Wednesday, October 10, 2012
This would be my toughest day. I knew this ahead of time. 12 miles, entirely down in the rocks of the gulfs. But I also knew I would enjoy many great rewards, including four waterfalls, an historic cabin, a small cave, and my wife and daughter waiting for me at Collins Gulf Campsite.
I stepped off and headed down Big Creek Gulf Trail in yet another damp, misty morning with occasional sprinkles. While my ankles screamed with stiffness and tenderness, they grudgingly carried me down the rocky descent. Big Creek rumbled along beside me as I made my way.
The stream seemed huge compared to the trickle I remembered from four years earlier. Dramatically, the whole creek disappears at Big Creek Sink. The creek forms a large pool here, actually swirling like the water in a huge bathroom sink, draining underground.
Just above the sink, a small waterfall adds to the underground pool.
From this point onward, Big Creek was a boneyard of rain slicked boulders. Half a mile later, I reached the ½-miles side trail to Ranger Falls. Along the way, I took a fairly dramatic fall. I tucked into a sideways position that protected most of my body, but sacrificed my right elbow and knee. Thankfully, the abrasions and bruising were relatively minor and I headed on to the roaring Ranger Falls.
Then I headed out, quickly reaching the intersection with the Connector Trail. I now headed east, again scrambling over its three bridges and many rock. This time, I made the ¼-mile side trip down to the historic Decatur-Savage Cabin.
Dewey and I took a quick lunch on the porch here, getting out of the occasional sprinkle of rain.
Then I packed up and headed on, joining the Collins Gulf Trail at Sawmill Camp, just after crossing the Collins River bridge.
The next four miles would carry me 1000 feet higher, back up to the rim of Collins Gulf and my family waiting for me at Collins West Campsite. But first, I would take the ¼-mile climb on the side trail up to Schwoon Cave and Spring.
Once there, it took a bit of rock scrambling to reach the actual spring, back behind the boulders that formed the waterfall.
Then I stepped back to the trail and the gradual climb. I was treated to another abrupt sink, where Fall Creek disappeared into a cave.
Another short uphill grunt brought me to the side trail down to Horsepound Falls, on the Collins River. I was again struck by the intensity of the flow here, just a trickle in 2009.
And the final two mile opened up before me. Sometimes, the trail was smooth and level, sometimes rocky and uphill. But the miles melted away, bringing me to the massive overhang of Rocky Point and the Himalayan “disaster”-style ladder bridge over Rock Mountain Creek.
Dewey complained that there was only supposed to be one person at a time on the bridge, and I should send him over alone, then cross. Eventually I convinced him it would be safe for both of us. I also snapped a shot of the falls of Rocky Mountain Creek.
Then we proceeded along the trail, hugging the wall of the Rocky Point.
Then I pushed up the last few rocks to the intersection of the Collins Gulf Trail and the Collins West access trail. Another 200 yards and I was walking the blue-blazed Collins West Campsite loop. 2/3s of the way around, I found our tent set up, but no sign of my wife or daughter. I dropped my pack and told Dewey to watch the camp.
I then headed up the .4 mile access trail to the parking lot. Halfway there, next to the site’s spring, I found my wife carrying our daughter in her child pack and pulling a second load of gear in a stroller. I pulled the stroller the rest of the way back to camp. Once there, my daughter pointed out that we were in campsite 4.
We finished setting up camp while our daughter played in the glorious dirt. By around 6:30 camp was set up and ready for the night.
The weather was still cold and overcast. I finally changed into my cleanest, driest clothes and we discussed options. Neither my wife nor I were in the mood to gather wood for a fire. We both decided to eat out for the evening. We loaded up our daughter and hiked out to the car. From there, we retrieved my truck from Savage Gulf Trailhead and found a diner with a high chair for our daughter. It wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, but it was so good to just sit in a warm dry place.
Afterward, we headed back to Collins West, walking in by headlamp. Our daughter was tired in a happy kind of way, and she went to sleep pretty quickly once we got back. My wife and I chatted for a bit, then headed off to sleep ourselves. It had been a long, tiring, cold, somewhat painful day, but it had ended decidedly well.