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Trip Report - Chatooga Gorge, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia Triangle

2004.

[For private use only, not for re-publication in any mass media. Copyright 2004 by El Dorado Hot Springs. No part of this report may be reproduced in a public forum or printed in multiple copies without the express permission of Camilla Van Sickle & Bill Pennington.]

Chatooga Gorge

Directions:

Obtain a map at the ranger station seven miles North of Walhalla, SC on Rt 107; our directions are keyed to this map. Have a ball, as above, or follow Rt 28 west for access to other sections of incomparable Chatooga Gorge.

Rating:

FIVE FULL MOONS

Report:

We have Gloria & Leonard Ponder, Founders of Western Carolina Naturists, to thank for finding this area which is without peer; try it.

QUESTION: Where does one find many miles of nude hiking, camping, white water rafting, mini water slides, countless pools, sunning opportunities, and waterfalls, AND scenes from the movie "Deliverance", all in the same place?

ANSWER: Chatooga Gorge Wild and Scenic River, where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia meet at Ellicott Rock in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, a total of 21,000 acres of wilderness within the 360,000 acre Sumter National Forest. We spent the better part of a week in this heavenly area which receives one of the highest average rainfalls in the country--nearly 70"--ensuring that the waterfalls (marked by a big red "W" on detail maps) and rivers always have flow in them. We made Oconee State Park on Rt 107 our base of operations, but only because the generator was ailing and we needed electricity to run the computer. Otherwise, we would have stayed at one of the remote areas. Still, because the sites at Oconee were somewhat spread out, we were able to remain cloth free all the while. Cherry Hill Campground, seven miles North of Oconee on 107 offers primitive camping. Burrells Ford has walk-in camping--see King Creek Falls, below.

Opportunities for nuding in Chatooga are unlimited; we'll describe three of the best; the reader will be able to find many more on their own. For instance, there's a trail along the entire length of the east side of the gorge that leads into many remote areas, including several not far upstream from Lick Log Falls, below. It's always a good idea to obtain a detail map of an area you wish to explore.

The first site, Lick Log Creek, is also the easiest to reach, both driving and hiking. From Oconee State Park, go North on 107 for 0.3 mi, turn left on paved CH 45, Village Creek Rd, bearing right at the "Y" at 0.5 mi. At 1.8 mi, make a VERY sharp right on gravel CH 50, Nicholson Ford Rd. We're not sure a large rig could make that corner, but next time we're in the area, we're going to try, now that we have a motor home that we consider dependable. "Why go to all that trouble?", one might ask. Simple = a short way down CH 50 is the virtually unused, totally private Overnight Camping Area on the right; the solitude and freedom we seek is available there; nudity inside OR out of the Nomad Nudemobile would probably be OK most of the time. Bearing right at the upper end of Thrift Lake which is private property, follow CH 50 to the parking lot at the end.

Walk straight ahead for five leisurely minutes and the sound of Lick Log Creek falls can be plainly heard on the left, entering the Chatooga with an unending crash. Take any steep trail to the left to the river to enjoy the falls or nice swimming/sunning spots. If needed, it's totally private either upstream or down, most easily reached by crossing the river when it's low enough. That's one of the neatest things about gorges (including Linville Gorge, North Carolina's mini Grand Canyon)--there are attractions like Lick Log Falls which draw clotheds, but the gorges meander so that just around any corner, Naturals will be right at home without `offending' anyone.

Another thing about areas like this is that calling the cops is a near impossibility (even in the unlikely event that a person might do it; see Big Bend Falls, below) because the nearest phone is nearly an hour away. Cellular phones usually won't work at all in deep, remote gorges. This is not to mention the fact it's probably also an exercise in futility (assuming the cops bothered to come) = finding any Naturals would be HIGHLY unlikely because it'd likely be hours before the law arrived and the chances of a complainer being able to give a precise location and directions to an officer wishing to investigate such a trivial matter, coupled with the chances of that officer being able to FOLLOW those directions AND find the Naturals are n-i-l, NIL! Be nude in places like Chatooga = it's normal, natural, and in all probability, quite safe. King Creek Falls has a 70 foot drop. From Oconee, go 8 mi. north on 107. Turn left on FR 708 at Burrells Ford Campground sign. 0.5 mi. in on the right is a nice wooded lane leading to a neat, private little area by a small brook; it's a really nice place to camp. Follow 708 a little over two miles and park on the left just before the river. Walk downriver out of the parking lot (south), then follow marked trails left to the falls. We were nude in front of the falls but it's probably too public an area for regular nuding, so we suggest going to the top of the falls. VERY steep trails lead up both sides to a much more open, yet totally private area. Also, downriver from the campground is more total wilderness for nude relaxation. Drinking water is available from the ancient pitcher pump at Burrells Ford Campground. We saved the best for last--Big Bend Falls, as we've come to call the area, is our favorite for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's a living tribute to the courage and ingenuity of those who settled there (after displacing the Aboriginals, we add with rue). Seven miles north of Oconee Park on 107, turn left on gravel FR 709, just past Pells Cemetery (Interesting to see.) and Cherry Hill Campground. Go 2 mi. to the end. 709 starts out narrow, but easy going. It was here we saw wild turkeys, a young hawk that seemed not to notice us, and a yearling deer that hardly seemed to notice us. About half way in, the road decidedly becomes 4WD territory, but we made it with our two wheel drive sedan (we know not how), as did an ancient pickup that was there when we arrived. The other two vehicles were 4WD, but if one wishes to visit this area, it's well worth the effort = parkon the side of the road so as to not block the practically non-existent traffic and walk the last mile. The parking lot itself would make a fine campsite because it has a nice view and is totally quiet most of the time, though there is a small amount of litter about.

At the parking lot, walk straight 0.6 mi. downhill to Big Bend, a hairpin turn in the river; other trails criss-cross the steep hill, but they all eventually go to the river. It was on the way down that we noticed that the road was very, very old, worn into the ground like the Natchez Trace, but too narrow for motor vehicles. We couldn't figure out what had worn it down so much until we reached the bottom where the deeply indented dirt track went straight as a string for the last 100 yds, leading right to an ancient spring just off the river at Big Bend. The road was one ox cart wide and though there were (and still are) water sources far up on the hill from whence the ox carts came, apparently the area people thought it was worth it to go to an incredible amount of effort to cut a road three miles to that spring and haul the water back up. Signs of an old ferry crossing--holes drilled in solid rocks in the riverbed with anchor rings in some of them--indicate some hauled the water (or other commodities) to the other side of the river as well. Interesting. But what was more interesting were the beautiful nuding conditions on the Chatooga. Virtually devoid of litter (always a good sign), we felt at home on the nice sunning rocks, small spits of sand, and in the very clean water which we drank without worry. Across the river was a really nice campsite with a large sandy beach which rather made us drool, though we aren't tent campers; if we were, we'd surely camp nude there. It looked like a fairly well used campsite, but we could neither see nor did the detail map show any trails on that side of the river; in fact the map shows complete wilderness. So, we have to conclude that those camping on the West side of the river come in the way we did and ford the river.

One lone fisher person saw us nude and paid us no mind, or so we thought. We decided to hike nude on the trail the short distance down to Big Bend Falls; it was worth it to hear the four foot falls make a sound like Niagara down in the gorge. Then we noticed the fisher person had also moved downstream, but he was not gawking, for sure; verily, he managed to stay just out of our sight, or so he thought. At any rate, we knew he could see no details of our cloth freedom at that distance; at one point,we were fairly sure he was nude too, but again, the distance made it difficult to tell. He kept fishing and we ate our lunch next to the roar of the falls, at home in the arms of Mother Nature, clothed but by the sun.

Still in cloth freedom, we waved to the fisher as we left; he returned the gesture and appeared to back to fishing. The hill was very steep and Bill hadn't quit smoking yet, so we were going very slowly. Less than ten minutes later, we saw a figure far up ahead, holding a fishing pole while standing beside one of small brooks that flow down the hill. It looked like the fisher we'd just left far behind (we thought) at the river, but our initial reaction said it was impossible for him to make it that far ahead of us in so short a time. When we reached him, we found out it was the same fisher; he must have run on feet of Mercury to have arrived at that point so far ahead of us. We also found out that he was standing where he was because he was waiting for us and wanted to engage us in conversation. But we didn't know ahead of time what to expect, coming upon a clothed stranger like that so far out in the woods, especially so close to the buckle on the bible belt. It's understandable, then, that as we approached him, we did so with a fair amount of trepidation, though we greeted him in a way that showed only friendliness. His name was Chuck Burns and he was the driver of the ancient two wheel drive pickup in the parking lot. He explained how he felt while we were nude on the river, all the while trying to build up the fortitude to talk to us. Saddened when he saw us leaving, he finally mustered the courage to sprint up another trail, then wait for us.

Chuck told how he spent much time on the river and that he'd seen other nudes occasionally over the years, but that he never had the courage to try it. We invited him to join us in cloth freedom, but he declined, as did he the offer to hike to the top with us. We offered him Naturist literature; he accepted. We asked if he thought that if other clothes mindeds saw us whether they'd call the cops. "Absolutely not." came his quick reply. "People who come to this river are generally quite laid back and accepting if people want to be nude." That was just about THE BEST news we could have heard and was a really nice way to end our day on the river. We hiked to the top, still nude, and not particularly worried about what we'd find at the parking lot. Had we met any one there who didn't like seeing us in cloth freedom, we'd have put clothes on, of course. At the river,however, we'd have advised the person either not to look or to go elsewhere, if we'd been there first. If the complaining party was there first, we'd go elsewhere.

No one was at the parking lot when we arrived; Chuck arrived a few moments after we did; we chatted some more, then he left. We walked around wistfully, warmed by the waning moments of the sun, happy to be there. We knew we'd be back.

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