Chattooga River Trail – Cherry Hill To Russell Bridge

September 2, 2017

In addition to being a member of the Oconee County Hiking Club, my friend and frequent hiking companion, Wayne, is also a hike leader for the GNHA Hiking Club based out of Greenville, SC. On Saturday, I joined Wayne and his friend Jan (who is also a member of the Greenville group), for a hike along the Chattooga River.

Originally, we had planned to take just one vehicle and drive to the trailhead at Russell Bridge, on the Georgia, South Carolina state line. From there, we intended to hike along the Chattooga River Trail until we reached Lick Log and Pigpen Falls about four or five miles away. For our return hike, we had planned to follow an unblazed fisherman’s trail. I’ve actually done that particular hike several times. It ends up being nine miles total for the round trip and has only moderate elevation gain.

Instead, we decided to shuttle our vehicles and do a longer hike. We parked my car at Russell Bridge then climbed into Wayne’s truck and headed towards Cherry Hill Campground. Wayne is very familiar with the area and seems to know all of the shortcuts and backroads. In this case, we drove along Burrels Ford Road until we reached Hwy 107. Although Burrels Ford is a gravel road, it’s fairly well graded in most places. There were, however, a few rough spots that made for a bumpy ride.

We arrived at the Cherry Hill Campground shortly after 11 am, geared up, then began our hike on the Big Bend Trail. The Big Bend Trail meanders through a lush forest for 2.7 miles as it makes it’s way to the Chattooga River. Here, I had taken a picture of Jan as she climbed over a huge fallen tree, while Wayne looked on.

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Soon after reaching the river, we hiked past a couple of rapids. Years ago, on our honeymoon, my wife and I had done an all day rafting trip down a section of the Chattooga.

On that trip, I fell into the river while going through one of the rapids. I had been sitting on the right side of our raft when it hit some rocks, dipped down, then lurched to the left. For me, it seemed as though the raft had just disappeared out from underneath me. One moment it was there, and the next moment, it was gone. I felt like I was suspended in mid-air for an instant, kind of like Wile E Coyote (lol), before I splashed into the water. Fortunately, after just a few seconds, our guide was able to pull me back into the boat. Other than being wet, I was no worse for the wear.

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Old fallen tree, paralleling the trail.

The first of these two waterfalls is Pig Pen Falls. Since it was approaching 3 pm and since we had already hiked 8.3 miles, we decided that we would take a break here and eat our lunches. After lunch, we followed a short but steep side trail that led us to the base of Lick Log Falls (second image). Lick Log is a two-tiered waterfall that drops a total of about 80 feet from the top, down to where the creek empties into the river.

This had been the first time that I had hiked with Jan. She’s a very nice lady and easy to converse with. Jan was curious to know how I had met my wife. I explained that, many years ago, while still living in South Florida, I had been an assistant jewelry manager and that one evening (May 19th, 1992), Joann and her sister had come into my store. My first impression of Joann was that she was very pretty, had a good sense of humor, and a friendly personality. As it turns out, Joann is from Trinidad. She had only been in the States for her brother’s wedding and would be flying back in a couple of days. Over the next year-and-a-half, we exchanged letters and spent many hours talking on the phone. In fact, we talked on the phone so much that during that time, I spent more than $5,500 on phone bills. One month alone, my phone bill was nearly a thousand dollars. It was worth every penny though. Joann and I married in 1994 and have been married for over 23 years. We have three kids and our oldest child, our daughter Hannah, is now a freshman at Clemson University (go Tigers).

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Wayne and Jan crossing a small creek on slippery boulders.

Well…back to today’s hike. I was several minutes ahead of Wayne and Jan when I encountered this big fella. I stopped and stared at him, while it appeared that he was staring back at me. After a moment, I realized that “he” was in fact, only a tree. From my initial perspective, I thought that I could see the ears, snout, chest and back of a black bear. The colors are even what you would expect.

On all of my hikes lately, I’ve tried to find a snail like this one to take a picture of. I’ve nicknamed all of the snails “Lucky”. In this case, Lucky wasn’t home. The shell was empty.

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As we approached the end of our hike, we encountered a lot of downed trees and some significant erosion. By the time that we had made it back to my vehicle at Russell Bridge, we had hiked a total of 13.2 miles, had climbed 1719 feet, and had descended 2359 feet. The weather had been nearly ideal and, all in all, this had been a really enjoyable hike.

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