On Saturday, we took advantage of the beautiful winter weather and hiked with friends in the Red River Gorge. We are fortunate to have this national natural landmark within an hours drive from our house, and every time we visit I wonder why we don't go more often. But then the next day, when I whimper when I walk down the stairs, I remember! This hike was worth every aching muscle.
Luckily for us, our good friends hike in the Gorge so frequently that they know how to find the best trails, and the trail they recommended to Cloud Splitter was spectacular. Sections of the trial follow ridge tops, so we could see tall sandstone cliffs and deep forested valleys.
On the left side of the photo above, you can see how the edge of the trail is a steep drop, and how ice fallen from the overhanging rock above added an extra thrill as we hiked so near the precipice over chunks of ice.
As the sun warmed the rocks, we would sometimes hear the avalanche of ice sliding from the cliffs, like distant thunder. Needless to say, I hiked quickly past the ice sickles!
Parts of the Gorge are designated as National Archaeological Districts due to the prehistoric artifacts found in the rockshelters, which protect them from the elements. Our hike on Saturday brought us under one of the largest rockshelters I've ever visited. I had to hang back far enough that I couldn't see Brandon hiking near the edge of the rock shelter because I didn't want to witness when he was impaled by falling ice, and he didn't want to hear me give him constant warnings. The dense evergreen mountain laurel and hemlock trees make for beautiful green forests, even in winter.
Once we reached the bald rock on the edge of the ridge called Cloud Splitter, I got to exercise some rarely used rock climbing muscles. And since I don't trust my rock climbing muscles, I compensate by uselessly clenching my entire body, as if somehow that will keep me from falling, which means my legs were beginning to feel like mush.
Near the top, there's a short section of climbing that involves using a rope that someone has conveniently tied to a small tree. Having mercy on the poor tree, Brandon and I watched our friends scamper up the rock using the rope, then opted for the less thrilling crawling ascent on the other side of the rock that utilizes tree roots. It was perhaps a less dramatic entrance, but I felt more confident scooting on my knees than dangling from a string.
I take it as a compliment that my friends thought it was even an option for me to climb the rope! Later, on our descent, I overheard a young girl who was scaling the rock with the rope heatedly telling her boyfriend, who was yelling encouragement from the top, that " I AM NOT enjoying this!". I wanted to tell her that the view from the top was totally worth it.
We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we took in the view of the Red River below. Despite the breeze, we were comfortable sitting in the sun on our warm rock after the exertion of our hike.
Since everyone in our group is going on the high altitude hike we're planning for this summer, we had a good time planning for our big trip, and had lots of laughs. As you can see, Brandon gets quite animated when telling stories on a precipice!
This trail had it all - cliffs, rockshelters, views, forests, ice, and even a cave. We only made into the entrance of the cave, even though our friends have been all the way through and tell us that it comes out on the other side of the ridge. I would love to try it some day, but when I saw how difficult it was for my nimble companions to clamber up some rotten logs and squeeze through some tight gaps, I decided to stay behind and guard our bags instead of taking a chance with my mushy leg muscles. Maybe after a few months of training for our big hike I'll be in better shape to try the cave passage.
Even though we didn't make it all the way through the cave, it was still fun to stand in the bottom of a crevice in the rock and see the slim piece of winter sky above.
One of our group used his cell phone to map our path, and you can see in the image above, that we made a giant loop. In the end, we hiked over seven miles, and the terrain was challenging. We celebrated our achievement in front of a fire with beers and kraut covered hot dogs at a local restaurant and hiker hang out, and no beer ever tasted so great! Miraculously, my mushy legs transformed themselves in to stiff boards on the drive home, so that climbing from the car elicited involuntary groans. Thank goodness for the hot tub!