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You may have noticed that there was no September update from Sheltowee Trace. I did indeed miss the month’s group hike, but I have an excuse that even the most hardcore hiker will accept. I couldn’t make it because I was thru-hiking the 172 mile Tahoe Rim Trail. It was a fantastic trip that involved much more than walking in a big circle while keeping the lake on my right. Magnificent scenery in the Sierra Nevada Range.
Anyhow, I was considering trying to tie the September and October sections together when Steve Barbour put me in touch with John Park who also needed to make up the previous month. I had walked some with John on previous hikes and I knew he carried a GPS with the trail route loaded onto it (a plus in my book). John was working with the local chapter of the Sheltowee Trace Association for a shuttle from Morehead, KY (end of the October hike) to where the August hike ended in Red River Gorge. We could meet on Thursday morning and finish on Sunday; or possibly Saturday if the miles went well. That all sounded good to me.
After initially setting up a 7:30 AM shuttle, John had second thoughts about the time and asked about pushing it back to 7. With my 2 ½ hour drive, that put my alarm at just before 4 AM. Crap. On the plus side, there was no traffic. As I stopped on the way, I checked the forecast. No rain today or tomorrow with a possible shower on Saturday. I wondered what all the wet stuff was on my windshield.
I rolled into the specified parking lot in downtown Morehead just before 7. Our volunteer shuttle driver, Elizabeth pulled in right behind me. She also brought word that John would be about a ½ hour late. Crap.
John made it right at 7:30. I was expecting some “dog ate my homework” excuse, but he went with the dog ate my food bag. Yep, I can see how that might make you a bit late. Regardless, Elizabeth was friendly and knowledgeable about the trail, giving us some detail about what the next few days would entail. Since we weren’t going to be able to use Steve Barbour and his support vehicle as a water supply, we stopped along the way to cache some water just north of highway 1274. After the hour drive, she deposited us at the trail, just above Red River. Any funds we offered for the ride were considered by her to be a donation to the local trail association; quite generous.
The trail immediately started climbing out of the river valley. Within an hour, we had climbed up to where we were alongside some interesting cliffs and rock formations. The fog and light rain kept us from seeing/enjoying the significant overlooks, but Indian Arch was right by the trail and impressive. The arch was followed immediately by steps and steep trail back off the ridge to the level of Gladie Creek.
Near the creek a family was hiking. They had stopped along the trail to adjust Jr’s My Little Pony backpack as I approached. Apparently Mom caught my movement out of the corner of her eye and exclaimed, “Bear!”
Since I was still 50 feet from reaching them, she had time to notice the bear was wearing a bright orange shirt and a backpack before she had to pull out the bear spray. By the time I was close enough to converse, she was laughing about her animal ID prowess. I mentioned that few orange bears traveled this far east.
After leaving Gladie Creek the trail followed an old forest service road for 2 ½ miles, making a pretty significant climb as it went. Eleven miles into our day we reached Clifton Rd for our first asphalt walk of the section. This is where the group would be getting their first water assistance from Steve. For John and I, we were able to walk less than another mile onto Rt 77 and to a church that had both a water hydrant and a picnic shelter right along the road. It was the perfect spot for lunch.
The road walk continued for another few hilly miles before reaching an old gravel/dirt road turn off. After a mile and a half, the trail re-improved to once again become gravel Clifton Road. Apparently, this is where the group had camped the month before, but John and I pressed on.
A couple miles on Clifton Road and a tad less on Rt 1274 brought us back to actual trail and also our water cache. At this point, I was lugging 3 ½ liters of water and John had over a gallon. We stopped at the first flat spot were found and made camp. We had covered a bit over 20 miles.
Despite a dry forecast we awoke to damp conditions and fog. My 50 degree bag kept me just warm enough for good sleep. Getting an early start at 6:30, headlamps helped get us started. Hiking wasn’t bad though and leaves were starting to turn. After a few miles we were on a cliff line that supposedly had some outstanding views. Unfortunately, with the continuing wet and fog, I could only imagine the panoramas I was walking by. Even close up scenery was interesting though with rock outcrops and impressive furnace Arch.
After a significant drop we meandered into the Clear Creek Recreation Area just in time for lunch. The location included a privy, water hydrant and picnic tables. Running water and tables for lunch two days in a row. Things were getting pretty cushy. Nearby was also a 19th century iron furnace; worth the short walk to check it out. The day was becoming brighter and clearer as well. We left with enough water to finish out the day’s hike.
After a climb to a ridgetop, we stayed there for a few miles before dropping down towards Cave Run Lake, an 8,200 acre flood control impoundment also known as the “Muskie Capital of the South.” The trail crossed several creeks that flowed into the lake, when they were flowing. No water was to be had on this section.
After about 15 miles for the day, we came to a decision point. The original route of the Trace stayed on high ground for the next few miles with no opportunities for water. The new route appeared to be at least three miles longer, but hugged the shoreline where we assumed water would be easy to get. I was running a bit low on water and John was nearly out. We went with the new “official” route.
Walking along our first peninsula, we were indeed close to the lake; horizontally if not vertically. The valley down to the water was so steep we pressed on, assuming it would get better at the next cove. Regrettably, the trail took such a wide berth around the cove that we couldn’t even see the lake, let alone reach it. Passing a few good camping spots, we continued, hoping to find a spot where water was more accessible.
The next peninsula was the same story, as was the one after that. Eventually, there was a spot where the lake looked somewhat accessible, so we dove over the side and picked up water for dinner, breakfast and few miles of hiking. John filtered some, drank it and declared it “pretty nasty.” Luckily I still had some other water and could just use the lake water for cooking.
Shortly thereafter, we found a tolerable camping spot along the trail. Exploring a bit farther I saw the trail moved back away from the lake and into steeper ground where a flat spot for a tent would be unlikely. After studying the options for a bit, I headed deeper into some woods that appeared to overlook the lake. Maybe 100 feet from the trail I spotted a great location that had a couple tent sites with good views of the lake and even a fire ring that hadn’t been used in quite a while.
It turned out to be a great end to the day. The sky cleared off for a nice, warm evening. The fire ring was put to good use as there was plenty of dead wood and John was able to dull the taste of his lake water with bourbon. Boiled lake water couldn’t hurt the taste of my mix of vegetables, mashed potatoes and spam.
The day dawned hazy and warm. Lake water didn’t damage my oatmeal too much, but apparently fouled John’s morning coffee. The trail along the lake was easy walking, scenic and the trees were starting to show some pretty strong fall color.
After a few miles, Stony Cove Recreation Area provided a well-timed privy, but alas, no potable water. Walking across the dam, I waved down a park employee that pointed us to High Banks Picnic Area, where running water awaited.
At the restroom sink, John rinsed out his water bottle a few times, but swore he could still taste the lake. Lake water never touched a couple of my bottles so I was good. Refreshed, we continued on toward Morehead. After a few miles, the trail bounced between dirt trail and gravel road, but generally easy walking. We met some other hiker near Amburgy Rocks. We had heard there was a nice view, but they convinced us the vista wasn’t worth the detour.
Eventually the trail cut off the gravel road and headed straight down towards Mill Branch Road. This might have been the steepest stretch on the entire trail; quite a drop. Mill Branch was a flat country road, but more road walking regardless. The sky had cleared and I was starting to cook in the warm early afternoon sun. The trail took a few turns through the small town of Clearfield (watch the map) and used the shoulder of busy Rt 519 to lead into Morehead. The walk down Main Street is over a mile and I broke it up with a stop in Wendy’s for a drink. Soon though, we were back to our vehicles and less than 25 miles from the finish.