Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shades and Shadows in Wilderness

The deep shadows of winter were the backdrop to my journey in the light.  Despite the clear blue skies and the bright winter sun the air was bone-chilling cold on Monday as I tromped around Clifty Wilderness.  Those shadows were deep pools of cold that felt precarious to cross.  Its hard not to be cognizant of the consequences of an unfortunate twisted ankle off the beaten trail.  I had packed my day pack for survival not comfort.

I took a walk along Swift Camp Creek through the old campground below Sky Bridge.  At one time it was owned by cousins from Wolfe County.  My family missed our chance to purchase the land due to our not being millionaires.  But it was fun to fantasize what life would be like if we had. Maybe a simple little cabin overlooking Swift Camp...

Ice clung to rocks in the stream and in places covered slower moving water in snowy frost.  The black of tree shadows striped the ice and reinforced the starkness of the day.

I drove across the Gorge and up Tarr Ridge to an unlikely trailhead next to the Bowen Farm.  Not my family but the family of a good friend owns a farm overlooking Mariba Fork.  I locked my car though I hadn't seen a living soul under the sun since I drove into the Gorge a fee hours earlier.  Too cold.

I followed my nose down the broad ridge toward the hidden passage I knew lay ahead.  The trail to the Mariba Fork crag is unique.  You approach from the west and must descend the cliffband, cross the valley, and hike up the eastern side to access all of the published routes.  If you miss the gap its no easy prospect to get into Mariba.

I found it easily enough.  The years and the storm deadfall couldn't thwart my memory or my geographic spider sense.  I still marvel at the Tolkien-esque hidden passage in the rhododendron.  Its a narrow chimney crack at first; with a reasonable hiking grade down into what I call (incorrectly) the Hanging Cirque.

A box-like area contains massive hemlocks and tumbled boulders.  On Monday icicles dangled from the lip of the cliffs all around.  I pushed through curled up rhodo leaves to get a photo of a wonderfully pocketed sandstone face before descending the steep gully that guards the cirque from below.

Unlike on my previous visits to Mariba a well-worn user trail delivered me to a picturesque bend in the creek under the shade of giant hemlocks interspersed with bare and equally massive poplars where I paused to capture some pixels and enjoy the solitude.  It took a minute to pick up the climber trail on the other side of the stream but once I did it was easy to follow up the steep slope to another picturesque spot at the cliffline near the route Reach the Beach.

First I walked left.  I passed through a large rockhouse that showed obvious signs of having been a niter mine.  There was a small hanging column of ice from the lip and a misty cascade falling probably a hundred and fifty feet to a great blob of ice on the forest floor.  The whole scene was framed by more massive hemlocks and the quintessential Red River Gorge surreal sandstone backdrop.

I took some time to try and capture the scene with first my camera and then with video on my phone.  Of course neither method does the memory justice.  I'm comforted in the fact that I'll go back to climb Synergy soon and get to experience it all again.

Lingering only for a short while I took in the images and ambiance of Mariba Fork.  Its on the fringe of Clifty Wilderness.  It seems dark in the world in its remoteness, but it was easily confirmed once I returned home and glanced at Google Earth: the eastern Mariba Fork cliffline is mere yards from a cow pasture on top.  That pristine looking cascade is well steeped in modern agricultural substances.
Regardless, Mariba is a special place.  By water it is a long day of hiking from Red River through some wild (as wild can be in 2015 Kentucky) and beautiful country.

I had a great day doing some GPS work and taking photos.  Truly, I hardly noticed the cold.  I enjoy cold weather the most, and I'm getting my fill of it this week.

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