Big Rock Mountain -- Nine Times Forest (11-27-16)
As I slowly but inevitably fill in the blank spots on my local hiking map I'm finding it harder and harder to 'discover' new and relatively unknown places to explore. Every so often, however, a secret 'gem' appears on my radar...as is proven by the destination featured in this particular album. Big Rock Mountain is located in the Appalachian foothills of Upstate South Carolina just to the northwest of the community of Pickens. It's a tiny peak...rising just above the 1,800-foot mark...and so you may wonder how it would possibly interest me. Well, that's simple...Big Rock Mountain has a ruggedness and wild beauty which far exceeds its humble stature. I had my first exposure to Big Rock through a brief Facebook hiking blog featuring some of the unknown hiking destinations of South Carolina. What I saw on that post hooked me almost immediately on the prospect of visiting the peak. Massive boulders were pictured balancing on huge cliff faces with sweeping views of the surrounding hills. The blog promised hours of rugged exploration as you scrambled over, around, and under the tangled landscape of granite so crazily out of place on such a small mountain. Honestly, I could hardly believe the reports. Surely a place like this would have made more of an impression on the local hiking community. I was intrigued, to say the least.
It took a good deal of searching online to get any info on routes to the peak or even directions to the trailhead from where I could start. The mountain itself is part of a piece of preserved land known as Nine Time Forest (not to be confused with neighboring Nine Times Preserve). There is a trail to the summit but you have to have good directions to find it...so here's my attempt to do so. The small parking area for the hike is located at the corner of Preston McDaniel and Nine Times Road about 2.5 miles south of Highway 11 (Foothills Parkway) near the community of Sunset, SC. The parking area actually serves the trails of the Nine Times Preserve. Big Rock Mountain, as I stated already, isn't part of the Preserve but, rather, it and the trail to it lie to the north across Preston McDaniel Road. Look for a gated dirt drive surrounded by a generous amount of warning signs with such welcoming statements as "Security Cameras in Use" and you've found the beginning of the route. Bypass the signs (and smile for the cameras if you'd like) and follow the dirt drive a short distance to where it enters what looks to be a large old gravel pit with high-tension lines sweeping by overhead. I had little route info to go on with this visit so if you look at my hike map you'll see I involved myself in some unnecessary bushwhacking on my ascent. The key is to find the beginning of the trail and you'll need to know where to look to find it. From the point where you first step out into the open area the road makes a hard turn left. Straight ahead is a large high-tension tower. To the right of the tower is an open hillside. Its up this hillside where the trail begins. Once you locate the path the rest of the route is obvious and easy to follow.
So, assuming at this point you've found the path, the route quickly re-enters the forest and begins a moderate to steep climb of the ridge to the west of the summit. The climb is brief, however, and soon the route levels out as the trail makes a hard right-hand turn atop the ridge and begins making a bee-line for Big Rock itself. About a quarter-mile after reaching the ridge you reach another potentially confusing junction where the old logging road the trail has followed thus-far continues straight ahead while another trail (obviously well-traveled) breaks right up a steep rise. Both choices here will get you to the cliffs but it depends whether you want to head to the top of them of the base. A right turn on the trail will eventually break out below the cliffs and ledges of the mountain. Straight ahead on the logging road and you'll soon find yourself on Big Rock's summit. I'd personally recommend following the trail to the base of the cliffs and begin your exploration of the ledges from there. It's the most direct route and saves you from the extra climbing you'd do to reach a summit which you'll find is completely wooded and without views.
Once at the cliffs, by whichever route you take, its choose-your-adventure time. There's no marked path through the maze of huge ledges and boulders. It's important here to occasionally stop and get your bearings to assure you can find your way back. Let me tell you though, this place is an amazing natural playground...it is simply so out of place on a mountain as unassuming as this one. I must have spent a good hour wandering around like a big kid on a granite jungle-gym trying to see what there was to see atop every boulder and beneath every crevasse. I'm certain I was sporting the biggest dumb grin the whole time I was up there. Perhaps the most amazing natural feature of Big Rock is a pile of huge boulders known as 'The Sphinx'. Located on an exposed ledge about halfway up the highest cliffs on the mountain, there is no way for me to explain precisely how to reach it but, trust me, if you're looking you'll find it. Once you have your fill of scrambling around just make your way back to the trail at the base of the cliffs and retrace your earlier steps back to the parking lot.
As you can probably tell, I couldn't have enjoyed myself more on this hike. Big Rock Mountain is simply so remarkable in its amazing scenery and terrain it baffles me how it isn't more well-known. I guess personally though I'm glad it isn't. It solitude and relative mystery is part of its appeal. I may be letting the cat out of the bag a bit by posting it here but its just too much of a natural treasure not to share. GO!!! You won't be disappointed with this tiny little beauty of a mountain. Come on along with me, won't you? This is a good one....ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.948539, -82.792189
Mileage Hiked: 2.8 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 1,160' Max. Elevation: 1,808'
Total Vertical Gain: 700' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 250'
Trails Used (blaze color): Big Rock Mountain Trail (unblazed)