The Trails Less Traveled: Hiking Slickrock Creek Trail #42 in the Nantahala National Forest
Spending time in nature can be a gentle, relaxing and rewarding experience full of soft, shady forests, warm, glowing sunsets and soft breezes rustling through fields of wildflowers.
It can also be an insanely challenging obstacle course where you’re totally devoid of time & technology, are crossing swift-currented creeks and treading over slippery, sometimes invisible trails where snakes may or may not be falling out of the trees.
My friend Roger Upton, aka Carolina Trekker, loves all of it. He’s spent his whole life exploring the natural wonders in North and South Carolina. Although he’s never done a single asana in his life, Nature is still a very yogic experience for him: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I had to find out more about what he learned from his hardest hike yet: Slickrock Creek Trail #42 in the Nantahala National Forest - one of the top 10 toughest trails in the nation. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did and make sure you follow Carolina Trekker on Instagram for beautiful landscape photography, trekking advice and occasional hiking meet-ups!
Namaste & Have A Great Day!
A little bit of Roger’s background:
I grew up in a very rural area near Pacolet, SC that straddled Spartanburg and Cherokee County. We called it “the country.” I went to college at Limestone College and North Greenville University. I’m a Regional Manager with a well-known non-profit that concentrates on creating jobs for people with barriers to employment, namely unemployment. I am also a freelance writer, photographer, and graphic artist.
How did your love of hiking & nature develop?
As I mentioned, I grew up in a very rural area on my family’s co-op farm. Most of the acreage was heavily wooded with hills, gullies, boulders, streams and a large lake. With nothing else to do, we naturally explored our surroundings. I spent most of my days hiking through the woods, following game trails, learning to identify and exist with flora/fauna, learning to navigate and wayfind, climbing trees, hillsides, and boulders, and generally soaking in nature. This was definitely the biggest influence on my love of hiking and nature. I look back now that I’m older — it was pretty idyllic.
How long have you been hiking and what keeps you coming back to nature? I’ve been hiking since I could walk! If you mean strapping on a pack and lacing up the boots — my late teens. As soon as I was able to drive, I started expanding my hiking horizons and began exploring more toward the mountains and trails of SC/NC and kind of went from there. I keep coming back to nature because it feels like home to me. I have a sense of wonder in nature that I can’t find anywhere else.
How does nature affect you physically, mentally, emotionally? Spending time in nature recharged me in every way. Even a tough hike is rest, in a sense, because I’m out there drawing energy and refreshment off nature. Being in nature grounds me and keeps me balanced. It’s where I can think and sort through things. It also affects me spiritually. As Muir said: “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God than in church thinking about the mountains.” At least he was honest. I’ve often said nature is my church. Some people will get it, some won’t.
When did you find out about this trail and how long until you were able to actually hike it? I found out about Slickrock Creek Trail a couple of years ago through an old Outside Magazine article. I began doing some internet research and discovered it is universally considered one of the toughest hikes in North America. That intrigued me. I researched and planned for about a year before hiking it.
What were the top three challenges and top three rewards of hiking Slickrock Creek Trail #42 in the Nantahala National Forest?
1. The physical demands. The Slickrock Creek Trail is only 13.3 miles long one way, but there are over a dozen creek crossings, absence of a defined trail, and the last few miles is a straight up climb with few switchbacks. Not to mention the endless rocks and roots — they didn’t name it “Slickrock” for nothing! We also hiked it in mid-July, so the heat and humidity was brutal. 2. The mental demands. This trail will break you down mentally in a short time. You’re constantly wondering if you’re on the right trail since there isn’t always a visible trail. The wilderness also gets darker and more dense as you go deeper into it, so that plays on the mind. Also, since you’re not always sure where you are, you began to wonder when it’ll end. Because the hike is slow, it affects your perception of time and position. As physically demanding as it was, my hiking partners and I all agreed it was even more mentally demanding. 3. Finally, the fact that the trail is not a traditional hike, but an obstacle course that gets harder and harder.
1. Being able to say I challenged and completed one of the “holy grail” hiking trails in the nation. Not for bragging rights, but for the personal sense of accomplishment. 2. Being able to spend two days in one of the most remote wilderness areas in the country. It was peaceful, pristine, and beautiful. 3. Seeing some of the historical reminders that humans can’t always tame nature. There were historical artifacts along the entire hike: old pieces of railroad and logging equipment that were rusted and being reclaimed by nature. Humans tried to log this area long ago, but nature didn’t allow it. That was pretty cool to see evidence of that.
What personal insights or realizations did you have while out in that wilderness?
I never feel like a legitimate hiker. I always feel like I’m not that strong or that capable. I struggle with doubts about my abilities. This hike proved to me that I’m legitimate and capable. It also enforced my resolve to leave nature natural. Aside from the occasional rusted cable or rail, the wilderness was pristine and peaceful. We need to work hard to preserve that.
What advice would you give to each: beginner, intermediate and advanced hikers?
Beginner - Work your way up to longer, more challenging hikes. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Learn to read a map and use a compass. Always pack extra socks! Intermediate - Invest in better, longer-lasting gear, especially footwear and backpack. Advanced - Stay humble.