Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Nine Times Forest, a.k.a. Big Rock Mountain

Now that autumn has descended to the Upstate, we’re revisiting our favorite local spots to watch the progression of color as we fall into winter. One of those is Nine Times, the area named for the creek named for the nine bridges that had to be built to gain access to Nine Times Preserve, beloved for the seasonal display of wildflowers.

Also see my posts:
Nine Times Preserve
Spring Comes to Nine Times Preserve

However, just across E Preston McDaniel Road from the Preserve is an area with a similar name, but with a much different claim to fame; Nine Times Forest is known for its rock climbing and spectacular views of the Upstate. 

Located near Pickens, Nine Times Forest (a.k.a. Big Rock) was protected by Naturaland Trust in 2013 and was opened to climbers in 2017. A grant from R.E.I. partially funded the construction of a parking lot off Big Rock Lake Road, allowing easier access than the Nine Times Preserve trailhead which had provided entry up until then. Then, in 2019 after the Carolina Climbers Coalition contributed another $5,000, Naturaland Trust was able to secure a 1-acre lot north of the new parking lot – creating a buffer for future expanded parking. Big Rock is the only significant cliff open year-round in SC; it faces south and can therefore be a destination during the winter months. With around 50 routes and several hundred boulder problems, there is plenty of room to spread out. And while the trails to the top of Big Rock Mountain (1,801 ft in elevation) do require scrambling up some more challenging spots, it is still accessible to non-climbers (such as my family) who do not have the safety equipment for rock climbing. 

Two main trailheads and one or two more informal trailheads provide access to the network of trails in Nine Times Forest. The main trailhead is on Nine Times Preserve, on the corner of E Preston McDaniels Rd. and Nine Times Creek Rd. From the gravel lot, cross E Preston McDaniels to enter Nine Times Forest. You’ll see the creek trail fork to the left; also called Appalachian Lumber Trail, it parallels E Preston McDaniel Road and begins and ends at connection points to the Cedar Rock Trail on the opposite side of the road. Continue up the wide gravel road instead, and when you reach the power lines you will have two options: take a left on Naturaland Way that climbs up into the Gap, or hop onto Big Rock Mountain Summit Trail and begin your ascent up (700ft of up, to be precise) to the summit. About ¼ mile before reaching the top there is an intersection with the Gap trail, and then at the top Big Rock Mountain Road provides access to the rest of the trails within Nine Times Forest – Pink Mountain is just across the gap and is 4 feet taller than the Big Rock summit. All Trails lists this route as 2.2 miles round trip, though with all the little detours we took for scenic vantage points we tracked almost 3 miles on our most recent visit. Loops that include Pink Mountain and Big Rock will be upwards of 6 miles…

An unassuming trailhead...

The second main trailhead is at the newly constructed parking lot off Big Rock Lake Road, coordinates here: 34.954252, -82.787584. Follow the trail up to the base of Big Rock and shortly thereafter hop on the Big Rock Mountain Summit Trail to finish your ascent to the summit. This option is shorter – somewhere around 1-mile round trip – but still climbs about 500ft of elevation. The last stretch of trail to the summit has the most scrambles up rocks, but this route has a few extra challenging sections. My children have been able to navigate without problems, but it helps to have an extra set of hands, especially if you have a little in a carrier. As always, exercise caution, hike within your limits, and be aware that there are inherent dangers involved in hiking in the mountains of the Upstate. Once you venture off trail all bets are off – there are no guardrails protecting you from a fall, and steep drop-offs occur in many places! 

On the summit of Big Rock Mountain you’ll find several strategically placed rocks forming a table of sorts on a level spot, perfect for a picnic. We have celebrated my birthday here with cheese and crackers, as well as taken a breather from the baby carrier; it is a safe spot for kids to run around, a gently-sloping playing field for a break from the steep sections. There are views, although the most spectacular views are from short spur trails on your climb up (though I repeat my warning about getting off-trail… some of these spur trails are used by climbers who are clipped in to safety harnesses!). 

Every time I hike this trail, I find a new view of Upstate SC to admire. While I am still on the hunt for the spur trail that will give me a view of the ‘mushroom rock’ chimney I once saw in a photo, I am grateful for these mountains that are right here in our backyard – no need to venture to North Carolina for blue ridge views! 

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