Monday, May 07, 2012


Savage Gulf - South Cumberland State Park

Taking the north-eastern approach to the park, we arrived at the Stone Door Ranger Station before noon on Saturday and by 1215 had stepped off on our Savage Gulf adventure.  Within minutes of the trail-head we were nearing the sheer cliffs that make up the rim of Big Creek river gorge.  The views were spectacular from the bevy of overlooks facing south.  We encountered rappellers at these initial overlook sites. 

From the rocky overlooks we proceeded to the Stone Door, a 10-foot wide, 100-foot deep crevice that descends from the crest of the cliff to a rock shelf below; a natural wonder, worth the trip alone. Rappellers were using the Stone Door steps to ascend for another drop as we descended to start our hike.  Rounding the edge of the shelf we encounter a group of rock climbers with a climber on belay who was stuck to the rock face like a Spiderman in training.

The Big Creek Gulf Trail begins with a shale strewn descent into the gouge. The rains earlier in the day had left the stone slippery, keeping us ever vigilant of our footing.  Being overconfident, I found myself on my butt early on the trek, forcing me to keep my eyes glued to the stone path, negating my enjoyment of the terrain.  Using a series of broad switchbacks the trail descends 700 vertical feet to the Big Creek river bottom over the course of a mile.

The hike took use on a cross compartment journey modulating from root strewn paths to stone laden trails. We paralleled the dry, boulder laced, river bed for several miles.  At the junction of the Ranger Creek Falls trail, I dropped my pack, ate lunch, rehydrated and took a short nap, as my two hiking companions ventured up the dry stream bed and over the boulder fields to Ranger Falls.  They replenished our water supply at the falls and we were back on our way in about an hour.

From the trail fork the path climbs rapidly away from the river bottom 250-vertical feet to a large triangle shaped rock approximately 25 to 30 feet at it’s apex, then the trail dropped back to the dry riverbed and a sinkhole where in the wet months cradles a pool suitable for foot soaking.  From this point on, the hike become a job as you ascend out of the river bottom and up the face of the gorge.  At the onset the climb is gradual, but becomes steeper and steeper as you progress.  Once you see a series of erosion prevention steps dug into the mountainside, just drop your head and count your steps until you reach the summit.  The last half mile is a killer, no switchbacks, just straight up hill.

We made it the Alum Gap campsite with daylight left to burn.  After establishing camp, we collected firewood, and settled in.  My camping mates entertained me with their high tech camping gadgets, from solar panel cell phone charges, to super quick water heaters.

We slept in Sunday morning and got a late start for Greeter Falls.  Leaving the campsite we hiked west on the Greeter trail.  We rapidly came upon a series of overlooks before the trail took a northwesterly bend.  About a mile into the hike we crossed a swinging bridge over a small waterfall, then climbed up onto the escarpment and on to the entrance to the falls.  Here we descended several hundred feet over trails, steps, bridges and a spiral staircase to the base of the waterfall.  Greeter Falls was nice but the swimming hole was spectacular.
Clear, clean, and cold, the pool at Greeter Falls was the highlight of the day.  We took turns filtering water to replenish our supplies and wadding in the pool and tributaries.  The youngest and boldest of our group stripped to his skivvies and took a swim under the falls.

After return to Alum Gap we ate, broke camp, and headed out Laurel trail.  The trail was relatively level and void of notable scenery.  After arriving back at the ranger station, I packed up and headed back to Memphis, while my compadres reloaded to hike Savage Gulf Trail.

Highlights:  The Stone Door and Greeter Falls.
Route:  11.5-miles.

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