Trip Report from Magellan
Late Summer 2015
Paycheck and I headed off for a three day weekend to backpack at South Cumberland State Park. The plan was to start at the Savage Gulf Ranger Station, hike to Hobbs Cabin the first night, then drop down and hike across and up to Collins West, then take the rim trail back around to the car again.
As of September of 2015, there is an online registration system to reserve backcountry sites at South Cumberland as well as a small fee per site. Also, Collins East campsite is permanently closed, though it still shows up on the maps.
We started out with no troubles, taking the Savage Gulf Day Loop trail until it connected with the North Rim Trail. It was a beautiful hike in, many overlooks and a couple of swinging bridges broke up the long walk (map says 9 miles, GPS said 11). We carried 2 liters of water in bladders each as well as a liter water bottle each. We drank our bottles down and started in on the bladders. The second stream we crossed had a good flow of clear water, so we stopped and had a snack and topped off with treated water for the rest of the hike in.
We arrived at Hobbs Cabin, I was pooped! The trail was not difficult, just long. The trail was well marked with white blazes, side trails have blue blazes. I thought this might be troublesome since every named trail is blazed white, and there are many named trails, but there are signs at each intersection and there’s never a doubt as to which trail you are currently on.
We planned to camp, but the cabin was empty, so we decided to set up the tent inside. There are 6 bunks, but they are narrow and have little head room. There’s enough floor space for a 2 man tent, no problem.
We had a cold dinner, neither of us had the energy to haul out the cooking gear and face all of that! We did bear bag our food and hang our packs on pegs on the porch with all the zippers undone. Mine was fine, but Paycheck’s TP stash was mouse bedding the next morning!
We made our hot dinner from the night before and enjoyed some pasta and veggies for breakfast as well as hot tea. We cleaned up and packed up, topped off our water at the spring-after terrifying some frogs! I swept the cabin and we bagged the shredded TP in with our trash. Paycheck signed the register and we enjoyed reading some previous entries. We hauled out our map and decided to alter the plan for the day, instead of going all the way to Collins, we opted to turn at Saw Mill and take Stage Coach up and camp at Stage Road. Here’s the map again:
I am not sure what the protocol is now, with the reservation system in place. We called the ranger station and told them of our plan change, since we had signed in with the Collins plan.
That connector trail down was CRAZY. Do you see how it’s nothing but switchbacks? Makes it seem like we’d be going downhill, right? hahaha. It took us 4 solid hours of hiking to get to the bridge. According to the map, it was 1.9 miles from the cabin. The turn to Stage Coach Road said it was 3.2 miles from Hobbs Cabin, GPS said 6 miles. It took us 6 hours to reach it. I was suddenly VERY glad we did not have another 5 miles ahead of us to get to Collins, we had made the right call making the hike shorter.
We hiked from Hobbs Cabin to nearly the top of the gulf on Stage Coach before we came across any more water. We were down to about a liter between us, having decided to resupply at Saw Mill camp, then deciding to head up to Stage Road since it was less than 2 miles at that point. This was a bad decision, in the future, we will top off where we know there is water instead of where there SHOULD be water. We got lucky, but it was really dry and we should have been more careful. If the kids had been with us, we would have been more responsible.
The climb up Stage Road required a few huffing stops, but the grade wasn’t too bad overall. I was more tired from going down the Connector Trail, that was some work!
We arrived at the campsite and I stretched out on my tarp, glad to be still for a bit. I started setting up camp and Paycheck went off to find water but was unsuccessful. There was a spring marked at the camping area, but not the location. We looked at the map for a minute or two and I realized everyone but us would approach the camp from the ranger station side and sure enough, the spring was in that direction. We gathered enough water to sponge some of the sweat off, changed into dry clothes and crashed. It was not even dark.
The next morning, we had only a few miles to the car, 6 or so, so we made our hot meal from the night before AND had our lunch for that day as breakfast. Hiker hunger on day three! We had our breakfast meal bars as a snack when we reached the falls, so it all worked out just fine.
We topped off our water before heading out of camp and enjoyed the trail out, which was nearly flat! Although it was another ‘rim’ trail, the views were all along side trails so we only detoured for a few peeks, then decided to get in some miles and stop a while at the falls.
The trail map said our path was around 20 miles, the GPS put it at 30. I am calling it 25. It’s hard to get a solid signal down in the gulf, but I do trust the readings along the rim trail where it had steady connection the whole time. I think the maps need updating!
In all, an excellent trip. We learned a few things-always top off when you can, dinner is just as good for breakfast, hiking on paper is much easier than hiking with a full pack (we relearn this one every trip!). Even quick dry clothes do not dry when it’s 99% humidity. Electrolyte powder is a good idea. Stop, snack, rest a bit and reconnect with your hiking partner every couple of hours. Ask about their feet. Decide together if you need to alter the plan. A headband or bandanna to cover ears in gnat season in a MUST. I used gaiters and did not get chiggers, Paycheck came home eaten up and we did not backpack again that summer because it took weeks for the swelling to go down and to not itch like crazy.
I don’t attract biting bugs (ticks, mosquitoes) as readily as many, so we are not sure if it was the gaiters or my lack of metabolism/body heat that saved me. All I know is, I am not going with the gaiters!
If I were to do this one again, I’d do Hobbs Cabin as a loop and not drop into the Gulf at all. It’s a long and pretty hike, well worth it’s own trip. Plus, I’d like to see the plateau trail, I hear it’s flat!