Mountain Bridge Wilderness -- Bill Kimball-Jones Gap Loop (12-3-16)
The Mountain Bridge Wilderness is a 40,000 acre tract of fabulously rugged mountain landscape located just below the North Carolina line, to the north of Greenville. It gets its name from the fact that, when it was formed, it 'bridged' a gap in protected land along the Blue Ridge between Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Park's. Though not a federally designated wilderness, the Mountain Bridge Wilderness certainly exudes the essence of wilderness. The trails and landscape are incredibly rugged...I seriously doubt that mile-for-mile there are a more knee-busting collection of hikes in Upstate South Carolina than what you will find here.
That said, this particular hike isn't all that incredibly strenuous...at least by Mountain Bridge standards. Done the way I did it this day, the most rugged terrain is traversed on the descent and steep climbs are few and relatively short. The plan for this hike was to hike up and over a peak called El Lieutenant, which is so-named as it is supposedly a lesser version of the more well-known El Capitan of Yosemite. This, I found, is more than a little generous a name to give the peak. Though its cliffs are impressive at no point on this hike did I look at the mountain and have visions of a miniature Yosemite Valley come to mind. Even so, the hike over and beneath the peak was enjoyably rugged and I soon found my way down into the valley of the Middle Saluda River. The return hike basically followed said stream up through the valley, passing a couple scenic waterfalls (that I was not at all expecting!) along the way, before turning back up the ridge from where I had started.
In short this hike was basically a walk in the woods, with few stunning natural features to tease the senses. Even so, it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon and it filled in much of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness which I had yet to visit. I invite you then to come along with me as I wander through a lesser-known corner of Upstate South Carolina and, as always...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.115984, -82.638350
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: HARD
Mileage Hiked: 6.3 miles Hike Duration: 3:00
Trailhead Temp: 40'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 1,980' Max. Elevation: 3,350'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,130' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 179'
Trails Used (blaze color): Bill Kimball (pink), Coldspring Branch (orange), Jones Gap (blue), Tom Miller (blue)