seen the sign on the interstate many times, Congaree National
Monument. I never considered hiking at a monument. I walked
around the Washington Monument and was impressed by the Jefferson
Memorial but I didn't consider them hikes. That is until I got an
e mail from a friend. "You've got to see the big trees"
was the message. I'm a sucker for old growth stands of trees so
I loaded up the car. Most associate "Virgin" Timber with
remote areas in the mountains. The bottomlands of South Carolina
has huge tract of un spoiled land not far from Columbia, so
I quickly drove the 98 miles down I-77 to the bottomland wilderness.
The Congaree National Monument is actually a wilderness area that
is set aside by an act of Congress. It administered by the National
Park Service with the purpose of preserving it for future generations.
I pulled into the ranger station, I noticed the charred woods. The
ranger inside told me about a controlled burn to "cleanse"
the forest. He said "Lightning doesn't strike in Columbia and
burn all the way here, anymore" He added with a grin "They
put it out before it reaches here". Now the park service has
to use controlled burning to do what nature once did.
trees that surrounded the welcome center were not that impressive
but the butterfly garden was. There was a little area with native
plants that were labeled with a description. Very pretty and informative.
I could tell I was going to like this place!
obtaining my back country permit, I threw on the 'ole Mountainsmith
pack and headed down the trail. I decided to take the boardwalk
to the Weston Lake Loop trail. The ranger told me that the Kingsnake
Trail sees the fewest visitors so that's where I headed. The short
8/10 of a mile on the high boardwalk was very pleasant. 6 feet above
the forest floor gave a unique perspective. The trees looked different
from this angle. I passed a dozen or more causal walkers. Just out
for an evening stroll, you can imagine their surprise when a fully
geared up backpacker came trucking down the walk! Most were dressed
in casual wear and had never seen a backpacker before. Or so it
Weston Lake the trail into the wilderness leads to the left. The
trail was flat and much softer than hiking on the boardwalk and
the big trees came into sight immediately. The park service has
installed footbridges over water crossings, this proved to very
handy at times. No sense in getting completely muddied up. After
another mile I merged with the Kingsnake Trail.
ranger was right, this was a wilderness area. So different from
the mountain backcountry but just as appealing. Giant Bald Cyprus
lines the trail. Huge Loblolly pines everywhere. Truly a breathtaking
set up my tent in a flat area next to a giant fallen pine. A great
table, as I learned years ago in the Smokies. Fallen giants make
great furniture. As dusk approached thousands of birds settled in
for the evening. The sounds of their calls were deafening.
As the shadows fell and darkness creeped slowly into the forest
the sounds of the birds slowly subsided. The Bard Owls started their
calls shortly after dusk. Occasionally you could hear the loud and
un-nerving shrieks of the screech owls.
the darkness surrounded me, I decided to light my small backpacking
lantern. Because a trip to the wilderness heightens my senses, it
can be difficult to concentrate on reading. The sounds, scents and
the solitude can be overpowering at times. Sometimes it is nice
to read a good book while camped in the wilderness, so I thought
I'd give it a try.
lighting the lantern, I noticed that the owls started to "hoot"
even louder. So much so, it was distracting. I turned the lantern
off and the cries subsided. After a few minutes, I lit the lantern
again. The owls began their objections almost immediately. Too distracted
to read, I extinguished the flame again. The cries stopped! I couldn't
help myself, I had to light it again just to see if the owls really
didn't like my lantern. Again they shrieked their disapproval! I
turn the lantern off for the last time. After all, it is their house.
reading material, I drifted off to sleep. There is nothing quite
like the deep sleep that hikers experience in the wilderness. The
combination of tired muscles and solitude create a peaceful atmosphere
that allows a deep sleep.
before dawn, I woke up. After fixing a hot cup of mocha, I walked
to a foot-bridge to watch the sun rise. As the rays filtered through
the forest I could see a light mist rising from the swamp.
The mist gave the forest a "pre-historic" look and it
seemed as if a dinosaur might poke its' head out of the undergrowth!
At that moment I realized that the forest was all mine. I had not
seen a soul since I left the boardwalk the day before. True solitude.
As I stood there among the giant moss draped trees I wondered why
I hadn't hiked here before.