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Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008
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Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 07/21/2008 11:49:40 MDT Print View

Sleeps With Skunks and I headed out Friday morning for three days at Savage Gulf State Natural Area. We intended to hike a 22 mile loop out to Hobbs Cabin, then down into the Gulf, with a second night at Stage Road Campsite, and out past Savage Falls. But after conferring with rangers who were “almost sure” the springs at both areas were dry, we decided to change our plans.

We instead chose a loop with spurs on the northwestern edge of the area, staying at Alum Gap Camp first night, then Sawmill Camp (with fairly reliable water from the streams in the area) for the second.

We stowed a water cache 3/10’s of a mile in from the Greeter Falls parking area, then parked at Stone Door Ranger station and headed up the delightfully mellow 2.9-mile Laurel Trail to Alum Gap CS. We stopped just long enough to snap a picture at the old moonshine still site.

From there, we set up camp, hung our bear bag, and prepared to head (with nearly empty packs) the 1.4 miles to Greeter Falls and our water cache.

The walk down to Lower Greeter Falls is rather enchanting with multiple stairways, including an actual spiral staircase.
Spiral Staircase

SWS enjoyed a break and a view of Greeter Falls at the same time.
Falls View

The plunge pool was truly remarkable, deep and startlingly cold for a day in the mid-80’s. The falls on the far side were warm as they fell from shallow pools up top.
Greeter Falls plunge pool

After a luxurious swim, Skunks and I grabbed our water cache and headed back to camp. We enjoyed a dinner of freeze-dried lasagna with diced bits of fresh sausage links. Then I turned in to the comfort of my hammock.

I awoke about 2 AM and placed my thermarest pad into the hammock. Its wonderfully cool fabric (of 8 PM) had grown a bit chilly in the 65 degree air. With pad in place, I quickly returned to sleep.

The next morning SWS was happy to rise to a skillet breakfast of hash browns, with the last of the sausage and fresh scrambled eggs. Once we were packed and moving, we headed down the rocky trail into the Savage Gulf.

Two miles into the walk, we dropped packs for the half-mile side hike to Ranger Falls. Along the way, we encountered a bashful little rattlesnake who was polite enough to give Sleeps With Skunks a warning before it tried to hide itself under a boulder.

We carefully continued on, eventually arriving at the lightly flowing Ranger Falls.
Ranger Falls

By this point Skunks was debating options for walking out today. She suggested we drop packs at the next intersection and dayhike the 6.4-mile round trip to Sawmill Camp and back, then walk the remaining 1.8 miles up and out. I suggested we base the decision on how we felt once we arrived at the intersection.

The trail had been fairly rocky for much of the morning and it was becoming moreso with each step it seemed.
Rocky trail

By the time we reached the intersection, SWS was quite tired, and I wasn’t my usual spry self either. We were approaching noon, and temperatures were in the upper 80’s. While this was a full 10 degrees cooler than Nashville, it was still warm. Skunk’s blood sugars were very low (around 70), a condition she often experiences despite good nutrition while hiking at altitudes or in substantial heat. We stopped, ate, and rested a bit. Skunks only felt a little better.

At this point, we decided to cut the trip short here and simply hike up the steep .9 mile trail to Stone Door and out.

We took our time, and SWS took a couple of Gu’s. After 55 minutes, we finished the .9 miles and arrived at Savage Gulf’s famed Stone Door.
Stone Door

The area is popular for climbing and rappelling and today a group of about 30 was busy on multiple pitches.

We grunted up the last 100 feet and enjoyed the view from the top.
SD Overlook

From there, we walked the relatively benign and level mile walk to the ranger station and our car. We cleaned up and headed for home.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 07/21/2008 18:00:27 MDT Print View

I'll be down there around Labor Day weekend and it's always good to hear about the water situation, especially since last summer's drought hit the area so hard.
Thanks for the info and photos. I've noticed several of your posts recently and look forward to hiking some of the same areas. Keep 'em coming!

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 07/21/2008 18:37:50 MDT Print View

It will likely be September before my next report. The heat here is getting fairly nasty. We might do one short overnight at Longhunter State Park, on the southeast side of Nashville. Pretty much the entire route is on the edge of Percy Priest Lake, so we can jump in at any time to cool off.

Other than that, any thing in August is pretty much right out. Folks think we have year round hiking here in the south. Not true. For the most part, hiking season is September through June ;-) .

Edited by Bearpaw on 07/21/2008 18:38:54 MDT.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 07/21/2008 21:23:56 MDT Print View

I've done my share of fishing down at Longhunter, though I've never camped down there. I like it on Sunday morning at sunrise when I have the place to myself and the water on the lake is like glass. I'm in Hermitage, on the other side of the lake, so it's a short jaunt for me. Agreed with your comment about the heat. It will suck the life out of you, along with fluids, electrolytes, motivation, etc.
It was good to see in your post at Savage Gulf that it's 10 degrees cooler than Nashville. This is like south Florida during their summer, only without the ocean breeze!
FWIW, I recently picked up a book called "Hiking Tennessee" by Kelley Roark. I've been flipping through pages, in no particular order, and find lots of interesting places I'd like to see. I could live here for years to come and still not do all the trails in this state!

Edited by back2basics on 07/21/2008 21:28:38 MDT.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 08/02/2008 19:08:39 MDT Print View

Another enjoyable trip report. Thanks for showing off more of the great spots in TN.

Craig Burton

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Savage Gulf (Tennessee) July 18-19, 2008 on 08/09/2008 15:35:40 MDT Print View

Hey Shawn, great report as always!

That area looks great. I love the terrain of the Southern Cumberlands, and I wish I were a little closer to the area (I'm near Charlotte, NC). I remember being around the Chattanooga area on a family vacation as a kid growing up in Florida and I was amazed by all of the exposed rock in the area. At times I grow tired of all of the dense forest hiking I'm subjected to in NC, and I'd like to find some exposed areas in Southeastern Tennessee, but I don't know where to start. The Cumberlands is a bit too far of a drive for my short trips (I have a tendency of saving up vacation time for longer 2-3 week vacations, so between that and visiting my family in Florida I never have much time left for long weekends); so do you know of any areas east of the Cumberlands with similar terrain?

Any suggestions would be appreciated -- it seems you know Western Appalachia very well!

PS: This would have been a beautiful weekend for the backcountry (I haven't even turned my A/C on today!), but I leave on Friday for a three-week trip to Montana/Idaho/Wyoming, so an on-a-whim trip was out of the question this weekend as I prepare for my big trip this year.