Cameron Shook

Jocassee: SC State Parks Crown Jewel

Cameron Shook
Jocassee: SC State Parks Crown Jewel

Google Maps is the single greatest advance in driving since the internal combustion engine. Taking Google’s advice instead of my normal route, I saved at least 30 minutes of sitting in Gaffney and Greenville traffic on my way to Devil’s Fork State Park on Lake Jocassee on an anniversary trip with my wife. She’s never been there, and I feel ashamed it’s taken so long to visit the crown jewel of the SC State Parks. For the first time in recent memory, Jocassee is full of water and the local waterfalls are running at full steam.

(Pro-tip: instead of taking Highway 5 to 85 and then following Highway 11, go the extra 20 miles and take above Kings Mountain all the way to US176/NC225 which gives you the option of heading straight to Jones Gap State Park or to catch Highway 11 and hit all the parks along the way. )

Even though we left at 3pm, after we stopped for dinner it was 8pm when we finally arrived and there wasn’t any extra light to be had. After some directions from the park ranger (who was wondering why we had gone all the way to the far boat launch in the dark) we found the walk in camping area we’d be staying at for the next 4 days. After stumbling down the path, we found our tent and got it erected without too much incident; despite what my wife says, the green pole tabs looked silver in the headlamp light which is why it took an extra 10 minutes to get it setup.

Because this is the modern age, and cell service is ubiquitous, I found out that a good friend I hadn’t seen in years was actually camping 2 sites over from us. I hadn’t noticed him when walking in because of the dark, but I recognized the picture of his feet next to a fire on Facebook as the same photo I saw the guy 2 sites over taking when I walked to the bathroom. I turned in that night and planned to catch up with him the following morning.

The next morning came earlier than expected when I woke up at 4am to a splitting pain similar to an icepick being punched through my right eardrum. Once before on a canoe trip I’d had a sudden ear infection/ache and it put me down for the count for several days. After three hours of tossing and turning trying to convince myself the pain wasn’t real, I went and took a hot shower hoping that would help. It didn’t, so the decision was made at 8am to head to a store and find something to stop the constant pain. After 2 unsuccessful stops, a local pointed us to a new Dollar General that had just opened in Salem about 10 minutes away from the park. $18 worth of rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Q-Tips, cotton balls, and homeopathic eardrops later I was right as rain; rockets could go off beside my right ear and I wouldn’t hear a thing, but at least I wasn’t in pain anymore.

We headed back to camp and caught up with my friend who was there with his significant other and her son. Both groups planned on hiking but neither was sure where; they decided to head towards Table Rock and we decided to hike Whitewater Falls. When we got to the parking lot of Whitewater falls though, I realized that Government Shutdown nonsense had closed the trails since it was a national forest. Thinking on our feet, we decided to head up the road further to the new Gorges State Park on the NC side of Lake Jocassee.

I have to say that I was very impressed with Gorges, especially it’s excellent primitive camping area. A leisurely .75 mile hike in brings you to the campground which is situated around a pond from an old homestead. There’s pit toliets and a lot of silence…I’m planning on going back for a winter base camping trip. Gorges State Park’s claim to fame is it’s abundance of waterfalls and from the ones I saw it’s worth the tough hikes. While the hike to Rainbow Falls wasn’t easy, it was well worth the effort. We got back to camp sore and tired, and after a good meal fell asleep quickly.

The next day we caught up with my friend and discussed our previous days adventures. We hoped to go paddling and maybe do some fishing; just a nice lazy day. They hoped to make the paddle to the Lower Whitewater Falls which goes into Jocassee as well as the smaller waterfalls surrounding. I told them it would take 4-6 hours, maybe a bit longer since they had a 12 year old and a 10’ kayak trying to keep up with them. We went paddling for several hours in the morning, checking out all of the mansions that surround the park, and came back around noon to grab a bite to eat. My friends group was still at their campsite when we left to go fishing and when we came back around 2 we found that they had left with their kayaks. We fished for several more hours that afternoon (unsuccessfully, I might add…at least my cast has improved some).

It started turning to dusk around 6pm and my friend’s group still had not returned. Worried, I was at the upper boat dock by 6:30pm to check, and sure enough his truck was still there and they were nowhere in sight. Gathered by the waters edge was a small group of concerned mothers who were fretting about their children now that it was starting to drizzle and a fog was rolling in.

“They left several hours ago to paddle to the cliffs”, they pointed. “How long would it take for you to paddle there and back?”

“Me, paddling as fast as possible in my 17’ kayak with no stopping could probably make it 3 hours; I’d say 4-5 hours is probably more likely for them”

“How about on a stand up paddle board?”

“9-10 hours. And that’s stupid”

A passing pontoon boat picked up the bikini’d teenage girls (which, as my dad says, is the most effective rescue signal known to man) and he went around the point to look for my friends but he was low on fuel. By 7pm when the ranger came to close the boat launch, I let her know they were still out there and their plans they had told earlier. She said that she couldn’t authorize a search to be sent out and the superintendent agreed; where we weren’t officially part of the same group, it was our call to report them missing to DNR and call out a search. I told the ranger I would give them until 10pm and then I’d call the calvary.

Soaked to the bone, they finally came in around 9:30pm, saying they lost track of time while playing at a waterfall. Hopefully they learned their lesson, because being out in the rain without the proper clothing as the temperature drops and the wind picks up is a bad place to be. If you’re going to plan a trip similar to this, please make sure to bring at least a spare change of clothes and a flashlight. We had a roaring fire going and put warm food in them. They went to sleep not long after.

Our last day started with the short hike to Twin Falls and the rest of it spent attempting to catch trout at Jones Gap State Park which, again, was unsuccessful; my cast is now master class from all the practice. I did find from the ranger that they’ve had several trail closings after extraordinary rains this summer; 10” fell in 2 hours one day washing the top 8” of trail away in some cases making trails impassable.  If you decide to go hiking there soon, I’d call ahead and check on trail conditions.

For once, my wife walked away from 3 separate waterfalls impressed; considering in the past 4 years, the only waterfall I’ve known her to be impressed by is Yosemite Falls, I think next years anniversary trip may be hard to top.

 

Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.