Category Archives: Sheltowee Trace

Sheltowee Trace – November

To get to the start of this hike, click here.a-sign

For each monthly hike there is the option to walk on either the second or third weekend of the month. I had always taken the third weekend, but switched for November’s, and the final, hike on the Sheltowee Trace. While cold, the forecast for the weekend was dry and I figured that November could be much worse. Since the hikes were continually getting closer to Cincinnati, I was able to skip camping on Friday night again, while not needing to get up in the middle of the night.

I rolled into the parking lot at the northern terminus of the trail right on time, 8 am, and joined 15 or so other hikers in waiting for the shuttle. The brisk morning air was perfect for hiking, but not for standing around waiting for a shuttle. Despite being confirmed earlier in the week by Steve Barbour, STA Director, the shuttle didn’t appear to be showing up. By 8:30, Steve had waited long enough. Several folks banded together for the drive to our starting point in Morehead and I caught the last seat in Steve’s van for the ride. As long as I scratched his head, Steve’s Black Lab didn’t appear to care that his seat had been taken.

Everyone arrived at downtown Morehead by 9:30 to get our final pre-hike talk from Steve. The important points I got were to turn off Main Street at the Dairy Queen and be aware that the deer gun season was open. Luckily I hadn’t worn my antler hat, so I felt I should be good.

Headed down Main St.

Headed down Main St.

Most of the hikers were turning into the local coffee shop, but I was going to make tracks. I continued down Main until my turn at the DQ. Actually I turned into the DQ; couldn’t pass up the $3 breakfast. After hiking close to half a mile, I figured I could use some more calories too. Interesting thing was I ended up in line behind a few other hikers. Apparently everyone that skipped the coffee shop pulled in to the DQ.

Once my 2nd breakfast was out of the way, it was time to press on. While the day’s hike was only supposed to be 12 miles, the late start and the short amount of daylight meant there shouldn’t be too much extra time available to lollygag.

Heading away from Main Street, the trail started climbing through Morehead University, past scenic Eagle Lake, then got very steep up to a ridgeline outside of town. From there the trail was up and down, though mostly up; eventually joining a Forest Service Road. This is where you could really tell it was gun season. Several large camps were set up near the road and blaze orange was the fashion of choice. Through the next few miles the trail left and rejoined the FS road several times before staying with the road for five miles or so. I was walking with a group that included John, whom I’d walked with in October and Dave, another retired guy.

Power line view

Power line view

Since the road was fairly open, the sun began to warm me up and I stopped to unzip the legs of my convertible pants/shorts. Once I caught back up to the group Dave told me it looked like I was riding a chicken. Apparently, his idea of what legs should look like didn’t match mine. Dave was planning on hiking the Colorado Trail, which I had done, and we chatted about that as we walked. Despite his “chicken legs” insult, I provided him with truthful intel on the trail.

A quick jog onto pavement brought us over I-64 then back onto an old gravel road that paralleled the Interstate for close to a mile (farther than the map shows). From there, it was back onto trail for a steep drop into the Big Tom Brown Branch valley, out into a farm field and across the quite rickety suspension bridge to our camp for the night. It was about 3:30.

Just on the north side of Holly Fork Road there was plenty of flat area to spread out. Steve was parked there with plenty of water, pop and the promise of trail magic at 5:30. Since I hadn’t been dreaming about freeze-dried Chicken Teriyaki for dinner, I left the stove in the pack, set up my tent and waited for the magic. Since the mileage this month was relatively short, I was carrying my camp chair and the wait was relaxing and comfortable.

Soon, members of the Cave Run Chapter (including Elizabeth, who had shuttled me in October) arrived with pots of chili, corn bread and brownies. Gotta say, it beat the hell out of a bag of Chicken Teriyaki. On the down side, the recent drought resulted in a fire ban, so there was no campfire. Sitting around in the dark, drinking hot chocolate spiked with amaretto (or whatever you brought) is fine for a while, but the temperature was dropping fast. By 8 pm, everyone was heading for the warmth of sleeping bags.

A full moon keep the night relatively bright, but did nothing for the temperature. I slept with both my water filter and my contacts as neither does well when frozen. In my 23 degree limit bag, I stayed warm enough while wearing socks, long underwear, a fleece, gloves and a hat. It was however, a long night; literally. From the time I got in the tent it was 10 ½ hours before the sky lightened enough to get up and start breaking camp. The morning was cool, to say the least. The tent fly was crusted over with ice and even with thin gloves on the tent poles were too cold to handle without a couple breaks to warm my hands. In an effort to warm up, I skipped breakfast and started hiking. The steep valley walls blocked the morning sun, but I was slowly warming regardless. I passed Chris as he was stopped to stick some chemical hand warmers into his gloves: great idea.

After about a mile, the climb out of the valley and breaking out into the sun changed everything. All was right with the world again. I stopped to lose a layer and eat a snack in my newfound warmth. Both Dave and John caught up and we hiked on together through a stretch of private land. All that was asked was keeping the gates shut and the generous owners also allowed use of their water hydrant and picnic shelter.

From there it was back onto Forest Service Property and a steep 300+ foot climb. For the next 7 miles or so the trail bounced from ridgetop to ridgetop. Dave had to pull off to remove the chili from his system. As the trail double backed near his position, I thought I could hear some high pitched sounds in the distance as he used his still frozen baby wipes.

The leaves were pretty much all down and allowed for some great views. Everything is a tradeoff though as the leaves on the ground hid the trail’s tripping hazards, ankle twisters and occasionally the entire trail. Though it cost me my balance a couple times, I never did fall on the trail.

A couple leaves on the trail.

A couple leaves on the trail.

On much of this last stretch, the trail runs right on the Forest Service property line. The adjoining property owner posted the line with a multitude of signs, but it actually made the trail easy to follow for John and me, despite the leaf drop.

Just about lunchtime, the trail started its final drop, losing a quick 300 feet in altitude, and all too soon, the journey was done. Steve was there to congratulate us. In addition, Elizabeth and Lucy of the STA Cave Run Chapter were on hand with even more trail magic of drinks and snacks. Dave strolled in shortly thereafter. It was a great end to an impressive trail. Seeing the trail through all seasons was perfect way to experience the hike.

Complete!

Complete!

Sheltowee Trace – October

To get to the start of this hike, click here.oct-fall-color

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.

Tahoe Sunset

Tahoe Sunset

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.oct-rock-outcrop 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.

Indian Arch

Indian Arch

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.

Orange Bear

Orange Bear

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.

Pastoral scene along the road

Pastoral scene along the road

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.

Camping by the trail

Camping by the trail

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.

Furnace

Furnace

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.

Cave Run Lake

Cave Run Lake

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.

Next month

Sheltowee Trace – August

To get to the start of this hike, click here.

Rather than another extremely early alarm on Saturday morning, I drove down to the area on Friday Night. Our camp spot was just outside of Red River Gorge at the John Swift Campground. The location was in a valley by the Red River, but mosquitoes were pleasantly absent. After a quiet night, we left our vehicles near the entrance of the campground and took the provided shuttle back to where we had ended the long road walk in July.

I’d like to say the road walks were over and we were back in the woods. I’d like to say it, but I can’t. The day started on the road and stayed on the road. For good measure, the trail/road climbs one of the biggest hills on the entire route. One saving grace was that it was mostly cloudy so there wasn’t too much melting in the sun. After about four and a half miles, there was a 2nd saving grace, the Conveniently Country Market, where cold pop, candy bars and the “best bologna sandwich” on the Sheltowee Trace awaited.

Sufficiently refueled, it was back to the asphalt for another five miles. I walked the stretch with Marty, a retired railroad worker. We also had the company of Siri, who Marty had set to alert him every half mile. She also announced our overall minutes per mile pace and the last half mile speed. With her bitching at us, we kept up a pretty good pace, 18 minutes per mile or less.

After so much asphalt, turning onto gravel Virginia Ridge Road seemed like wilderness. Certainly animals abounded.a-cow a-horse a-sheep

They were cows, horses and goats, but animals none the less. After a few miles of gravel, there was finally a stretch of trail. The rain began just as we reached it. As warm as it was, it felt pretty good and no raingear was required; until it started pouring. By the time we reached the crossing at Sinking Creek, my feet were soaked, so I just waded across in my hiking shoes. Thankfully, even wet, I had no blister issues.

All too soon it was back to asphalt and gravel roads. The final eight miles of the day remained on road and included possibly the longest, steep hill of the entire trail. The rain had stopped by then and in the heat and sun I was dry in no time, even my socks.

After a bit over 20 miles total, we reached our planned camping spot in a patch of woods. There was plenty of spots for several tents and hammocks. In addition, Steve had dropped off a couple coolers with ice cold pop and beer. What a great place to stop! There were even a few cans of Strohs buried in the cooler. I hadn’t seen that old favorite this century.

Despite it being the perfect spot to stop, the Tennessee Hikers, a group of six, were pressing on. They just had small daypacks with them and were staying at the Natural Bridge State Park Lodge, four miles further down the trail. The lodge also offered an all you can eat buffet.

About Dinner time, it began to rain again. As much as I enjoy huddling in my tent eating freeze-dried Chinese food, several of us took Steve up on his offer for a ride down to the buffet and back. As I emptied several plates, the rain just poured down outside. Not to insult Mountain House Dinners, but the buffet was a great choice.

The rain eased up after dinner, but didn’t quit completely. A few folks sat together under a tarp, but I just called it an early night and headed for the tent. A couple storms rolled through during the overnight, but my tent and I stayed mainly dry.

There was still a bit of rain falling when I got up in the morning, but I was able to pack up fairly quickly. As much as I enjoy standing in the rain eating oatmeal, then maybe heading into the woods with some soggy toilet paper; the Lodge’s breakfast buffet was calling. I was on my way as soon as it was light enough to hike without a headlamp. Time for an early forced march.

The rain scaled back to some fog and low clouds as I made good time along the trail (no road!). Within a couple miles the trail enters Natural Bridge State Park and the scenery was quiet and pretty in the misty morning. Notes about the trail indicated that there were at least two trails that dropped to the Lodge. I passed the first in order to cross the park’s namesake bridge. Always impressive, the rock bridge was especially so with wisps of clouds all around. Not seeing the 2nd trail down, I turned back for the short walk to the trail I knew that led to breakfast.

Enjoying the view from Natural Bridge

Enjoying the view from Natural Bridge

I was just back to the intersection when I met Marty heading the other way. I explained I was heading down for breakfast, but the Natural Bridge was just a little way further. He replied he’d seen it on his honeymoon and didn’t need to see it again. Apparently a 40 year old memory was good enough and he joined me on the steep trail down to the lodge. (I’m no purist, but if you care, the trail we were following was the official Sheltowee Trace in that area.)

Amazing what those new freeze-dried meals look like

Amazing what those new freeze-dried meals look like

Once at the Lodge, we had breakfast with the Tennessee Hikers. They were planning on relaxing a bit more and getting a late checkout before heading out with their tiny daypacks. (I believe one of them was a My Little Pony brand.) I did ask if they were going to tell their friends that they’d been “backpacking.” They assured me they’d be talking about hiking and the trail. Perhaps some misdirection, but no outright lies.

After breakfast, Marty and I (and Siri) headed back onto the trail. We were soon out of the park, but still in scenic Daniel Boone National Forest and heading into Red River Gorge. The trail was steep at times, but well maintained over the next several miles with some nice vistas. A few times we had to cross Chimney Top Creek. At this point I just waded across, but Marty was on a mission to keep his feet dry whether that meant rock hopping or tight roping on some questionable downed trees.IMG_4804

Keeping those feet dry

Keeping those feet dry

Regardless, he was successful. By early afternoon we made it to the Red River, across an impressive suspension bridge and done for the weekend. Another 32 miles down and maybe 75 to go.

Looking for the next stretch of trail? It’s right here.