(Pickens County). Sassafras Mountain, which lies along the South Carolina / North Carolina border, rises to 3,554 feet above sea level and is the highest point in South Carolina. While the summit is privately owned, it is included in the Appalachian Trail system and is a prime site for hikers. The mountain and surrounding areas contain miles of trails from which to view majestic mountain streams, waterfalls, and exposed rocks that give evidence of the area’s geologic history.
The geology of Sassafras Mountain reflects millions of years of plate tectonics. It lies within the inner Piedmont belt and is thought to be part of a continental fragment that attached or even reattached North America during the Middle Ordovician at a time of continental collision and mountain building called the Taconic Orogeny (mountain-building episode). Metamorphism continued during subsequent collisions in the Devonian period (Acadian Orogeny) and in the Pennsylvania to Permian periods (Alleghenian Orogeny). During these episodes North America collided with the European plate (Baltica) and the African plate, respectively. These collisions, which generated tremendous heat and pressure, transformed sedimentary and igneous rocks into schists and the distinctive Henderson gneiss that underlies Sassafras Mountain. The gneiss is a large, lens-shaped igneous intrusion, or pluton, containing folds and textures that reflect a long history of intense pressure and heat from the collision of these landmasses. The region is also thought to have undergone extensive Mesozoic extensional faulting and later isostatic uplift from the Oligocene to the Miocene. These geologic processes caused active stream down-cutting and the resultant modern scenic gorges and waterfalls that surround Sassafras Mountain.
Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
Murphy, Carolyn H. Carolina Rocks! The Geology of South Carolina. Orangeburg, S.C.: Sandlapper, 1995.