Tuesday, October 9, 2012
I arose to a chilly morning. Even so, I was ready for a longer, considerably tougher day of walking than I had made the previous day. I knew from much experience that any travel down into the gulfs means rocks comparable to the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail. It also means drier conditions in many cases, because the bottoms flow into tremendous underground sinkholes. Nearly all the suspension bridge crossings are over deep, bone-dry streambeds. A pause on a swinging bridge gives a thirsty hiker the tantalizing sound of water flowing down beneath the rocks. This phenomenon would be a regular companion over the next two days.
After breakfast, and another cool, slightly misty morning, I stepped off. I immediately walked onto the Connector Trail, seven miles of rough rocky trail that runs nearly the whole east-west length of the Savage Gulf complex.
I’ve termed the first mile “The Grey Mile”, a savage jumble of bowling ball style rocks with an occasional white blaze to mark the trail.
Fortunately the Grey Mile is mostly level, paralleling the North Rim Trail about 100 yards up above it. While requiring some careful footing, it does not require much in the way of dangerous ascent or descent. Near the end of the Grey Mile, a shattered tree welcomes the hiker to a slightly easier section of trail.
Then I began a series of mild switchbacks to the edge of Savage Creek. Here, the rocks begin again. They claimed most of the tendons in my wife’s right ankle four years earlier, an injury from which she spent 14 weeks recovering. I carefully made my way to the bridge over the dry bed of Savage Creek.
From this point, the trail eases up considerably in difficulty. There are small climbs and plenty of rock, but nothing as severe as the first couple of miles down from Hobbs.
I made good time, pushing past Sawmill Campsite, 3.5 miles into the Connector Trail. I bypassed the historic site at Decatur-Savage Cabin, knowing I would head this way again on Wednesday. I crossed three more suspension bridges, finally stopping six miles up the trail, to grab water at Laurel Creek.
I wolfed down lunch here, ready for a good climb out of the gulf to the Stone Door. I began the uphill half a mile later at the intersection with Big Creek Gulf Trail. The sun briefly popped out as I reached top of the gulf, looking up through the crack in the massive rock face known as the Stone Door.
Once at the top, I pulled on my jacket to cut away the chilly wind and snapped at shot from the expansive Stone Door Overlook.
I then moved back into the cover of the treeline, grabbed a snack, then stepped off on the last 3.2 miles to my day’s destination, Alum Gap Campsite. It would be an easy, mostly level rim walk, complete with four nice overlooks along the way. Despite the trail’s ease, my legs and ankles were feeling the stress of walking rocks all day long. I arrived, tired but satisfied, just after 4 pm.
I knew I was there when I saw the sky blue privy found at every designated site in the Savage Gulf complex. This one sported a sun roof.
The afternoon was somewhat warmer than the previous day with occasional bits of sunshine peeking through. I took advantage to lay out my wet, sweaty clothes so they could dry a bit. Then I set up my camp.
Another good dinner and evening of reading followed. Alum Gap Campsite is only three miles from the Stone Door Ranger Station and trailhead so I was not surprised to have a bit of company, with two other groups camped there. But I ultimately enjoyed a quiet evening that led to a good night’s rest.