“10, 9, 8, 7, 6,” an automated voice was counting down. We were 10 miles up a dirt road, high atop Jumping Off Rock overlooking Lake Jocassee in Pickens County, South Carolina.
It was Monday, August 21, 2017 and the Great American Eclipse was about to begin. An eclipse app on the phone of man a few rows behind me continued its count, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Beeeeeeeep.” And just like that, at 1:09 pm, the eclipse began. Did it? I couldn’t tell by looking at the sun.
But a few minutes later, I saw the darkness of the moon slowly creep onto the upper right of the sun.
We had quite the adventure before the eclipse even started. We’d arrived the night before to find about 20 people in the area where we hoped to watch the eclipse. By the time this day was through, that number would reach over 100.
People had come to South Carolina from all over the country. I drove down from Maryland and met people who live 20 minutes up the street from me. There were 2 couples from Washington, DC and someone from Virginia. Lots of people from all across South Carolina came to Jumping Off Rock for not only the beautiful scenery, but also for more totality. The time of totality, when the moon fully blocks the sun, was longer in this area than nearly anywhere else in the country. We were set to enjoy 2 minutes and 10 seconds of this phenomenon.
The appearance of a celestial collision slowly continued as we met new people who had just arrived, chatted with our new friends, and soaked in the view around us.
The sun was nearly overhead, at about 70˚ or 80˚, and clouds began to move in as the day continued. Would we have clear skies for totality? Did we drive all this way, then up a mountain to look at some clouds?
We snacked. We talked. We snapped photos. And we waited.
The sky grew darker but it was hard to tell if it was the rain moving in or the sun disappearing.
Finally at 2:38 pm and with a perfect break in the clouds, it happened. The crowd cheered! Someone started playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on their phone. I looked around the horizon – it looked like sunset. The lights on the boats below us turned on. We couldn’t see any stars, but there was a lot of cloud cover in our area.
After having a look around, I grabbed my binoculars and looked at the sun. The white wisps of corona, the sun’s upper atmosphere, took my breath away. In the video below you can hear me whisper, “wow…” The beauty of what I saw is indescribable. The video is great, but looking at the sun through a pair of binoculars is mesmerizing.
As the sun began to reappear, the guy next to me said, “I thought totality was supposed to last over 2 minutes!” “It did. I started filming at totality and I’ve been recording for nearly 3 minutes now,” I replied. “It felt like 10 seconds!!” he said. It really did! It happened so fast. I immediately got out my phone and looked up where I should go for my next eclipse.
The next total solar eclipse in the United States happens on April 8, 2024. After my experience with the Great American Eclipse, I will do everything I can to make sure I’m in the path of totality for that one too. Click HERE for a map of the 2024 eclipse.
Did you see the Great American Eclipse? Where were you? Share your experience in the comments below.