When I signed up this month for one of the ranger-guided sunrise hikes offered by Table Rock State Park, I expected to find the forest alive with activity. After all, we were hiking in the dead of night when all those wild nocturnal party animals come out of hiding to wander the woods in search of munchies.
If they were out there, they weren't raising a ruckus. The only caterwauling we heard was from a couple of Barred Owls, a few crickets and a bull frog down by the lake. In the stillness of the night, the forest was wonderfully quiet and peaceful.
The Table Rock Sunrise Hikes, scheduled once every month through October, offer participants a chance to experience a different side of nature - and a spectacular sunrise from one of the prettiest spots in the Upstate.
Trekking up Table Rock - a steep and difficult trail - is not something I would normally do in the dark. Even with a well-marked path, it's easy to get off course when you can't see more than a few feet in front of you. That's what makes this park program such an extraordinary opportunity. How often do you have the chance to make a nighttime hike with an experienced guide?
Led by Interpretive Park Ranger Scott Stegenga, four bleary-eyed hikers set off on the 3.6-mile trail at 2 a.m. under the light of a full moon. Equipped with headlamps, we plodded along the path at a moderate pace taking extra care to avoid any roots and rocks in our way.
Although I couldn't see it, I knew by the sound of the water that we were walking along Carrick Creek. Not long after crossing two wooden foot bridges traversing Green Creek, I lost track of where we were along the trail. With my headlamp focused on where I was walking, I missed the huge landmark boulders just off the path.
What was very clear was that we were headed up the mountain. My heavy breathing was a dead giveaway of the changing terrain. One good thing about hiking in the dark is that you can't see just how far up you have to climb. It was nice not knowing a thousand ascending steps lay ahead.
It wasn't until we reached the CCC-trailside shelter that I knew we were at the half-way mark. We stopped on the rock overlook just past the shelter to rest and eat a snack. From our perch, we could see the city lights of Pickens and Greenville and the Paris Mountain tower.
Back on the trail, the climbing became more difficult. Before I knew it, we were at Governor's Rock, a huge granite outcropping offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Well, that's in the light of day. Instead we were treated to a big, bright moon, slowly descending in the black night sky.
We reached the top of Table Rock around 5:15 a.m., giving us plenty of time to relax and eat our packed breakfast before the big event. As the day began to break, we could see a misty haze settling in the valley below.
And then right on schedule, the sun poked up from behind the mountains casting an orange-red glow over the horizon. It was magnificent.
Sunrise hikes are scheduled for July - October. Registration is open one month before each hike. Cost is $25 per person. For more details, click here or call (864) 878-9813.