Sunday, November 14, 2010

Savage Gulf Overnight Trip

Saturday morning was devoted to Mr. C's soccer game, so Jimmy and I didn't hit the road until about 11 a.m. Originally, when we talked about hiking part of South Cumberland State Park, we'd considered covering the roughly 8.5 miles to Hobbs Cabin on day one. However, with limited daylight and an unfamiliar trail ahead of us, we aimed lower, instead shooting for the Dinky Line camp area about four miles in. To get to camp, we made our way up the east side of the Savage Day Loop (2.2 miles), took a right onto the North Rim Trail (0.3 miles), and then connected up with the North Plateau Trail (1.4 miles to camp). On the GPS capture below, our path on day one can be traced by starting next to State Hwy 111, following the track up the right-hand side, and reaching the thumbtack (waypoint) placed at the camp site.

Savage Gulf Trip
Click on the thumbtacks below for photos from those spots.

After registering at the Ranger Station for a site, we made good time to camp. On the way, we crossed several suspension bridges and wound our way through both low-lying foliage and more sparsely vegetated woods. We were a little disappointed to learn we'd be sharing the camping area with a Boy Scout troop, but we were at least able to secure the site furthest away from the noisy boys. We pitched tents quickly and set about scrounging for fire wood. Just down from our site, a 10" diameter fallen pine was perfect fire material, but I'd forgotten my saw, and the entire tree was a little tough to budge. Lesson learned on the saw.

Click photos to enlarge.
Later, with fire blazing as we finished our dinners, we quickly found out why you should obey the carry-in/carry-out policy at South Cumberland. Yes, there are environmental concerns, but perhaps more immediately, the Rangers lurk. I'd already read on a discussion board that the park Rangers there tend to pop out of nowhere and even monitor the trails at night. Sure enough, just as one of the people in our party (hint: it wasn't me) decided to burn a Mountain House aluminum pouch, a Ranger waltzed out of the darkness and into our camp. After we showed our permit, Jimmy strategically stoked the fire while I attempted to engage the Ranger in conversation and hold his gaze. Meanwhile, the offending lasagna pouch continued to sizzle and flutter. We did procure some good intel about the next day's hike, and luckily, we weren't issued a warning or ticket for a flagrant fire violation.

The night brought rain, and in the morning, we had to forego a leisurely breakfast in lieu of a quick pack-up. Slurping down water and scarfing energy bars, we cut west across the short Mountain Oak Trail which connects the North Plateau Trail to the North Rim Trail. Based on the Ranger's information, we were expecting spectacular scenes right away, but it wasn't to be. Fog had rolled in with the rain, and visibility was severely limited. As we traced the North Rim Trail southward, we began to wonder if we were going to see down into the Gulf at all.

In a number of spots, the North Rim Trail bumps up to the bluffs and allows for sightseeing into the Gulf. Finally for us, the fog lifted, and we were treated to some great scenery of the canyon, its rugged cliffs, and the late fall foliage. Though the wet weather made the rocky outcroppings slicker than usual, we edged out to a number of overlooks and took in some amazing panoramic views. One particularly excellent vista held a plaque noting how Samuel H. Werner and his wife Ellen Young Werner bought 3800 acres of the land in 1924 and protected it until it became a state natural area in 1974. To this monument, I would like to add a postscript: thank you, Samuel and Ellen.

With the same scene as a focus, Robert H. Mohlenbrock's "Through the stone's door" (Natural History, November 2002) traces the early development of South Cumberland's geology and provides a taxonomical breakdown of its flora. Mohlenbrock writes:

Viewed from the air, Savage Gulf looks like a giant footprint, with five deep canyons radiating from a central point. The canyons—or gulfs, as the local people call them—are each about five miles long and 800 feet deep and are rimmed almost continuously by sheer sandstone cliffs. ... Savage Gulf has been carved out by the Collins River as well as by Big Creek and Savage Creek. All these streams flow underground in places, though when the rain gets heavy, excess water is forced across the surface. Many miles of trails give hikers access both to the top of the plateau and to the streams below; several trails lead to overlooks of scenic waterfalls.

Our hike took us past one such waterfall, Savage Falls, so we dutifully trekked down a side path to the designated vantage point. My first reaction was that it wasn't very savage (see video below); only a thin stream of water cascaded off the rock face, though I imagine that more flow could make Savage Falls an impressive display. However, since Savage Creek looked inviting and since I needed more water, we decided to detour onto the South Rim Trail and visit the creek and falls up close. I rocked hopped down Savage Creek while Jimmy followed the trail down to the falls, where we snapped a number of pictures and enjoyed the rocky scenery.

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