Marie McAden



Outdoor Adventures with a park ranger: Hiking Stool Mountain

Posted 12/17/2011 9:04:00 AM

Hundreds of hikers climb Table Rock each year to enjoy the spectacular panorama from the top of this 3,100-foot granite monolith. But few have the opportunity to view the famed metamorphic rock itself from the ultimate perch on the adjacent Stool Mountain.

The trail to the 2,615-foot Stool is closed to the public — except once a year when Table Rock Interpretive Park Ranger Scott Stegenga offers a guided hike to the summit.

This awesome adventure is one of dozens of programs and activities led by South Carolina park rangers. Today’s blog will be the first in a new series I’m calling “Outdoor Adventures with a Park Ranger.” With each entry I’ll tell you about a different program led by one of South Carolina’s knowledgeable park staff.

Some of these activities, like the Stool Mountain hike, provide a unique opportunity to explore areas of wilderness seldom traversed by visitors. Others introduce participants to the flora and fauna found in the state’s diverse habitats. In an upcoming blog, I’ll tell you about a very cool wildlife program featured weekly at Hunting Island State Park.

As stewards of the 80,000 acres of state park lands, park rangers can take you places and show you things you won’t read about in travel books. On our hike to Stool Mountain, Stegenga pointed out numerous natural and historic landmarks, including the site of a two-story hotel built in the early 1900s near the base of Table Rock. Back then, a room with a view rented for $7 a week!

At the start of the hike, Stegenga explained why our destination mountain was given the inauspicious name of The Stool. According to Cherokee legend, a giant mythological chieftain used the small mountain as his seat and the large granite dome as his table.

For us mere mortals, climbing atop The Stool proved to be a challenge. Following a section of an old ox cart path, we hiked up 1,500 feet in less than two miles to reach the summit. It was a strenuous scramble made more treacherous by the slippery covering of leaves on the ground. On the positive side, the fallen foliage allowed for a fabulous view of Table Rock from numerous vantage points along the trail.

When we reached the saddle between the two mountains, we were treated to more great views of the surrounding landscape, including Caesars Head and the Greenville reservoir. Of course, the best vista came at the top of The Stool.

“You’d have to be in an airplane to get this close of a view of Table Rock from this angle,” Stegenga said.

After gazing at the 350 million-year-old rock for several minutes, we sat down to have lunch and rest up for the hike down the mountain. Stegenga gave us the option of returning on the trail or bushwhacking our way through the wilderness. All 18 hikers in our group opted for blazing our own trail.

This route offered more interesting geologic features, including a rock basin filled with leaves, a small waterfall and a garden of boulders. Stegenga also took us past a diversion canal built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps to feed a series of impoundments and ponds once used to raise trout.

Stegenga leads several other hikes throughout the year, among them a “First Day Hike” to the top of Table Rock. Click here for more details on the New Year’s Day trek.

To find out about upcoming programs at other state parks, visit the new South Carolina Parks website. Click on the tab at the top of the page and select a specific park or view a complete listing of events.