 10 yr old and 70 yr old and all bigbutts in-between-- had to literally pull our way back up to the rim of the gorge, pushing our backpacks ahead of us through the Rhododendron, and start all over again at the next ravine. By dark, we were exhausted, grumbling, and openly mutinous. Some of us were ready to break ranks and backtrack our way back to the starting point to spend the night on the roadside. Again, from information now available:

"For the weak of heart or sensible among you, if you had chosen the left fork back at the "Flats", climbed the mountain to a closed access road on the ridge and turned right, then turned right again after 100yds onto an old logging road blocked by a huge rock and continued on until reaching a steep downhill track you would have arrived here after 2 miles on reasonable trails".

We were not sensible. We were tough hiker dudes. I do not remember anything beautiful for the rest of the trip. We did manage to find some landmarks that were definitely on the map, and by 5:00 Sunday, we were where we were supposed to have camped Saturday night, near the tip of a finger of Lake Jocassee just over the South Carolina line. We had told our spouses we would be home for Sunday supper. All of us were battle-weary, and Charlie was having severe hip pains. He and I stayed on the bank of the lake while everyone else faced an 11 mile, uphill hike in the dark, not expecting to get to the cars until very late that night. We hoped they would remember to send someone for us the next morning by boat to haul us out.

As Charlie and I ate into the third day rations of what was have been a two day trip, some late-afternoon fishermen were startled to discover us camped on the remote, wooded lakeside, just before dark. We told them our situation, and asked them to report our situation to the rangers at lake headquarters. They seemed extremely indifferent to our plight, and we figured we had wasted our breath; Jocassee is a massive lake, and these yokels may have put in their boats 10 miles from the park office.

But well after dark, we saw a boat with a bright searchlight working its way cautiously down the shallow slough towards us. The Park Rangers had found us, and we happily boarded the pontoon boat for the 45 minute ride back to the park office in the cool, wet night air.

After we reached the unbelievable comfort of the headquarters office and were preparing to bed down in the luxury of the off-season cabin we were offered , the ranger got a phone call that 'some fellas showed up after being lost and late getting back to their cars'. It was our group. We were suprised they had made it out so soon, it must have been a forced march indeed. Sorry we missed it. Charlie and I called a few strategic wives to call all the rest and tell them that we were all safe, and would be home around 2:00 a.m.

I didn't realize it until a couple of days later, but I had not gotten home with my hiking stick. I knew I had it when we got on the boat. So I called the park office, asked if they had found it in their office there. Nope, not a trace, but they would keep an eye out for it. Yeah, right. About a month later, I got a call from Lake Jocassee Park office. They found my stick behind the seats on the pontoon boat, and would keep it for me, just come when I could.

Wife and I made the five-hour trip down, about 2 months later, and brought the old staff back home. That was eight years ago. It stands over in the corner now, just as you go out the back door. I use it almost every day. It may not look like much, but by gosh, it's full of memories, worn slick from hours of happy peregrination across God's green land, this rod and staff, it comforts me, and I plan to hold on to it for another little bit.

Posted by fred1st at August 10, 2002 08:38 PM
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