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Here is one of the most Glorious Local Backpacks! Cumberland Island Wrap Up, November 15-18, 2013

December 9, 2013

The participants make the outing! Susan, Cheryl, Gail, Lenora, Butch, Howard, Barry, Dan and Andy would make this outing one to remember with their grace, warmth and friendliness. There was lots of laughter and good will. One of the rewards the outings staff has is community building through outings. Dan, Gail, Paula and I are grateful to have been associated with so many neat folks on outings. We were sorry Paula had to drop out at the last minute for her sister entered Hospice Care.  Susan would comment later “what a wonderful group of people.” There was a nice blend of the experienced and not so experienced including one teenager. The weather was mild and rainy at times, and two full moon night hikes to the beach were exciting and exhilarating.

The Satisfied Hearty  Group of Backpacker's a Trips End

The Satisfied Hearty
Group of Backpacker’s on a Trip’s End

I picked this middle November weekend because the weather is typically cooler but not extremely cold. My concern would be wind whipping off the Atlantic, and significantly chilling participants. Groups can not build fires in the wilderness portion of the National Seashore.  Bugs on the Island can be ferocious, and I felt the cooler air would ward the insects off. My assertions would prove correct…minimal bug problems and perfect camping weather..mild during the day and slightly cooling in the evening.

Gail at the National Seashore Visitors Center and Ferry Launch

Gail at the National Seashore Visitors Center and Ferry Launch

Dan exiting the ferry at Sea Camp

Dan exiting the ferry at Sea Camp

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Although wild horses are exciting to witness, they do significant damage on coastal grasses, thus damage native habitat

Although wild horses are exciting to witness, they do significant damage on coastal grasses, thus damage native habitat

The ferry ride from St Mary’s to Cumberland Island in itself makes the trip worthwhile. The boat travels at a brisk speed along the St. Mary’s River through with tidal marsh on both flanks and gulls and pelicans flying in the distance. The trip takes about 45 minutes, and the day was mild to cool with overcast. We were able to spot some wild horses on the bank as we moved along the shore of the island. We were forced by the Cumberland Island National Seashore back country protocol to wait until we arrived to nail down an itinerary. I knew we would be at Sea Camp the first night. Sea Camp was excellent for this group, for all had driven up that morning from central Florida. In retrospect a better plan would be to camp at Fort Clinch State Park the night before to alleviate the stress of having to make the ferry in time. The beauty of coming up Friday morning was that the only people seeking a back country permit were a couple and our group. Our group were enamored by Hollis the NPS ranger A and his talk on back country permit and protocol. How refreshing to see someone who thoroughly enjoys his job as a servant of Nature! We were able to quickly move to our site and set up. As a soft rain began to fall, some of our group went to survey Dungeness Ruins, a mansion built by Andrew Carnegie, later flattened by arson. We made a nice fire, another advantage to staying at Sea Camp the first night. The group would reassemble to have dinner of pasta and pesto with shrimp. Lenora and Howard were enthusiastic cooks, with Howard jumping in to assist.  That evening by the fire I gave an inspiring talk about  John Muir, the founder of Sierra Club. Included in my talk was a section from his essay “On the Brink of Yosemite Falls, ” where he traverses the lip of slippery Yosemite Falls. On my sea kayaking trip with  Outward Bound in the spring the OB leader Trish would give an inspiring talk about Kurt Hahn  the founder of Outward Bound. I think that was is excellent idea, and hope to incorporate more John Muir or other conservation heroes talk in our outings.

Great to have families on outings to serve as bonding experiences...Lenora and Suan

Great to have families on outings to serve as bonding experiences…Lenora and Suan

Lush green maritime forest contrasted with the deep blues of the ocean and sky is soul riveting!

Lush green maritime forest contrasted with the deep blues of the ocean and sky is soul riveting!

Saturday was a slow start, mainly because our breakfast was labor intensive. Susan and Gail were patient with the chopping and sauteing, and Butch found a way to warm our tortillas for Huevos  Rancheros. I like the ideas of fresher foods the first few days of a backpack.  In the future I am going to have the breakfast crew up earlier, so we can get a quicker start to the day. The nice thing about the island is that the hikes are easy, and the trail well marked. We were to do the five miles from Sea Camp to the first wilderness site Hickory Hill. The trail takes one through a sea of saw palmetto understory covered by a blanket of oaks. The  green lushness was striking, and one would think there may be something to the term “maritime forest.” There are several places where the beach is easily accessible from the trail. In fact we had a leisurely lunch on the beach near Stafford Beach Campground. I was surprised that the group ate all of the cheese, salami, bean dip, and Garden of Eaten Chips. Chocolate after meals always seems to be a winner.

Break time in the forest with Cheryl and Howard

Break time in the forest with Cheryl and Howard

We marched on to Hickory Hill, a non descript site just off the trail. Later in the trip Gail would comment that a more workable plan would be to base camp a Stafford Beach multiple nights, then day hike to the various highlights of the island. I learned from my last Sierra National trip in Wyoming, that participants can be quite fond of base camp and day hike. After a dinner of vegetable curry, Barry, Howard and I made a 1.2 mile  jaunt in the dark to retrieve water . The group then took a full moon hike to the beach along the Willow Pond Trail. Several times we lost the twisty windy trail, and this leader found himself sinking in mud on those occasions. It appeared as thought the trail was back and forth paralleling the beach, meandering through a swamp. There was some noticeable yearnings from some folks to go back, but folks like Cheryl and Barry were excited and motivated to continue. We were rewarded on the beach with a striking evening sky scape amidst a moon reflecting off the surf. The walk back was a soothing stroll through the moon licked pines and oaks. We were amazed that 12 year old Lenora had stayed in the camp herself and had not been frightened to be solo in the woods!

Headed to Lunch on Stafford Beach

Headed to Lunch on Stafford Beach, Butch and Cheryl in front

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Barry and Lenora prepping Lunch on a palate on Stafford Beach

Barry and Lenora prepping Lunch on a palate on Stafford Beach

Sunday we decided to day hike to the Plum Orchard Mansion, anther Carnegie mansion built in the late 18th early 19th century. Several participants decided to stay in camp and rest. Plum Orchard was built by Carnegie, all of the materials shipped from the north.  Along the way we noted that Yankee Paradise backcounty campsite was far from paradise having  with water issues, bugs and no scenery. We were fortunate to be able to walk up to the mansion and have a tour. We were  amazed by the architectural ingenuity of Carnegie, for example a cellar with a long trough in the middle to cope with rising water and a high aquifer.While in the mansion it began to rain, and when we came out the rain had abated. We enjoyed the hike back, a mild overcast misty day, very enjoyable hiking. Some of the trail is on  a boardwalk though a swamp. Back at Hickory Hill we enjoyed artichoke dip and walking carrot salad then made our way back to Stafford Beach. Once there we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. Lenora made a fire, and some went to the beach. My highlight was body surfing in that cold water in the Atlantic. More incredible conversation around the fire marked by Dan and Gail’s sense of humor with Cheryl’s laughing, along with pea soup and sweet potato casserole for dinner. Another moonlit walk to the beach. A glorious day in Nature’s lap.

Jusat love those misty rainy days on the trail....Barry, Howard, Cheryl, Butch and Dan in front of Plum Orchard

Just love those misty rainy days on the trail….Barry, Howard, Cheryl, Butch and Dan in front of Plum Orchard

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Arriving at the Staqfforod Baech site, Cheryl Butch, Lenora, Andy and Barry

Arriving at the Stafford Beach site, Cheryl, Butch, Lenora, Andy and Barry

Monday we walked back along trail, the easy 3 miles back to Sea Camp. We encountered human conditioned wild horses on the trail. Some of the group thought Dan was going to bare back one of the horses to  Sea Camp! We were happy to get to Sea Camp and eat our breakfast. We enjoyed the closing minutes of our trip near the launch and ranger station, waiting for the ferry back to St Mary’s. The ferry ride was glorious in the overcast sky  and slight cool air.

Dan, Susan and Howard look ready for some AT action!!

Dan, Susan and Howard look ready for some AT action!!

Andy Quinn

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