Savage Gulf Backpacking

For four days, from April 24-27, we took a group of 12-14 year olds from Counterpane School to Savage Gulf in Tennessee. So much happened in these four days that I won’t be able to truly summarize the trip in one blog post. We swam and waded and crawled through caves and cooked “hobo meals” and struggled across boulder fields and gazed at majestic waterfalls. We complained and joked and laughed and sang (kind of–Andrew never could convince the group to do karaoke).

dsc02469Savage Gulf is a little-known “Natural Area” on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. There are over 50 miles of interconnecting trails, of which our group hiked 25. We started at the Stone Door Ranger Station, from which the trail led us through the Stone Door–a 100 ft deep, 10 ft wide cleft in the rock clift that has been used for centuries by people wanting to enter or exit the canyon. dsc02475Though we started at 3 pm, the hike went smoothly, punctuated by a cold dip (prompted by a slip by Anna) in Laurel Creek. But we arrived in camp just before dark and that’s when Dana and I remembered that only 2 hikers on this trip had ever been backpacking with us before. How could we teach wood-collecting, fire-building, tent-pitching, bear bag-tossing, and water-gathering and purification before it was dark? So, for the first time in awhile, Dana and I collected all the fire wood, filled all the water bottles, and threw all the bear ropes into trees. The girls started the fire (necessary for the hobo meals – aluminum foil wrappers filled with meat, potatoes, and veggies – that we were supposed to eat that night) using sticks and toilet paper (again, not my preferred method).

Dinner was great, but as I went to bed I wondered if I had sabotaged the kids’ learning of wilderness skills by doing too much and not expecting as much from them this evening.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. By the last night, Linus and Anna hung the bear bags by themselves, Andrew and Graham purified all the water, and Mackenzie, Lacy, and Kira started the fire using only a lighter and items they found in the woods.

This weekend was special because there was no chance of rain for the whole 4 days. We were able to relax in the woods, get soaked in the creeks and rivers, and even wear an article of cotton clothing without worry of hypothermia (or even discomfort). As a result of the 80 degree temperatures, we spent a great deal of time playing in the water. At the Collins River, the kids even asked to hike BACK 1/2 mile to swim in the river a second time! Here are some photos from the river:

dsc02583dsc02584dsc02575Not everyone was excited about jumping in the water, but we were all at least able to put our feet in here and there to cool off. (And each one of us slipped in at least once!)

dsc02489The trip was not without its share of difficulties. The second night, camped at Collins East campsite, our site was infested with ticks. Linus began count that evening and ended the trip having found over 45 ticks on himself! Though we all had a similar number crawl on us, Dana had only three tick bites and I had two. I haven’t yet heard the result of the post-trip tick-checks, but I suspect we all got off lucky. Oh, and did I mention the poison ivy? Somehow, though we tromped through it constantly, no one broke out. Thank goodness the mosquitoes hadn’t hatched in mass yet.

We saw multiple rattlesnakes. In fact, one student even told me, “Those first two days, I was hoping to be bit by a snake.” “Why?” I asked. He replied, “I wanted to get out of hiking! But,” he continued, “I see now that it was worth it.” I will take him at his word and am VERY thankful to avoid snakebites.dsc02592

Though most of the hikers had low times during which it was all just “too hard or frustrating,” this was a special trip in that every difficult time was balanced by a fun, relaxing time. And we all came home liking (or at least tolerating) each other!

I was reminded that even the slower hikers are strong. In fact, hiking in the rear of the group is often harder than being in the front because of longer amount of time spent with your pack on. I was thoroughly impressed by this group of students and hope they will all have the confidence to undertake another such hike again in the future.

We’ve just created a Facebook page for Sure Foot Adventures. I uploaded all of the photos from this hike and will continue uploaded photos from previous Sure Foot hikes. You can visit our Facebook page here.