I sat at Rattlesnake Point, which at that moment seemed a rather ominous name for a spot so serene. As I sipped my morning tea, my view looked out over a sea of green waves beneath a clear blue sky. During the morning I had already walked through hemlock groves, marveled over Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids, and breathed a waterfall’s therapeutic atmosphere. Now I sat sipping tea and gazing down a forested gorge that was over 800’ deep and 5 miles long. This moment, this place, I wanted somehow to soak it in—to breathe and know this place with all of my senses. All I could do was sit and stare. I was enchanted.
This gorge is called Savage Gulf, and is one of many such gorges on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. I had camped the night before a couple miles away and had spent the morning exploring the area around Savage Falls, a 30’ drop on Savage Creek. All I could think about now was how thankful I was and how good it felt to be a part of this landscape. I had come to begin a quest, a new journey, to explore and breathe deeply of wild places.
A few months earlier I had committed to make room in my life for more backpacking, to make a conscious effort to get out on the trail regularly, to recognize I was created to be nature’s celebrant and reorder my priorities accordingly (see “Sauntering in a New Direction”). I had even resigned as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 17, because—although Scouting had me camping on a near-monthly basis—I was burned out from all the details and responsibilities of the job. Although Scouting gave me over a decade of introducing young boys to the outdoors, it also ironically kept me from my own dreams of outdoor adventures—especially backpacking. In preparation and as a commitment, I completely overhauled my kit to bring my pack weight into the ultralight category (my pack for this weekend was 19 lbs., including food and 2 liters of water). With my wife’s encouragement, I began penciling in trip dates on the calendar. I’d taken several long day hikes for conditioning, and now this trip to Savage Gulf was my first trip on this new journey.
From my vantage point over the gulf, I thought about what draws me to wilderness. Why was I here? Beautiful views like Savage Gulf are reason enough to hike. And there’s no doubt the physical challenge of backpacking is good for me. But the attraction to wilderness is clearly more than the fun of exercising in scenic places. I was here for reasons that are hard to understand, let alone explain to someone else. I was here to connect with—commune with—wild nature, and I was here for intangibles only found abundantly in wilderness: silence, solitude, simplicity, timelessness. I know I must return to these ancient forested gorges soon and regularly. With this one hike behind me, I know my journey has just begun. In all seasons, and in all kinds of weather, I need to be in wild places. For my sanity, for my soul, I need them. Wilderness is a spiritual necessity.
Below are a few photos from the trip.
Access to these pictures and a few more can also be found here at Flickr.
|Camp at Savage Station|
|Trillium catesbaei (Catesby's Trillium)|
|Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Columbine, Wild Columbine)|
|Savage Creek just above the falls|
|Savage Creek just below the falls|
|Cascades just above the falls on Savage Creek|
|Cypripedium acaule (Pink Lady's Slipper, Mocassin Flower)|
|Viola hastata (Halberd-leaved Yellow Violet)|
|Rattlesnake Point looking into Savage Gulf|
|Savage Gulf overlook on the North Rim Trail|
|My bedroom for the night at Hobbs Cabin Campground|
(Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Solo Tarp & Serenity Shelter)
|Rubus argutus (Southern Blackberry)|
|Conopholis americana (Bear Root)|
|Calycanthus floridus (Sweetshrub, Carolina Allspice)|
|Polygonatum biflorum (Smooth Solomon's Seal)|
|Dry bed of Savage Creek (the creek itself runs underground here)|
|Selfie at overview looking down Coppinger Gulf|
|Rhododendron canescens (Mountain Azalea)|
|Viola pedata (Bird's-foot Violet)|
|Hypoxis hirsuta (Yellow Stargrass)|