Cumberland Island Backcountry Adventure (Nov 2011)

The Big Picture: In early November, we took a small group to my favorite place in America: Cumberland Island, Georgia. I feel so lucky to live so close to such a fabulous place. Often, when planning a Cumberland Island adventure, I worry that I’ll someday get bored with the island. But after fourteen visits in the last nine years, I’m still hooked! On this trip, my goal was to introduce the participants to the basics of backpacking and camping and be their guide in exploring a place that’s close to my heart. Our group of six included four adults and two kids.

Chilly mornings: Though the weather report showed temperatures rising into the low-70s by the end of the weekend, when we woke up and boarded the ferry on Friday morning, it was cold! We bundled up and looked for warmth from the sun in the clear blue sky. Luckily, it warmed up by late-morning and we were able to take off coats, fleeces and hats. The fire kept us warm in the evening. But Friday night was cold and both of our adult participants woke up shivering (the boys slept like rocks, warm as bugs in a rug, somehow). We resolved to use hot-water bottles on Saturday night.

Living in Live Oaks: The live oak trees draped with Spanish moss that grow everywhere on Cumberland Island are the most striking thing when you arrive on the island. There is one particular tree growing about a mile from the ferry dock that I love to climb. When brought the boys to it, they got excited – and then scampered up into its knarled branches. For the rest of their stay on the island, the boys (particularly the 14-year-old) spent most of their time in trees. If his mom (and me) had not said “no,” I suspect he would have slept all night in a live oak above our tents!

The Beach: Perhaps this is a special place┬ábecause you can walk for miles on the Cumberland beach without seeing other humans? Maybe it’s the wild horses that we’ve several times watched strolling on the beach at sunset? Maybe it’s the amazing number of whelk and horseshoe crab shells that you can find? Maybe its the blue sky and calm ocean? Camping at Stafford Campsite is wonderful because it’s only a short walk across the dunes to the beach, where our participants spent a good deal of time.

Hike to an Abandoned Mansion: On Saturday, three of us took a 10-mile round-trip hike to Plum Orchard mansion – the winter home for the Carnegie family. When we were welcomed to the mansion grounds by wild horses…and by a ranger who led us on a tour of newly-renovated mansion. We had a relaxing lunch in the sun under the live oak trees next to the mansion’s white columns.

Hitchhiking on a Sailboat: Surprisingly, despite the long hike, there were 20-30 people at Plum Orchard. Then we realized that there was a regatta of sailboats from Jacksonville, Florida anchored in the Brickhill River next to the mansion grounds. While talking with some of the boaters, I asked if they would be willing to sail me back to the mainland – I’ve always loved strange hitchhiking stories. The captain of one boat gave a hesitant yes, but I didn’t push the envelope. But someday when I’m on Cumberland by myself, I plan to hitchhike back home on a sailboat!

If I could sum up this backpacking trip in three words, they would be: Tree-climbing, Horses, Exercise

To view more photos from this adventure, visit our Facebook page.