Tuesday, January 21

Short Week

Iron oxide formations in Corbin Sandstone, Short Creek of the Red River, Kentucky

I as going to mention that there wouldn't be a post yesterday, but I forgot.  Hopefully you were out having fun and later feeling guilty because you didn't honor Martin Luther Kay Jay by performing acts of unspeakable community service.  Just to make you feel bad if that's what you did, I, in fact, did some solo trail work.  Now, I know that's not exactly what the King of Civil Rights had in mind when he gave his Dream Speech, but let it be known that I'm working to add trails in a Distressed Appalachian County.  It goes beyond that even, and if things go according to my master plan there will be greater benefits from these efforts.  But stay tuned tomorrow for more on that.

I  the meantime please enjoy this brief write-up:

My vision was to ride to this hike, but I didn't. On Sunday Mandy and I did the off-trail hike to Short Creek Arch.  From our house it's a measly 15 miles to where you park to access this obscure natural sandstone arch.  It would be an easy bike ride.  When I go back to explore a little more and for my early morning sunlight photos I'll ride.

Short Creek Arch is obscure because it's on the edge of the National Forest with no obviously easy approach.  The best public access is on the east side of the clifty divide between Spaas Creek and Short Creek while the arch is off a ridge finger on the west side of the main ridge.

It's probably been twenty years since my first and only other visit to the arch.  It had to have been around the time I started rock climbing, and for some reason I didn't get photos on my initial find of the arch.  Maybe I was out of film.  Maybe I forgot to take photos.

Anyway, I remembered the arch fairly well, but I had no photographic evidence I had ever been there.  For years I held onto the deer antler I found stuck in a crack on the underside of the arch though.  Sunday Mandy agreed to head up to Spaas Creek with me for a jaunt over the ridge to see the arch.  She wouldn't make it to see the formation.

Leaving the car I chose a different route than I did two decades ago.  We labored up a short, steep, unnamed holler to gain the ridge.  It was easy enough to follow a game trail out the ridge until we picked up a more distinctive user defined trail out the finger to the arch from the main ridge.  

I went to Short Creek Arch so long ago because of a label on the USGS quadrangle.  I followed my nose, bushwhacking the same general route Mandy and I took the other day, and found the arch.  As we retraced my steps I noticed a much more distinct trail as we neared the narrowing section of ridge.  I know part of the increase in traffic has to have come from Bill Patrick's Arches DVDs.  That and just more people running around in the woods with USGS info on mobile devices.

Despite that Short Creek Arch seems unspoiled.  The views of the Short Creek drainage are unparalleled.  The experience was as sublime and novel as it was long ago when I travelled there solo.

I knew in the back of my mind that the ridgetop approach to the arch meant a mandatory downclimb, but I couldn't remember the exact nature of the beast.  We got close and I started thinking it might be a tricky descent.  I kept mumbling that it couldn't have been too hard because I did it so long ago before I got big into rock climbing.  Then I stood looking down a twenty-five foot low angle cliff broken by a couple of leaf covered ledges.  It was sketchy.

Mandy stayed on top and I scrambled down, feeling the years, and once again stood under one of the coolest natural arches I've ever seen.  I took photos this time.  I looked around a little more.  But I felt bad I left Mandy up on the ridge.  It was cold and getting late.  

The Broncos were playing and even though she had 4G it just wasn't the same as being at home to watch them win their way to the Super Bowl for her.  So I hurried back up to the ridgetop and we took off for the car.  

In 20 years between visits to Short Creek Arch things have changed.  The first time I went there were no cell phones.  I tromped through trackless woods with nothing but a blurred name on a paper map to guide me.  Sunday I referred to an app called "Topo Maps Online" to correct our course.  Mandy got game updates as I looked over hundreds of acres of uninhabited forest and marveled at the miles of cliffline.  

We walked out against alpenglow coloring the cliffs over Spaas Creek brilliant golden yellow.  The skies were blue. The hollers a blue-black with snow punctuating the deepest shadows.  I wonder if it'll be twenty more years before I go back?

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