I was a bit tentative as I started this trip to Savage Gulf. For over three months, I’d been fighting a severe bout with bronchitis that flared into walking pneumonia. This condition killed a section hike of the Pinhoti Trail in March, and after two rounds of antibiotics, I was still not feeling 100%. So I planned on three relatively easy days to let my battered lungs adapt.
I also planned to hike the few remaining miles of trail I had not previously completed in Savage Gulf State Natural Area.
I started out at Collins Gulf Trailhead, meaning a rocky first 1/2-mile in either direction of the intersection.
Once past the rocks, the trail on the rim turned to relatively level, smooth hiking packed with Mountain Laurel and Flame Azalea.
The area has been subject to severe drought the last couple of years, but the rainiest spring in some time left all the streambeds flowing solidly.
Once I reached the historic Stagecoach Road Trail down into the gulf, water began to dry up. The gulf is home to hundreds of sinks, sinkholes where water flows underground. Dry streambeds are the norm, though you can sometimes hear water flowing underneath them. As the water disappeared, scouts emerged, heading uphill, a dozen of them asking about water on the rim. They were happy to hear about the abundance there.
8 miles and change into the walk, I hit the Connector Trail which leads .4 miles down to Sawmill Campsite.
There, I ventured up the .3 miles to Schwoon Cave and spring, the water source for the campsite, then set up my hammock and tarp.
I ate, read, and rested for the night, reflecting that I was much stronger than I had been just a week earlier after hiking shorter distances near home. The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock was new and I fell completely in love with the right side footbox which eliminated any pressure at the knees.
The next day, my plan was to hike up the Connector Trail to where it reached Big Creek Gulf Trail. I had not hiked this portion of the Connector Trail before.
Sights included the old Cator Savage Cabin and a perhaps the biggest suspension bridge in the entire Natural area.
The walking was relatively easy with just my tiny daypack and I moved with much more strength than I would have imagined. I arrived at the intersection for a quick snack before heading back the way I came.
I arrived back from the 7-mile round trip by 11:30. Now I had to make a decision. I had planned to relax for the rest of the day and hike the 4 miles out in the morning cool. But I had felt so much stronger than expected that I chose to pack up and walk up the rocky ascent back to the trail head in the afternoon.
I made excellent time the first couple of relatively flat miles and very much enjoyed the chance to cool off at Horsepound Falls.
After the falls, the real climb began, up a series of switchbacks, often strewn with rocks. I had been ready for this, so I simply ambled on up, stopping for extra breath for my beat-up lungs whenever I felt the need.
As I arrived at Suter Falls, I discovered a quirky bridge, small waterfall, and HUGE rockhouse as I headed up the last ½-mile to the trailhead.
As I walked the last few hundred yards, I swung through Collins West Campsite to enjoy Collins Gulf Overlook.
Other than a bit of chafing and soreness from three months with very little hiking, I felt great. I had finally hiked all marked trails in Savage Gulf and was none the worse for wear. The summer was off to a good start.