He’s a Suter: Collins Gulf Trail

If I were to rank movies based on how often quotes from them come to mind, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” Joel and Ethan Cohen’s 2000 movie based loosely on Homer’s “The Odyssey,” might just come in at number one:

  • Well, ain’t this place a geographical oddity. Two weeks from everywhere!
  • (She) up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T.
  • I believe it’s more of a kickin’ sitcheyation.
  • We thought you was a toad!
  • Is you is, or is you ain’t, my constituency?
  • They loved him up and turned him into a horny toad.

and many more. But anyway, I bring this up because for this last weekend’s hike, Chet and I had decided to head back up to Tennessee and check out Horsepound Falls in Collins Gulf. The trail to Horsepound Falls is one we’ve hiked before – at least the beginning of it – because it’s also the trail to Suter Falls. Every time I hear “Suter” I think of another “Oh Brother” quote –  one of the little Wharvey girls exclaiming “He’s a suiter! He’s bonafide.”  Makes me smile every time.

I had commitments in the morning, so we couldn’t leave for our hike until almost 11:00, which left us just about enough time to drive to the West Collins Trailhead, hike to the falls, and get back to the car before dark.  Despite a bit of a short timeline,  I could not resist taking a side trip to one of my favorite places – Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City, TN – to pick up some good old salt rise bread and a few other bakery treats.  It cost us about 15 minutes, but as always it was worth it!

We pulled up in the surprisingly full West Collins Trailhead parking lot right at 1:00 and were soon on our way. The first part of this trail is a connector trail that starts out following an old roadbed and so is a pretty easy walk. At .2 miles in, the roadbed sort of disappears into a gully and the trail heads left and into the woods, but not before passing a pleasantly burbling little spring. That was a good sign we thought. After months of drought caused piddly waterfalls most of the summer, the spring gave us hope for more impressive falls.  From the spring, the trail heads gently uphill to reach the Collins West campsite area. Soon after passing the campsite, the trail goes steeply down. Strategically placed rocks form a sort of staircase, though, so it’s not too difficult.

After the rock staircase, the trail turns into what I called the Rocky Road. This is a fairly wide piece of trail with a footbed made up of a jumble of various-sized rocks. It’s a bit on the steep side, too, so I had to pick my way carefully down the trail.  A young family with two elementary school aged kids and a dog bounded past us in this section. I don’t know if it’s just aging or a more cautious approach after my broken ankle but I think I might have turned into an old lady hiker. Ah well, at least this old lady is still strapping her boots on and getting out there! After a very short bit on the rocky road, there is a sign pointing towards Suter Falls to the left, while the trail continues straight ahead. It is at this spot that the connector trail officially ends, and the Collins Gulf Trail proper begins. Going straight will take you counter-clockwise around the 9 mile loop trail.  We headed left. Here the trail is narrower, but still very rocky. We clambered through a boulder field and towards the sound of the creek.

Suter Falls has a very dramatic setting. The Rocky Mountain Creek drops over a bluff at one end of a narrow canyon. To the left the bluff forms almost a clamshell shape. Straight ahead and below, the creek tumbles over cascades. To the right another bluff hems in the creek. At the far end Suter Falls drops 30 feet onto the rocks below. Dramatic as this is, we did not pause for long here. We were anxious to get to Horsepound Falls before we started running out of daylight.

A metal but still somehow rickety bridge spans the creek  where the trail picks up on the other side and leads up through the right side bluff. We sort of expected the trail to take us near the top of Suter Falls, but instead it led to the right, along the base of another bluff, and on towards the Collins Creek Gulf itself.

Here the trail follows near the rim of the gulf over boulder fields and talus slopes. Footing is a little bit tricky sometimes. Collins River is far below, mostly out of sight, though we could hear water rushing and cascading from someplace. A small but lovely unnamed fall dropped off the bluffs to our left. I named it Bashful Falls because it was really hard to get a good view of it and impossible to get a picture.

The trail continues on along the rim until it comes to a place we nicknamed The Pocket. The trail dips down slightly into a sort of bowl surrounded by rock formations and one large tree with a giant canker at its base.

After this, we were into Switchback Land. In order to get down to the level of the river some 400 feet below, the trails is engineered over three or four switchbacks, all but one constructed with wooden steps to make the way down easier. At nearly river-level, the trail turns into an old roadbed again and edges along about 100 feet from the river bank itself. The trail leaves the roadbed briefly but rejoins it again so most of this stretch is a pretty easy hike.

Finally, the signpost for the side trail to Horsepound Falls appears. Collins Gulf Trail continues on straight ahead, while the spur trail to the falls takes off to the right.  I didn’t really know what to expect of these falls. Some write-ups about the trail had talked about Horsepound Falls as sort of the “also ran” compared to Suter Falls. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised! Horsepound Falls is formed where the Collins River drops 15 feet over a limestone ledge. I thought it was beautiful.

We didn’t really have very much time at the falls. We had set a turnaround time at around 3:15 to give us time to get back and off the trail before dark, so we ended up with only about 15 minutes at the falls. We soaked in the view, Chet snapped some photos, and then we reluctantly headed back up the trail.  We did make it back before dark, but not by a whole lot. We got to the car at 4:50. It was pitch black by 5:30. Check out the GPS track for this hike here.

In doing some research to try to find out what the history is of the name “horsepound” for the falls (we didn’t find anything, sadly), Chet discovered an unrelated but really interesting fact. The man most responsible for the establishment of the South Cumberland Recreational Area we so enjoy was Herman Baggenstoss – the son of Swiss immigrants John & Louise Baggenstoss. John and Louise founded Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City in 1903. Herman was also the superintendent of the CCC Grundy Camp at Tracy City in the 1930s, and was involved in the formation of Grundy State Forest, Grundy Lakes, and the Fiery Gizzard Creek hiking trail. It sounds like he was quite a guy. In fact, I guess you could say  he’s bonafide!

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