One of the pleasures of visiting in the Southeast is going to places I have heard so much about. Yesterday I went on a hike with the Oconee Hiking Club to the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel.
I drove to the Seneca/Walhalla, South Carolina area and met several hikers led by Martha Roberts, a dynamo hiker and great leader. She was also my host. The Stumphouse Tunnel is on land owned by the city of Walhalla.
When the land was threatened by commercial development, the city and conservation organizations stepped in to protect the area.
The tunnel dates back from before the Civil War. It was meant to be part of a shorter railroad route from Charleston, SC to the Ohio River Valley. Before that, you could only “get out” by bypassing the mountains. So construction went well, until the route hit the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several tunnels through the mountains were proposed.
In 1856, Irish workers were brought into the area to do the hard, rock splitting work. They lived on top of Stumphouse Mountain in a town called Tunnel Hill. I understand that nothing remains of these dwellings. They excavated about a third of the tunnel distance, ran out of money, and ran into the Civil War. A couple of other tunnels were started. We visited them all on a five-mile hike, or so.
You can get to the main tunnel by walking a few hundred yards. You then walk in the tunnel in the dark until you hit a wall. This is not like the “road to nowhere” – there is no way out. We saw the other tunnels on the hike but they’ve sunk in.
Some people may know of the tunnels because Clemson University close by ripened their blue cheese in the tunnels until the 1970s. But the area isn’t well visited except for locals.
The other highlight in the same park is Isaqueena Falls, a bridal veil-type falls. The overlook is a few feet from the parking lot but we scrambled down to the bottom on a makeshift trail. You couldn’t get this picture from the overlook.
Then a completely different area where we walked to the Chauga Narrows. Walking along the chute was scary. It was wet and slippery and one wrong move…
In the evening, I put on my NPS Centennial shirt and talked about national parks with a very involved audience.
Thank you to Martha and the Oconee Hiking Club for inviting me.