Our second night on Cumberland Island was by far the roughest. What started as a light rain storm soon turned into a thunderous downpour. Our new hammocks came with light-weight rainflys, something akin to a sun shade rather than a covering substantial enough to protect us from the elements. As the night wore on, the rain seemed to subside. I got a few hours of sleep before waking again to the not-so gentle rocking of a sustained 50-mile per hour wind storm. In retrospect, setting up our hammocks on the banks of the marsh (without the protection of the dense maritime forests) wasn't the best idea. We expected to wake up with soaking wet gear, and it probably was at some point in the night, but the morning's intense winds dried everything out.
We had planned to explore the northern end of the island the afternoon before, but were forced to hunker down hours before nightfall. So we spent that morning completing the loop from Brickhill Bluff - through the eerie burned away section of the forest - to the First African Baptist Church and on to the northern cemetery. Seeing graves from the Confederate days impressed me in a way I hadn't expected. This whole island is filled with plantation era ruins, and even a few buildings that have been perfectly preserved.
We made our way around to the old Wharf and down the main road back to camp. The weather was really nice, but still very windy on the coast as we broke down camp and loaded up our packs. The rest of the afternoon was spent hiking south to Yankee Paradise. By the time camp was set up again, we only had about an hour of sunlight to eat dinner and plan out our next day's trip. That night was supposed to be the coldest yet, dipping down into the teens! Brrr!!!
The next morning we made quick work of camp (well... as quickly as our frozen fingers could move) and started our hike to Stafford Beach. Since Stafford is out of the Wilderness, campfires are permitted - a welcome thought after the past several cold dark nights. We arrived in the early afternoon and found a great spot at the very end of the campground. The sounds of the Atlantic Ocean drifted through the Live Oaks and Spanish Moss. We had to go exploring.
On our last day on Cumberland, we decided to take a guided tour of the Dungeness Ruins. The Park Ranger was entertaining and extremely informative. She was rather impressed by how much information we had gathered and how many questions we asked. She also told us the past few nights had been the coldest in three decades. We didn't bother telling her we'd been sleeping in flimsy hammocks, for fear she'd think we were completely crazy! :)
And that concludes our first trip to the Southeast. What was meant to be a warm relaxing get away turned into one of the most difficult challenges we've ever undertaken. In total, we hiked 40+ miles, with over 100 pounds of gear in four and a half of the coldest days on record. We survived and lived to tell about it. Can't wait to visit this area again!