Hiker Challenge Section 3 – Day 2: Playing it Safe

Allow me to Introduce the Red River Gorge

The previous night’s talk around the campfire centered on one topic – what to do the next day at the river. The campsite was on the outskirts of the Red River Gorge wilderness area. The next day we would descend into this awesome landscape and make our way past several landmarks to reach the Red River. Unfortunately, the iconic suspension bridge that makes crossing this river possible no matter the weather was destroyed last March when a crazy windstorm came through and a tree fell on it. Crossing the river is easily accomplished in dryer conditions, but in more rainy conditions, it is far more treacherous.

The Sheltowee Trace Director, Steve, told us at the campfire that it should be passible, and the water might be no more than a foot high. We were all in high spirits after hearing that, as the only other way to get around the river was a four-mile road walk!

I slept well the previous night, waking up at 6:30, eating breakfast, and then heading out once it got light around 7:30. A lot of other hikers had already left earlier, but I had decided to wait for the light. This particular camp spot is oddly situated, as it is at the end of a single-lane road that has four or five houses on it. One of these houses has a dog that barked throughout the night. I didn’t hear him, but I did hear several other hikers talk about him throughout the night.

The trail followed an old logging trail and gradually descended into the Clifty Wilderness over three miles. This beautiful and lush wilderness is just the start of what the Gorge area has to offer. After following along a valley for several miles, the trail climbed up to more populated areas. I like this section of the Gorge and have hiked it several times. In just this area before the river, there are several arches, popular spots like Indian Staircase, Cloud Splitter, and several awesome camping spots. I did have a decent climb to get to the next arch, and then was on the ridge top for only a few minutes before the trail dipped back down to the valley below. The climb fogged up my glasses so I didn’t get to enjoy as much of the view as I would have liked.

The author in front of Indian Arch

Over the next four miles of hiking in the valley, the sun came out and I could tell that this would be a memorable day. Finally, after the previous sections and the rain, I would get a day of beautiful sunshine! The trail reached the river, and I met up with a couple of other groups who were deciding what to do. The river was higher than a foot deep and looked to be waist/chest deep. Even the most experienced hikers in the group did not feel safe crossing the river, so we decided to complete the road walk.

The damaged suspension bridge and the Red River.

Earning the End

The road we walked was a narrow two-lane hilly and curvy country road, and not the best suited for road walkers. There was a lot of traffic, as this was a beautiful day and this area is very popular with local hikers. Thankfully, we only had to road walk for about a mile. Steve showed up in the van and started shuttling everyone to the next spot that would let us connect back to the trail – Martin’s Fork trailhead.

This detour did mean that we missed part of the trail, but it will be easy enough to make up this section in the future. I hike here a lot, so I have already completed this section numerous times. My group of three joined up with another four people in the van and we all hiked the rest of the way together. I and another hiker were familiar with the area, so we were leading the way, but my group would regret this, as it was a bad decision to let me lead the way! I knew there was a bad climbing section ahead, but I didn’t think it would be THAT bad. I was wrong. On our already tired legs, this section kicked all of our butts. There was another way to go around, but that section also had a lot of stairs to climb. In the end, there was no easy way, and I chose the shortest distance to get back to the trail we needed to be on.

After the grueling climb, we made it to a parking lot with a picnic area and we all enjoyed a nice break. A Snickers bar never tasted so good!

The trail from there was gradually downhill and took us through an almost seemingly different world. We were nestled in a valley following along a creek through mossy vegetation and a green tunnel. The trail came out at a small campground, where we were supposed to meet the shuttle. Three hikers had been waiting for 45 minutes already, so we all decided to just continue and road walk back to our cars, which were parked just a mile ahead with the majority of the walking would be on a connector road to the parking lot.

I was beat by the time I made it back to my car. I changed into more comfortable shoes and headed back home. There was an accident on the interstate which added a 20-minute delay to my trip,

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