Monday, April 11, 2011

Backpacking in the Stone Door/Savage Gulf Area

Bill Kinnaman led our group of six for a one night backpack trip to the Stone Door in the Savage Gulf Natural Area. And, as everyone now surely knows, this was the Chronicler's first backpack trip. After much preparation, planning, reading, worrying, and pure-dee-ole' excitement on my part, we arrived on Saturday morning at the Stone Door Ranger station. There, we met Deborah, a hiker from Grassy Cove who joined myself, Bill, Monty, Donald, and Joe. We had spied a worrisome cloud overhead driving in, but by the time we walked the paved path and arrived at the Laurel Gulf overlook, it had disappeared and a vivid blue sky shone on what promised to be a muggy, hot day. In this picture, Bill was pointing out that we were headed to the farthest peak in the distance....ouch!
From here, the path soon led us to the impressive Stone Door, a wide crack at the top of the escarpment with stone steps that offers passage down the bluff.

Exiting the Stone Door and down a set of wooden stairs, we began a steep descent down a rocky trail before we reached the intersection for the Connector Trail. Right before this junction, we began to see a profusion of white trilliums and lavender phlox.

To the left, we followed the ridge up and down basically to find ourselves underneath the Laurel Gulf Overlook area as we continually descended into the gorge. (At times, a bit dicey as stretches of the trail seemed to have rocks thrown haphazardly like marbles dropped along the ridge!) One sturdy swinging bridge led over a dry creekbed before the trail reached another swinging bridge that crossed a beautiful, boulder filled creek with gorgeous falls.

Bill is the man!
By now the temperature had begun to bear down, the humidity stifled, and our gait had slowed accordingly while we worked our way across the gorge. We passed Cator Cabin and paused to gaze at the isolated spot, but probably the heat factor prevented any one in the group wanting to make the trek down. We finally crossed the bridge leading to the Sawmill Camp area and Bill wisely decided to have lunch near the water and have a rest before tackling the rest of the hike. (Besides that Deborah offered a bribe if he would let us have lunch by the water!)

During the break, Bill considered the heat and decided to head toward the closer camp at Stagecoach rather than Hobbs Cabin (about a mile closer). We took off in that direction, making it approximately 1/2 mile before the heat overtook one in the group and the decision was made to head back to Sawmill for camp. (One thermometer read 96 and aother 92...either way it was HOT! Carrying packs and climbing in that kind of heat can be dangerous so it seemed a prudent call).

Back at Sawmill, we soon found a great campsite. At a leisurely pace we set up tents, collected water, and after a while enjoyed dinner. (The novice backpacker had to rely on gentlemenly Joe to heat water for her noodles. Her sterno can refused to stay lit and a lesson was learned.) After good conversation, dusk turned to dark and one by one folks retired to their tents. The next dawn found Bill up early and soon the rest roused to have morning coffee and breakfast. By 8:40am, we were off to retrace our steps which made a big difference with the heat factor. It was a steady pace on the way back, with a stop here and there to catch our breath. We were gearing up for the cliimb up the Stone Door path from the Connector Trail that we had descended the day before. We paused at the intersection again before each took to face the challenge. Bill, being the great climber he is, greeted each person as they emerged from the Stone Door, and there we paused again before heading to the Ranger Station and the parking lot. 

On a personal note, the Chronicler heartily recommends making that jump from hiker to backpacker if you are at all interested. Many in the hiking group offered the use of  equipment, gave much-needed tips, and support. Over time, equipment can be purchased to collect gear that will make the experience more enjoyable. It offers the chance to be in the great outdoors on a much more intimate level. Yes, there can be some obstacles (like seed ticks-yuck!), but easily overcome and soo worth it.

Thank-you, Bill, for a great backpack experience and thank-you, Monty and Trish for the equipment you so willingly shared. Once again, I am blown away by the generosity and kindness of the members of the Chattanooga Hiking Club.

Here are a few other pics:

Donald with his stupendous pack!

Dwarf Iris

Purple Phacelia

The novice no more!

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