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Austin Grigg

Husband, father of three boys, dabbling theologian, web developer and business owner.

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Into the Rock Gorge

I should have known better, as we studied the contour lines that traced along the snaking banks of the Chattooga River. The trail climbs away from the rushing waters and all it says on the map is "Rock Gorge." Of course Kyle couldn't resist -- an uncharted, unexplored gorge along the foothills trail that surely had boulders the size of houses, whitewater rapids, who knows, maybe even some cliff lines.

So, we packed the fly rod and lures, a couple of sandwiches and took off through upstate South Carolina. It wasn't long before we saw a yard sale and stopped briefly to inspect a Coleman stove -- not without getting some auspicious directions to what the locals claimed was the best lake in the state. We took an old dirt road out to the trail head and headed into the forest.

The shade from the trees provided a retreat from the sun and we were glad just to be in the woods. We took a brief break at licklog falls and I snapped this picture at the base of the falls.

As we hiked away from the falls, the steady white noise of the river faded into the sounds of the forest making you wonder if you could still hear it below. Having climbed several hundred feet we checked our map and as best we could tell we were right above the rock gorge. So, Kyle in the lead, we charge off toward an ever steepening decent. Holding onto rhododendron and pushing our way through tickets we made it down to where we could see the river through the foliage, but it looked like it almost dropped straight off to the river. Undeterred, Kyle pressed us forward, navigating the slope and dropping us into the heart of the gorge.

As we stepped out of the green labyrinth of rhododendron we were rewarded with some beautiful rapids and peaceful shoals. Kyle pulled out the fly rod and tested the waters.

The soft whirl of the line whisking through the air fit right in with the low rumble of the water carrying over the rocks. Nothing was biting, but we didn't care. Kyle handed the rod to me and headed downstream to check out the lower part of the gorge. I worked on my technique and tried to keep from catching the lure in the rocks (and my back), which worked most of the time. As I pulled on the rod to cast again I couldn't get the line out of the water. I thought, "Oh great, I've caught another bunch of leaves," but out of what water jumped a little trout. It was a beautiful little fish with an orange strip by its head. We let it go and I worked a few more pools -- glad for the quiet and the steady motion of the rod more than anything else.

As we started to pack up, an ominous cloud crested the western ridge. We could try to get out the way we came in (which was not particularly appealing), or we could try to head upstream until we got to a place where the trail comes back down close to the river. We opted for the latter and made our way up the river. We waded through the slick waters and traversed rocks lining the river and then it started raining. At this point I started to get a little nervous -- the rock was already slick, we're committed to this path and we're making slow progress over this strenuous terrain. Kyle as always kept his cool and led the way until we got to an impasse. There was an eight foot gap and the water was over our heads so Kyle tried to climb around. When he couldn't find a hand hold he fell back into the water, completely soaked. Thankfully he didn't have anything but a book that got wet, but I had a phone and camera in my bag. So I got in the water and handed my bag over my head to Kyle who had swam to the other side.

Not too much further we found some shelter from the rain under a large overhand, refueled and made our way to a large bend in the river. Checking our map we figured we had gone far enough, plowed through the underbrush and popped out onto the trail about 20 yards from the river.

The rain stopped and cooled down the air, leaving a light fog as we hiked out, the rock gorge behind us.

Driving out of the mountains toward Walhalla we stopped at a country store and picked up two sodas in glass bottles and a cup full of boiled peanuts. With the salty taste of the south in our mouths and our legs scratched and tired, we made our way home, reminded of the peaceful stillness and the formidable power of the river -- glad for the friendship in between.

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