By David Rogers
Last Friday, I met up with Lauren, who I hiked with a few months back, and Jenny, who I met for the first time. We did a guided hike around the Red River Gorge. First on our adventure was Castle Arch, one of many natural sandstone arches found inside the gorge. We started our hike by crossing a freezing cold, and partly frozen, Swift Camp Creek. After maneuvering across the creek on icy rocks and getting our feet a little wet in the process, we started the uphill climb to the base of the cliff line near the arch. While the trail to Castle Arch is pretty short in distance, the steep climb uphill will definitely get your heart rate up!
Once reaching Castle Arch we started exploring the large window under the arch, climbing the fallen boulders, and taking pictures. We then followed a trail out around the opposite side of the arch, to a spot near the end of the ridge to climb to the top. There are two rocks you can climb up from here, one a smaller lookout point, and the other is the ridgeline above the arch. First we climbed up to the smaller lookout point to relax and eat a quick snack, before climbing down and across to the ridge top. The views from the top of Castle Arch are stunning, with an overlook of Swift Camp Creek and cliffside views of the ridge near Sky Bridge.
While at the lookout point I saw melting icicles falling from the cliff lines hundreds of feet above the forest floor making a thunderous sound when they hit the ground. This was one of those rare moments most don't get to witness, which made it even more awesome. We explored the ridge top for a bit before making our way back down, passing back through the arch, climbing down the steep hillside, and crossing Swift Camp Creek. Unfortunately, Jenny had to head out after making it back to the trailhead and couldn't continue the days adventure with Lauren and I. It was nice meeting and getting to know Jenny, while hiking to and exploring Castle Arch, and look forward to hiking with her again sometime.
After parting ways, Lauren and I started our drive to Blackburn Rock to catch the sunset, but had to stop and get an up close look at the huge ice formation at the base of Angel Falls on the way. The ice that had formed at the base of the falls was still massive, even though the sun was shining bright with temperatures in the upper 40's. Some of the ice hanging from the top of the falls had already melted and fallen adding to the ice collecting at the base. Being the waterfall lover that I am, it's always cool to see them during winter when they are frozen over or surrounded by ice. We spent just a few minutes at the icy falls before jumping back in the car and finishing our drive to Blackburn Rock.
We arrived at the trailhead and started our hike out Hatton Ridge Road for about a mile and a half before splitting off into the woods for another half mile or so. As we neared the lookout and the trees started to thin, the overall size of the huge, open rock became visible and we were in complete awe. To reach the big rock, we had to cross a 2 to 3 ft crack, which has a few easy points to cross if you don't feel safe jumping the crack. After making it safely across, I realized that the views from Blackburn Rock are some of the best I've seen around the Red River Gorge. Straight dropping cliffs to the left, steady flowing creek and valley in the center, and nice mountain views to the right. This area seemed untouched, with no houses in sight or sense of anyone nearby, plus there were no rock or tree carving; which is a rare thing around the gorge. Lauren and I stuck around for an hour or so to watch the sunset, so I built a small fire to sit around and keep us warm in the meantime. We had a perfect spot the watch the sunset over a nearby ridge just across the valley, as it lite up the sky with some beautiful colors.
Just after the sun dropped behind the ridge we hopped back over the crack and started our hike back to the car arriving just before nightfall. This was an awesome day exploring new trails, with new friends. Although I still enjoy my solo trips, I've really grown to enjoy meeting and hiking with new people, sharing, and discussing the beauty of nature. While being an Ambassador and Field Team Member for Explore Kentucky and Trail Guide for my own venture, I Hike Kentucky, I've had the pleasure of meeting some awesome people along the many miles of trails crisscrossing the backwoods of Kentucky. I'm so thankful for people and organizations like Explore Kentucky, and many others including myself, who promote Kentucky in a positive light and encourage others to get out and do the same. The year is still just beginning, but I can't wait to see what other adventures 2015 holds in store for me.