Cumberland Island Backcountry Experience (Feb 2011)

Our season of Cumberland Island trips is now over and what a season it was! This winter, despite the snow in Atlanta, we had blue skies and mild temperatures every day on on the island.

We saw wild horses, dozens of armadillos, turkeys, a couple alligators (from afar, thankfully), and very few humans. We combed the beach for horseshoe crab shells, sting ray and whelk egg sacs, razor clam shells, and of course, sharks’ teeth! We hiked on trails and beaches. We collected wood and built fires. And we climbed trees!

Our February trip was the first backpacking trip for Toby, one of our participants. I love introducing people to backpacking. People often feel that camping is outside their comfort zone, and therefore rule out backpacking entirely. However, our camping and backpacking adventures only differ in how far we have to walk. And it’s a fabulous feeling to know that you are walking into the woods with all you need on your back.

Having backpacked with kids as young as seven, I know that the first day of hiking is never easy. Most kids haven’t carried twenty pounds on their back for 3 miles. We stop a lot and the adults often have to coax the kids along.

This was true on the February’s trip, too. Toby’s mom whispered to me, “Are we going to have to go this slow the whole time?” And we did for awhile. But after a day of backpacking and an evening of sitting around the campfire, storytelling, and beach combing, this 9 (almost 10)-year-old kept a steady pace for our whole hike, showing off his new confidence as a hiker and backpacker. I love watching kids discover their natural abilities.

And the best story from the weekend demonstrated this beautifully. All weekend, I had been talking up “my favorite climbing tree” to the group. When we arrived, I remembered that the first stage of the climb is a good five feet above the ground. Not easy if you are only five feet tall! To not disappoint him, I told Toby that I’ve never seen anyone his height be able to climb this tree without a boost (which is true). I assumed that would give him an “out” to be able to ask me for help. Instead, he took it as a challenge, working on climb for 20 minutes while the adults talked. And then, all of a sudden, we heard, “I did it!” And Toby was in the tree, proudly looking down at us. He immediately jumped down and showed us, with ease, the method he had figured out to climb the tree. Very impressive!

Our time on Cumberland island was a ton of fun. Russell, a new Sure Foot guide, came along to learn the Sure Foot system. You can look forward to camping and hiking with him in the future. And though we had only one family join us on this trip, we once again had a blast. As usual, I told quite a few stories (the group heard my entire repertoire of Jack Tales). Fire building was a big hit, too. Toby and Russell worked together and were able to create a roaring fire using only one match.

But what this trip will be remembered for was (of all things) horseshoe crabs. Barbara and Toby found so many horseshoe crab shells that it was unreal. They collected larger and larger crab shells on the beach, until they finally found one so big (and so old) that they were able to discard the others, knowing that they had found the “big mama.” But because they found this crab shell near the Stafford Beach campsite, we had to carry it back to Seacamp – 3.5 miles of backpacking. Luckily, Toby found some netting (see photo) on the beach and he and Barbara were able to fashion a shell-carrying device for the back of Barbara’s pack. The crab shell came back without a tail, but otherwise it made it back to Seacamp intact!

And to top it all off, before we left the island, Russell discovered sea turtle skeleton, which we spent some time investigating. Though my previous trip to Cumberland was all about the land animals – horses, armadillos, and deer. This trip was all about the sea creatures. I love the diversity that is Cumberland and I can’t wait to be back there next fall!