Hiking the Collins Gulf West Trail in Savage Gulf
The start of the hike was on a cool March morning. The time change had not happened yet so our hike would need to be paced so we could get out before dark. Six miles are all it was supposed to be. There would be waterfalls and spring flowers and a beautiful valley to hike through…and one whopper of a big hill to get up. I felt confident that the six miles would be completed way before sundown.
I was wrong.
Not checking the park website to verify the information I had gotten from a hiking website. You see, a lot of the hiking websites have information uploaded by regular ol’ people.
Sometimes people get the information wrong.
Sometimes that wrong information can put someone in dire straits.
ALWAYS check the official website for park info.
I had been to this trail the year before to check out a waterfall and a bridge. On that hike, I first went to the waterfall and then double backed to go over to the bridge. The way that leads to the bridge has a long boulder field with small rocks and took forever to get through. You will need to know that for later in the story.
Lisa and I got to the trailhead and I had fixed up one of my extra day packs for her so she would have a full bladder of water. I didn’t think the hike was long, but I did know it was going to have some difficult areas and that she would need water. She had brought her own backpack and two bottles of water. She turned down my offer of the bladder, insisting that she had plenty. At this point, I didn’t know what to do. I knew two bottles would not be enough, but I don’t like to tell adults what to do. So, I said, ‘ok, have it your way’. Worst case, I could always share my water with her. I had 3 liters and I never actually drink that much. I put the pack back in the car and we started down the trail.
About a half mile into the trail she stopped and bent down to tie her shoe. When she did the water bottle she had in her backpack pocket leaked out all over the ground. She looked at me with an ‘oh, crap’ look and also a look of ‘please don’t say I told you so.’ I told her I had plenty and not to worry about it. I filled her bottle up with some of mine and off we went.
We got to Suter Falls in no time at all. Suter is gorgeous. There is a narrow path that leads down to a metal bridge that is in front of the falls. We stayed there for a long time taking pictures. It’s just one of those spots you can’t hike on through. You HAVE to stop and take it all in.
Once we were through there we hiked on and started down into the valley. Everything was fine. The sun had really warmed us up and it was a beautiful day. On the way down to the valley we met a group of four hikers. They were on their way to a campsite. We talked for a few minutes and they went on past us.
Next stop was Horsepound falls. This was a smaller falls, but was pretty just the same. Here I decided to lose the thermals I had on. And Lisa, a yoga instructor, wanted me to get pics of her being silly with some yoga poses. I took all the pics of her with her camera. We stayed there for quite awhile taking pics just like we had done earlier at Suter. Again, we took too much time doing that. We would pay for that in just a few hours.
We left Horsepound and walked in the valley along a beautiful creek. We stopped over and over to take pictures not realizing we had been lollygaging a bit too much.
We strolled along and before we knew it we had caught up with the family that passed us earlier. They had already set up their camp. We spoke as we walked on by and as we passed, the man asked if we had a flashlight. Flashlight? Darn it. I usually carry one but I didn’t think I did this time. He ran over and gave me a tiny little light and said ‘you’re going to need this.’ Huh? Really? I said ok and thank you and we went on our way. Soon we were hiking up Stagecoach Road (which is a dirt trail). This is a very steep section of the trail that will lead you back into the woods at the top. It was while we were hiking up this section that one of Lisa’s knees began to hurt. It’s also when I realized the trail was not six miles long but twelve.
Two young men passed us on the way up Stagecoach and spoke for a minute and then went on. It flattened out at the top but Lisa’s knee was really starting to bother her. I didn’t say it outloud, but I was thinking ‘Doesn’t matter. We have GOT to get moving to get out before dark.’ I am going to say that at this point it was probably around 4 or so. We went on into the woods crossing over several little creeks. This section was so pretty but we couldn’t stop to enjoy it. We were on a mission. I realized about thrity minutes or so on this section that Lisa was moving even slower. She said her other knee was now hurting. We were moving incredibly slow. Like .3 miles an hour slow and the sun was setting quickly. All we had for light was our cell phones and the little flashlight the man had given me. The flashlight was no longer than my index finger and I was praying that it had a fresh battery.
I turned around to watch the sun setting behind Lisa.
There we were in the Savage Gulf in the pitch black with the tiniest flashlight I have ever seen to get us out.
I wasn’t sure how long she would be able to go. I told her that I knew if we got to the big bridge that we would be about a mile from the car. Remember, I had been there the year before. What I didn’t tell her was that past the bridge was the boulder field. Also, what I think is the hardest part of the trail.
We would walk a few feet and stop. Over and Over again. The weird thing was I wasn’t scared. Worried for her, yes. I wasn’t thinking of bears or bobcats or bigfoot. I was just thinking that we had to hurry up. Temperatures were beginning to drop as well. She had worn a light jacket. I had not.
I would run ahead and see if I could find the bridge and run back. Over and over nothing. Finally, after a couple of hours of barely making any progress she told me she could not go any further. She was done. We were next to a large boulder that had space in the middle of it. She suggested that we just hunker down and stay there for the night. I knew that wasn’t going to be possible. I was freezing. We had to get out of there.
Off and on we had cell service. I took our phones, leaving her by the boulder and ran back up the hill we had just come down. I was able to get service. I finally got through to her husband who was none too happy with the situation. I asked him to call the rangers station and gave him the info on where I thought we were. I told him we were not lost, but that her knees had just locked up. I hung up with him and finally got my husband and told him to do the same. After I hung up I heard Lisa calling my name and I ran back down to her. And there, standing with her, was a lady ranger. She said, ‘We’ve been looking for you two.’
Because we had not returned to our car they checked the hiker registry and they ran a check on my tags. Also, the two men that had been on the stagecoach part of the trail with us were camping at the first campsites nearest the parking lot. When it had gotten late and they had not seen us they called the rangers. They were looking for us long before our husbands had called.
It ain’t over yet.
The ranger called back to a couple of guy rangers that were on their way in as well. She told them that Lisa was not able to walk and would need assistance. The ranger said that the big bridge I had been looking for was literally right there and that Lisa was going to have to try and walk herself across it. With her help we got her over the bridge. I knew now we weren’t that far from the parking lot, but, as I stated before, I also knew she could not do the next section. We sat down and waited for the men to arrive. Lisa told the ranger that she felt like it was her IT bands on her legs that were the problem and that they were really hurting. The men arrived and one got on either side of her. They would lift her legs and walk a few feet over the boulders and then put her down to rest. They did this several times when they finally called it. They said there was no way just the two of them could do it and would have to call for rescue.
It’s about nine o’clock.
It was cold.
They called in for rescue. While we were sitting there I told them that I was going to go ahead and try to get back to the car. I was freezing and had no jacket. Lisa did have one and I felt like she was in good hands. She agreed and was ok with my living her and trying to get back to the car. One of the rangers gave me his headlamp and off I went.
In the dark.
It felt like it was taking forever. At this point I had been hiking for over 12 hours. The adrenaline was finally wearing off and I was now feeling my own leg pain and exhaustion. I would walk 10 minutes and stop to rest. It was eerie. It was so quiet. I saw not a single animal. Just complete stillness.
After several minutes, maybe even an hour or so, I saw some headlamps coming towards me. Not just one or two but, about 24. And just like that they got to me and asked how far she was and I couldn’t even try to calculate it. I said the usual hiker answer “mile, mile and a half’. I know. Bad. It felt like ten since I had left her and I honestly had no idea how far. The trail of eager young men who seemed to live for this sort of thing zoomed on past me with a contraption called the wheel. It is basically a gurney with one wheel on the bottom of it in the middle.
Once again, I was in the dark and alone.
I finally made it through the rocky area and back on regular trail. I could hear Suter falls rolling down the path that I passed to go back to the car. I sat down to rest. My legs were starting to really hurt. I needed to rest but rest made it worse when I would get up to walk. I pressed on and finally made it back to the car.
There was a fire truck there. Oh , yay. I am just glad there were no news crews. A fireman that was up there handed me some water. I got in my car, turned it on, cranked up the heat, laid the seat back and TRIED to get some sleep. I was going to have an almost three-hour drive home and I knew I couldn’t do that without some type of nap.
I think a couple more hours passed when I heard a commotion outside that woke me up. There was a pickup truck that had Lisa in the back strapped down to the wheel. Apparently they had backed the truck down the trail as far as they could go.
I jumped out and ran over. The men got her out of the truck and carried her over to the car and gently put her in her seat.
The ordeal was over.
I felt horrible. I could not believe that I had completely, foolishly went by what a hiking website said.
This was a very hard lesson learned. I am thankful for all the help we had along the way. From the man with the flashlight, to the guys hiking up the trail with us, to all the rangers that were looking for us and for the volunteer rescue team that came out. It was amazing to see how it all came together. Of course, it took a couple of days to ‘see’ it all. This could have turned out so much worse.
Twenty-four hours after I left my house to go on the hike I walked back through my front door and fell on the bed and slept for hours.
The next morning I contacted the owners of the website ( a VERY well known website) and told them what happened and that they needed to update the mileage for the trail. Within fifteen minutes it was updated.
Be Safe and remember to always check the park websites for info!