Cumberland Gap Memorial Day Weekend

11:04 a.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm going to be backpacking Cumberland Gap at the end of May and I wanted to solicit feedback from the forum on the trails there and just the area in general that time of year. I've camped and hiked before, but this will be my first backpacking trip of any length and distance.

What I've done:
Made reservations for backcountry campsites.
Begun training, walking and hiking with a heavy pack.
Obtained topographical trail maps.
Spoke with park rangers about expected weather and trail conditions.
Used my new gear (backpack, tent, etc) in real-world situations

What remains unknown is what others think of the trails there. How strenuous are the trails? How much ground should a backpacker expect to cover? The campsites are few and far-between so the necessary distance to cover each day isn't up for debate, but it would be nice to know if those distances are considered reasonable by people who do this often. Right now my sample size for opinions and information regarding the area is 1; the park ranger. I'd just like to hear what others have experienced there, notable or not, and what I generally may need to consider as a first-timer that I may have overlooked.

Thanks!

1:26 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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I hope bumping this once isn't a big deal. Still looking for feedback on a backpacking trip to Cumberland Gap. We're 7 weeks out as of Friday.

10:22 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey yock,

Sorry man I've never been there. I'm assuming you're talking about Cumberland Gap Historical National Park. I have in the past been able to search the Internet for other peoples trail reports for such areas.

I did so for this area and found this:

http://www.backpackcamp.com/CumberlandGap.html

http://www.cumberlandtrail.org/
http://www.outragegis.com/trails/category/cumberland-gap-trails/

http://www.southeasternoutdoors.com/public-lands/state-parks/cumberland-trail/index-cumberland-trail.html

Also if you have not yet acquired a trail guide (book) for this area, or one that includes this area I would highly recommend getting one.

Here is one, a Falcon Guide to hiking Kentucky, you will have to check and see if it covers Cumberland Gap:

http://cgi.ebay.com/A-Falcon-Guide-Hiking-Kentucky-:-Michael-H.-Brown-%28Paperback,-2007%29_W0QQitemZ341468635571QQcmdZViewItemQQimsxZ20100405?IMSfp=TL100405197004r3328

Here is another that states it covers part of the Cumberland area:

http://cgi.ebay.com/A-Falcon-Guide-Hiking-Kentucky-:-Michael-H.-Brown-%28Paperback,-2007%29_W0QQitemZ341468635571QQcmdZViewItemQQimsxZ20100405?IMSfp=TL100405197004r3328

As far as planning for travel time in areas new to me, here is my personal rule of thumb:

If the trail is rated "Strenuous" or "Difficult", I allow 1 mile per hour. If the trail is rated "Moderate" I allow 2 miles per hour.

Many times this works out, allowing me time to take short breaks, keep up with my location on the map, and enjoy the hike without it turning into a death march trying to get to the campsite before dark.

Once in the area I will often modify my plans if I determine I can make better time.

In areas I have been to before it is a lot easier of course, you will probably find that to be the case as well.

Wish I could be more help, I hope you have a fun & safe trip!

11:52 a.m. on April 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks for the links, Trout. Some I've seen, some are new to me. I actually bought the OutrageGIS guide a while back and it's what I used to plan our trek.

3:55 p.m. on April 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Good deal! Bring us back some photos, I've love to see the place.

10:07 p.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Planning to head down there next week. Planning a 3 day trip from Pinnacle to Gibson Gap to Chadwell Gap, and then exit at Ewing. LAst year did the Gibson Gap trial to Gibson Gap campground leaving from the National Park Campground. That trail is a dandy for a starter - a lot of switch backs, 2000 ft ascent in short order. Once you are on the ridge the going is pretty nice. Trail was well maintained. Water can be difficult to source, but there is a source close to each campground. Don't miss the Wellsley settlement. I found a good review of a hike from Ewing to Pinnacle on www.backpackcamp.com Really helpful. Rangers thought we could do Chadwell to the National PArk campground in a full day - 8 - 6. We are newbie hikers as well, and that 11 mile jount seemed a bit much - more of a work out than an enjoyable hike. But doing 6-7 miles between camp sites is not bad. Bears are around, but are really more fearful of people than most you will find in the Smokies. Nice hike, not crowded, bear cables in use, so enjoy. The only thing to make sure is to get a clear understanding of where the water sources are.

1:00 p.m. on April 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks, dealmaker. We're hiking the opposite direction, electing to climb in at Ewing, camp at White Rocks, Chadwell Gap, Gibson Gap, and exit down the side of the mountain rather than climb to the Pinnacle. I guess you could say that I'm concerned about the climb on day 1, but we aren't trying to go any further than that out of the gate.

8:37 p.m. on May 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Yock: Just got back. Had a great trip. Additional maps, and useful on elevation can be found at www.outrageGIS.com

We did Pinnacle to Gibson Gap on the first day, then to Chadwell on Day 2 and finished in Ewing.

The spur between Ewing Trail and the Ridge Trail at White Rocks is .8mi and is steep. The climb up from Ewing is a consistent climb but not terrible, with plenty of places to rest. It will be a good climb, but very manageable. The alternative is to add mileage and stay on the Ridge trail to Sand Cave and backtrack. The trails are well maintained (actually met the crew in Butcher Gap). I will say, the EWing to White Rocks is built primarily as switchbacks, so again plenty of rest spots.

We did not visit the White Rock Camp sites, but have read it is pretty small.

Water was pleantiful. At Gibson, there is a spring, under Rhododendrons, NE of the campsite, down an unmarked trail. Campsite is pretty baron. We got water at Hensley Settlement maintenance shed for our Chadwell stay. Hensley to Chadwell is about .6mi one way, but completely level. You will be having a rather nice "up" going into Chadwell. BTW, the Chadwell campsite, is not real level, Hensley camp would have been better, but it is a horse site. You might want to check with the rangers when you check in whether to expect horses, and if not, you might want to use Hensley.

the elevation "loss" to get down to Sand Cave was surprise. It is a steep 250 ft, but the waterfall is a nice bonus.

Bear scat was "plentiful", but we didn't encounter any bears. Just some deer. Bear cables were in each campsite. "latrine/outhouse in Gibson was a mess but Chadwell was fine, except raspberry bushes had covered the access trail.

Have fun. Let me know if you have any questions.

7:39 a.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Aren't the OutrageGIS maps great? I bought those a couple months ago when I first confirmed we were going.

How was the water quality at Hensley? It's potable, but I've read at least one story of it being somewhat reddish, which I assume means iron oxide (rust) from the pipes. That's my only planned and, according to the ranger, "guaranteed" water cache. The time heading into June starts a dry season in the mid-Apps so those springs you used that have been fed by the recent rains might not be wet when we go.

I've read plenty about the "scramble" up to White Rocks. I'm a heavy man, but one way or another I'm getting up to the overlook with my camera, tripod, and a snack. If I understand you correctly, the route around the Ridge Trail near Sand Cave allows you to comlpetely avoid this section. Is that correct?

It's good to hear that you didn't encounter any bears. I still plan on carrying bear spray on the trail. I expect that the rangers will be able to warn us of bear activity when we check in as well.

Not to be overlooked, I'm glad you had a great trip! Will we be blessed with a trip report from you sometime soon? =)

10:50 p.m. on May 8, 2010 (EDT)
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Yes, you do avoid the rather steep - but doable - scramble on the other route. The trail is also better on the other route. It's the normal call - do I "suffer through" the steep assent for .5mi, or pace it over a little longer gradual up. The elevation change is the same. Once on the ridge the view from the White Rocks is good. Our day was bit hazy with rain heading in, so we didn't see as many raptors as some, but it was still good.

The water at Hensley is a bit "brown", but taste is okay, and we had no problems. We treated the water at Gibson that we took from the stream - great taste and ice cold.

The bears here are reported to be pretty skitish of humans, so not many direct sightings. But I would encourage a little "trail music" as you walk by rhododentron thickets, which will be in bloom. (I would think).

Also, there are raspberry bushes everywhere. Too early for us, but maybe you'll have a few ripen. That would be a nice treat.

The outragegis maps are great. Wish I had one last year. We would have avoided going up the Gibson Gap trail which is primarily a switchback route. The elevation change was a lot steeper than we had thought. Once I saw it on the outragegis map, I knew why it was a good "test".

7:36 a.m. on May 10, 2010 (EDT)
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That's interesting. We plan on exiting by the Gibson Gap trail. I've been considering changing our exit point to the Pinnacle anyway just for the view. I'm just worried about the climb up to the overlook at the end of our trek.

10:32 p.m. on May 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Gibson to Pinnacle is not bad at all. To exit at Gibson is switchbacks down 2000 feet in about 2.5 mi. The gibson to Pinnacle section will be similar to what you will have walked along the ridge. From Pinnacle down to the Visitor Center is about 1000 ft down I think past a couple of old civil war "forts" (cannon works). You can also go towards Pinnacle and then branch off toward skylight cave and exit in the NP campground, the same campground as the gibson gap trail exit. We did that last year. It is a pretty constant down after table rock, but nothing steep. That is by far the easier path. The gibson Gap trail was really developed for horses to use. The Gibson Gap switchbacks are closer to the final section of the trail to the White rocks as far as being steep. The Trail past skylight is similar to the ewing ascent, in reverse, gentle down. Nice wide trail, well maintained, plenty of good rest points. the view at Pinnacle is worth the hike though, but you can just drive up after your hike if you decide not to go that way.

In short, the climb up to the overlook is not bad. From Gibson there is only one significant up, and it's not real steep. If you dont' have car parked at Pinnacle the hike down to the visitor center will be your biggest challenge. I haven't done that. You can get a feel for it by driving up after you get your permits at the Visitor Center.

8:25 a.m. on May 12, 2010 (EDT)
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Your information is invaluable. Thank you! I believe I'm resolved to hiking out @ Pinnacle now.

9:04 p.m. on May 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Enjoy the trip. Let me know if you find anything different than I mentioned.

12:04 p.m. on June 1, 2010 (EDT)
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Just thought I'd drop an update here. Our trip busted before it even got started. I have a family emergency crop up last minute (my mother had major surgery) and we called things off. Mom's fine, and we're considering rescheduling, but instead of hiking I worked in the yard all weekend.

9:32 p.m. on June 1, 2010 (EDT)
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bummer, but priorities. the trail will still be there.

September 22, 2014
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