Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trip Report: A Return to the Upper Gorge

This new gig is a walk down Memory Lane.  Well, the lane in this case is a bunch of trails through the woods.  Over the holiday weekend I hiked up to six different trad crags in the Red River Gorge.
The last two were Eagle's Nest (I know, Eagle Point Buttress blah blah blah) and Wall of Denial.  Denial is one of the most remote crags in the area.  It is actually within Clifty Wilderness and there is really one feasible way in and out along the river. 
Eagle's Nest is where Foxfire is located.  It's a 250' three to five pitch classic 5.7.  I have a history with Foxfire.  I've climbed it with over ten different people.  Each time I climbed it was with someone who had never climbed it before and a completely different person/people.  I never had the cahones to rope solo it.
Eagle's Nest 1/4/14
Anyway, Wall of Denial is a great crag.  But it's far back in the Upper Gorge.  It's not the kind of place where you want to take a bad fall or twist your ankle on the approach.  For both walls you follow the unofficial Douglas Trail.  “Douglas” refers to the well-known environmentalist Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.  To draw attention to the potential damming of the Red River in the '60s Douglas came to Kentucky and hiked his unofficial namesake trail.
It occurred to me on my recent hike that the Douglas Trail should be built to a modern standard and entered into the official RRG trail system.  It’s kinda a travesty that it’s still an unofficial trail.
Along the Douglas Trail looking toward Eagle's Nest

Looking downstream toward the Eagle's Nest buttress

Upper Red River from the Douglas Trail

From the Douglas Trail

From the Douglas Trail
Anyway, back to my anyway paragraph. 
I haven't been above Eagle's Nest since at least 2007.  It had been years since I had hiked all the way back to Clifty Creek.  Memories flooded my synapses as I visited the spot where I ran into my mom and dad as I paddled out of the Upper Gorge the morning after a friend had almost died in the Narrows.  I had hiked back in to retrieve the boats we had abandoned by myself.  I broke down in tears on the beach when I saw them.  Dad helped me go back in and bring out all the boats.  But that’s a long story for another time.
I hiked down to the splash dams and got some photos.  I had intended to scramble up on top of Wall of Denial and get a shot of the Eagle's Nest buttress and the massive wall to the left with my 300mm zoom lens, but when I found the gully I pictured from twenty years ago it was a bit more committing than I remembered.  Of course it was literally twenty years ago when I last climbed up on top of Denial.  Twenty one year old me was a bit braver (and/or reckless) than forty one year old me.  I was too far from the road and I'm not as spry as I used to be.
I intend to go back this winter and hike over from Eagle's Nest along the ridge to get my photo.  I have some ideas for crag panoramas to take and print.  Eagle's Nest and Denial are two of them.  Denial will be an epic hike.

The Upper Red below Clifty Creek

At the mouth of Clifty Creek

Splash dams on the Upper Red
I forgot how much I love that place.  The Upper Red above the Concrete Bridge is the wildest section of the area.  While it is popular, it is also tough to get in and out and there are plenty of forgotten nooks and crannies to explore.  The rumble of the rapids on the river provide a natural backdrop to the rugged landscape. At night there are (or at least used to be) no manmade lights visible.
There is a peace and stillness woven into the fabric of the sun and shadows there.  It's lonely and dark and a hidden place.  In my mind I think I dwell there more often than I realize in the sun above the shade of the gorge, hanging out on some lofty ledge under a blue dome of sky.  The green of the deep pools, rhododendron, and hemlocks stand out against the oranges, yellows, reds, purples and blacks of the sandstone cliffs. 
Last year I took Boone and Ty backpacking to Blackburn Rock over Martin Luther King Day weekend.  I think I'm going to take them up the Douglas Trail this year.
In the meantime I'll fantasize about getting back on the rock.  When I was only twenty one my fantasies were not informed with a voluminous background of experiences to color them.  Even though I have been visiting beloved crags and not climbing there is still a deep satisfaction and comfort in the memory of where I have been and what  I have done.

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