My fiancee and I had long planned to return to Savage Gulf and complete the figure-8 we'd begun the previous Thanksgiving. However, when she injured her finger and came down with flu nearly simultaneously, she bowed out of the three-day trip. The result was that I changed plans to do the loop in two days. Thus, I set off on Sunday to explore life down in the gorges of Savage Gulf State Natural Area.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
I stepped off at 8:45 with a temperature around 16 F. I moved quickly up the Day Loop Trail to stay warm and because the level trail made for easy hiking. Still, my beard iced up fairly quickly.
I quickly turned down the North Rim Trail and crossed the suspension bridge over to the South Rim Trail. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the frozen Savage Creek.
I was even more taken with the frozen Savage Falls down the long staircase.
As I continued on the next four miles, I moved quickly and easily under my light pack. I stopped for a quick lunch at Stagecoach Road Campsite. I enjoyed hot cider with water from my thermos, a Snickers bar, and a bit of leftover Christmas fruitcake. A small scout group was milling around their campsites working on building a fire to stay warm, but they paid me no mind. Then, quickly stripping off my down jacket and thick fleece hat, I relayered in my wind gear and got moving again.
After a mile, I joined the Stagecoach Historic Road Trail. It headed down a rocky grade with a small stream alongside.
As I headed down the rocky grade, I couldn't help but think I wouldn't want to be in the stage rumbling along this road, even in its heyday.
Over the course of the next half-mile, I passed a string of probably 40 boy scouts heading uphill. I chatted with with the dozen or so little groups they had broken into along the way. They were actually two different troops that had pretty much filled Saw Mill campsite down in the valley the previous night. Despite a night that had almost certainly hit single digits, they seemed to be in good spirits for the most part. It seemed that none of them were cold now that they were well into the uphill climb out of the gorge.
Finally I arrived at the intersection with the Connector Trail. I was about to begin my own uphill walk out of the gorges.
I was looking forward to filling up on water at Savage Creek, 1.7 miles before Hobbs Cabin, as I remembered the source there as being in rough shape the last time I had stayed at the cabin. But as I approached the rather large suspension bridge....
I realized Savage Creek, which was flowing fast and strong in frozen beauty up top, had sunk completely underground here. The creekbed was bone dry.
I walked downstream a few hundred yards, then upstream another 300 yards or so, looking for a small pool down in the rocks I could draw from. But after 45 minutes of searching, no luck...
Dejected, I began the uphill trudge out of the draninage. The steepness was not bad for the first 3/4 miles, but then I hit the "Grey Mile", a .9-mile stretch of boulder and rocks that would persist until I finally reached the North Rim Trail at Hobbs Cabin.
My day's fast moving slowed dramatically.
I stopped and checked a couple of frozen seeps to see if they would offer any flowing liquid water, but only found muddy puddles at the bottom of leaves. Just as I finally cleared the gorge, I found a small flowing icicle near the intersection to the side trail to Hobbs Cabin. I decided that if the spring at Hobbs was still scuzzy, I would return here and fill my pan slowly, but with enough to drink comfortably tonight.
At 3:30, I walked the last couple of hundred yards to Hobbs Cabin, home for the night.
A father and son were already there, and debating what they would do next. They chose to gather firewood while I investigated the spring. It was frozen, but a large rock broke the two inches of ice and I lifted a huge sheet up to open the way to the pool. From there I waited several minutes for the silt to settle again and I began filling my nalgene, straining the water through a bandanna. It was still filled with silt, but not nearly as much as I had found in November at the tail-end of the drought.
When I returned to the Cabin another father and two sons had arrived. I actually knew these three as I had helped outfit them at REI a few months before. They admitted to somewhat regretting not taking my advice to lighten up a bit, but were still happy to be out and hiking.
I began building a fire inside to warm the cabin, while they started a fire at the ring outside. My little fire was going and I was boiling water for dinner when they asked if it would be OK to break out their radio. I said sure and on the front porch they tuned in to the NFL playoffs. It was a different sensation to listen to the Packers and Giants slug it out while I ate and tended to the inside fire.
Finally I settled to read and sleep, on the floor near the fireplace. It was a wonderfully comfortable night's sleep with the others apparently tending the fire throughout the night. When I woke in the morning, my thermometer read 8 F. Inside, it was a joyous 42.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I packed up quickly and was moving by a bit after 8. I pushed quickly down the North Rim Trail. Normally flowing water sources were still frozen.
At the Mountain Oak Trail, I turned north to explore this trail we had bypassed in November. The trail was level and forest largely free of underbrush, allowing me sun-dappled views over 200 yards, a real novelty in this region. Half-way up the trail, I reached the Big Tree Spur Trail, signed nature trail of about 1/2 a mile built as part of a Boy Scout Eagle Project in 2000.
I was very impressed with the quality of the tread, the benches along the way, and the signs for a number of very prominent older trees.
Once I returned to the Mountain Oak Trail, I continued quickly to the North Plateau Trail and fired down a snickers and water at Dinky Line Campsite. I was pleased to note the temperature at an even 30, the warmest of the trip.
Then I blasted off, joining the North Rim Trail for .3 miles, then heading out on the Day Loop Trail again. I finally reached the ranger station and my truck just around 11:30 and headed home.