Monday, June 25, 2012

Hikes: Congaree National Park

Not one dame was gored by a boar, chomped by a gator, or snapped by a snapping turtle.  I have yet to receive any reports of West Nile or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and everyone made it out uninjured.  That was all I would have needed to call my first go at arranging a hike for my hiking group a success.  The icing was the smiles and thanks that followed our jaunt through Congaree National Park.  We had a few hiccups but all in all it was a good trip.
Pre-hike photo. Not pictured is the fearless leader of our group since she finds a way to hide from all cameras!
Congaree National Park is located in Hopkins, South Carolina (right outside of Columbia).  From the various routes used to make it to the park, it appears that Mapquest, GoogleMaps, Garmin, and SCDOT are not in agreement on how to make it to the park.  My suggestion is to follow the signs (old fashion I know) off of I-77.  We all made it safely, and that is the important part.  We were there in time to see the park ranger raise the flag and gauge our chance of being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
The ranger gave me permission to take this picture despite not have her required headgear on.
The last time I was out there it was on 5!
  After taking a before picture and dispensing a warning about the wild boars and Big Foot, we headed out.  We started out on the Boardwalk Loop which is elevated (though not above the high water mark).  The welcome center has a guide to some of the points of interest seen from the boardwalk.  One lady in our group was charged with telling us all what we were looking at from the moonshine stills, to tornado damage, to the only naturally occurring type of palmetto tree remaining in South Carolina (hint: it's not the one planted up and down main street and featured on all of our visors, flip flops, and koozies).
Bald cypress knees

  We continued along the boardwalk until we reached the Weston Lake Loop.  Our ultimate goal was to make it on to the Oakridge Trail.
 I had never been this deep into Congaree.  A few years back a friend was in town around my birthday and we did the Boardwalk and Weston Lake Loops.  We were just out for a nice walk and 4 miles at that time of the year was plenty enough.  It was only after getting on the Oakridge Trail that I started to have that "this is amazing" feeling.  After all I was 15 minutes out of the city, but I was viewing ancient plant life and there were no sounds of the city.  The only noise was us.  The benefit of being noisy is that you scare away the wildlife.  However you sometimes miss out on really cool things.  The group member that was alone out front happened upon a family of wild boars.  She was quiet and let them pass. Yes the little pink piglets are cute but mama will charge if you even smile at them funny.  Generally you would climb a tree but bald cypress trees do not have limbs...
I was by myself at this point but if I could have gotten a person to stand by this tree you could see how big it was.  A person could fit in each of the creases in the trunk.
We eventually made it back to the Weston Lake Loop and the Boardwalk Loop.  We took this time to stop and regroup.  I wanted to make sure that everyone went the correct direction on the boardwalk.  This also gave us the opportunity to look at the wildlife in the lake.
Shaded seating, and I captured fearless leader in my camera lens!
Common snapping turtles waiting for us to feed them...sorry fellas.
That line right above my left hand is the head of an alligator.
After resting and snacking we headed on back to the welcome center.  We completed 6.6 miles in a little under 3 hours.  I learned a few lessons after organizing this hike.  The first is to not rely on the address being enough to efficiently get people to the meeting spot.  A general summary overview of the directions would have been helpful to most as some of the GPS systems were way off base.  The second is to always show people on a larger map the general direction of the hike.  Saying the trail names and blaze colors was helpful but showing them that we were really making a giant loop was probably the most helpful.  All in all it was a good hike and I can't wait to organize another!  Many thanks to a great group of Dames who made this first organizing experience great.  Until next time y'all.
Smiling Dames!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hikes: Pearl-less at Birmingham's Oak Mountain

And that's just the beginning of my lack of preparedness for this hike.  This past weekend, I had a meeting in Birmingham, AL.  Our meeting plan was to wrap up a report, put a bow on it, and deliver it to the client.  In addition to getting our lesson out, we also reserved some time for health and wellness activities.  Our Sunday plan was noble: hike at 7:30 a.m., Bikram at 9:30 a.m., brunch, and then finish anything we had not finished on Saturday.  Well our plan changed.  Sometimes you might find me in my office at 8 p.m. when I'm report writing because when the words start to flow, you let them flow.  The words were flowing on Sunday morning so we did not hike early.  Instead, we started the health and wellness portion of the meeting with Bikram.  The set of good sweat wicking clothing I had packed was soaked post-Bikram with no chance of drying even though we would be sitting down for a brunch of
When I asked for a wing/thigh mix the lovely people at Birmingham's Seafood and Chicken Box brought me three wings and two thighs.  Who can eat all that? Then I remembered I would be food-less on Delta all evening.  If you were in the Birmingham airport Sunday evening, the woman attempting to eat cold fried chicken gracefully from her lap at the deserted American counter was me.

The clothes I had to change into were all cotton, including the tank I ran in to Super K to buy.  This all cotton thing becomes immensely important when you're starting a hike in June, in the South, at 1:30 p.m.  On to the hike.  We headed out to Oak Mountain and soaked our ankles and wrists with Deep Woods Off.
Loved the hiking style of our new outdoors buddy on the right.  The socks kept the bugs out and shocked the snakes into slithering away.  The lady on the right who was all to eager to spray folks with chemicals is my colleague and fellow outdoorsmanaslongasahotelisnearby.
Our hiking plan was simple, as we only had an hour or so.  We would start together and then they would do an in and out on the Shackleford Point Trail (white) from the North Trailhead to Maggies Glen.
White trail on the right and yellow trail on the left!
I would take the Foothills Trail (yellow) to Maggies Glen and then join them on the return trip to the trailhead.  The distance to Maggies Glen on the yellow trail is shorter but I had a bit of elevation to contend with so theoretically we should have gotten there around the same time.

I enjoyed my time on the yellow trail.  The trail is narrow and there are a few nice uphill portions.  I wanted a bit of a challenge because I seemed to have forgotten that my daily physical challenge was done after Bikram...  Good light comes through the trees because it is on a ridge of sorts.  Well the light was great for photographs and meditation but not for the over-heated hiker dressed in cotton on a Sunday afternoon.  I was hot and no amount of water was going to fix that.
My only complaint was that the blazes needed to be re-painted.  They were very difficult to see.  I get that blazes on trees are a low priority in the state budget when other costs are ballooning but it was still annoying,
This is one of the better ones and I was right up on the tree before I saw it.
We met at Maggies Glen and headed back. 
Note the lack of pearls anywhere on my body.
The first time I went to Oak Mountain there were a few trees that had recently fallen.  We had to climb over those trees.  They've solved that issue since then.

All in all it was a great walk in the woods and I'm happy the heat didn't discourage our newest hiking buddy.  Until next time y'all.