Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ferris Ridge Trail

For me, part of the joy of running is exploring interesting terrain that can't be well explored any other way.  I've now made two visits to a relatively unused ridge trail off of TC Steele Road (accessed from SR 46) that is just south of the TC Steele State Memorial.

This is an out and back trail but can be used as a connector to McGowan Road along the north fork of Lake Monroe with a little of bit of effort to get through heavy undergrowth and brush.  The key landmark to look for as the end of the "somewhat groomed" portion of the trail is a huge grove of very tall pine trees near Lake Monroe that can also easy be spotted on Google satellite view near the North Fork Wildlife Refuge.

This is part of the Yellowwood Forest and really doesn't have any other name that I could find other than Ferris Ridge as it is identified on a topographical map.  The trailhead is pretty inconspicuous but there is just enough room to park off the side of the road without blocking the entrance.

Trailhead (from my early spring visit)

As I ran into the trail this past Sunday, I noticed the grassy trail was a little trickier to run on than the early spring when there was less ground cover.  This ground cover combined with sticks, etc. scattered below it create a somewhat tricky run.  This probably wouldn't be my top recommendation right now for people who trip frequently.

The ground cover was actually volatile enough this time to snag one of the tiny square holes in the forefoot of the MT110s and create a giant hole.  If I didn't like this trail so much I would have been pretty irritated at the ruination of my favorite trail shoe.

Despite this setback, I cemented my opinion that this trail is awesome for a few reasons.  First, there doesn't seem to ever be anyone on it.  Second, the gradual roll along the ridge is useful if looking for a nice easy trail run that still isn't totally flat.  Third, after almost three miles in where the grove of pine trees marking the end of the groomed (sort of) trail appears there seems to be a hotspot of wildlife activity.

Landmark: The clearing with pine trees behind the front layer of trees

So far in only two trips (one last week, one in January) back here I have:
  • Seen several deer stand and look at me and then run around the ridge
  • Observed and stalked a wild turkey from the trail down into a valley
  • Had a coyote trot out of the woods right in front of me, stand and look at me and then trot off again
  • Had an odd and silent encounter with a large rather mean looking opossum

I'd like to get faster at getting my camera out to film but I did manage to capture this footage below of this opossum when I came out in January.

This last visit, I also found out that the connection to McGowan road from the "pine tree" area isn't too difficult to navigate.  This is especially useful since this will be a key piece of the almost entirely off road route I plan to use to run from Bloomington connecting to the Tecumseh trail and then through Brown County State Park to the Trail's End restaurant (near Stone Head).  This won't be until I'm ready for a longer point to point run.   So, not just yet.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Running at Red River Gorge (Gray's Arch)

Yesterday I covered Auxier Ridge and the adjoining loop trail in Red River Gorge.  Our first loop on Friday was the Gray's Arch trail, leading to my personal favorite formation in the area.

We saw some pretty amazing things on Friday running from our campsite on Tunnel Ridge Road to the Gray's Arch trail, Rough trail, and then Rush Ridge trail.

The views overlooking the gorge along Tunnel Ridge Road were expansive.  Tunnel Ridge Road also had some interesting trees with enormous flowers hanging down from them that neither of us had seen before.

Flowers as big as your head!

Things really started to get interesting as we moved from smooth sandy trails along cliffs toward the lower reaches of the Gorge.  As we walked out one overhang, we caught our first look at Gray's Arch.

From this easily (if not watching on the right of the trail for it) missed overhang looking down at the arch we ran down toward the it.  Moving toward the arch there also a sweet cliff next to the overhang we came from that dripped a small "shower" down toward us.  It was pretty hot at the time so the cooler area and natural shower were a nice break.

There were also plenty of cliff walls along the way with walls that looked like this one below with the oddly patterned designs.

We ran into a cave under the overhang we were originally standing on above and took a picture out at the arch.

After a steep and rocky climb up to the level of the arch, we actually after much deliberation climbed up the sheer side of the arch and onto the top.  This was quite an accomplishment in overcoming fear to us non rock climbers.  Katie can be seen celebrating below.

 We then ran further down the Gray's Arch trail to the Rough Trail and back on the Rush Ridge trail which took us down across some creeks and up some extremely steep climbs and then along cliffs back to where we started.

A clear view on the Rush Ridge trail where a forest fire had cleared some trees

This run was a great way to start the weekend.  After seeing some pretty amazing sights along the trail we were eager to see more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Running at Red River Gorge (Auxier Ridge Trail Loop)

Much like I said in our last post, the trails within the Red River Gorge geological area were certainly varied.  They were also full of intrigue and scenic views.  The most difficult part of keeping a steady pace on the trails was continually running into interesting geological formations.  If I had to pick one "must run" route for a visit to Red River Gorge it would be the following loop from Saturday.

We ran up the Auxier Ridge Trail and then left to the Courthouse Rock Trail, past Haystack Rock, Courthouse Rock, back on to Auxier Ridge and then turned around and came back around the Auxier Branch Trail with a detour up to Double Arch and back around the loop to return to the parking lot near Nada Tunnel where we started.  Auxier Ridge is probably the best view in the park, basically running along wide expanses of the Gorge.  After the higher single track and lots of pines we dropped down at into floor of the Gorge where it felt like a rainforest.  I said over and over again that if I woke up in the lower Gorge trails I would probably assume I had been dropped off in South America.

The whole loop was rugged, steep (>15%) at times and required some climbing and jumping over large rocks and gaps.  The last 1.5 miles on the "Double Arch" trail back down to the parking lot were pretty much smooth rolling dirt road so quite a departure from the rest of the trails.

Here are some photos I shot along the way.  As you might be able to tell we ran in alternating sprinkling rain or fog depending on our elevation most of the way.

Looking off Auxier Ridge Trail
Off the ridge and onto the Courthouse Rock Trail
Up toward Courthouse Rock
Back side of Courthouse Rock
Front side of Courthouse Rock
Out and Back from Courthouse Rock on Auxier Ridge
Looking through the fog off the Ridge
Running up the Auxier Branch trail toward Double Arch
Double Arch

Looking back at the Auxier Ridge trail from near Double Arch
An orange friend on the trail

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Camping at Red River Gorge

This last weekend we made a trip to the Red River Gorge geological area within the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky.  From Bloomington, this is only a 3.5 - 4 hour drive so perfect for a weekend adventure!

The Map

Everything that was critical to this adventure was found on this linked map.  Topography would have been nice but we had fun being surprised by cliffs, steep climbs and sort of discovering the layout of the gorge by scoping locations we had been to from the high points.


This is a great place to camp.  We found several excellent primitive sites throughout the area, and the "Koomer Ridge" campground was also reasonably priced at 20 a night with nice gravel tent pads and pack hanging poles.  The spots in Koomer Ridge were very far apart, quiet, and also all connected to the Koomer Ridge trail, the Sheltowee Trace trail (stretches for 250 miles point to point) and the rest of the trail system.  We decided to try these out on Saturday night and used it as a base for our Sunday morning run.

The spots we used on Friday night up on Tunnel Ridge Road were even better.  At several points along the gravel road close to trailheads are small gravel lots with a modern pit toilet and a trail leading back to two or three isolated campsites with no evidence marking the site but a primitive fire ring made of rocks.  A five dollar "three day" back country parking pass purchased from local stores in the town of Slade nearby is the only cost associated!  These are  right next to the southmost "cliff" of the gorge so were a great place to start a run on the trails from.

We've also been working on our efficiency of tent setup, so I decided the process could use a little post-setup video analysis.

Departing from these campsites, we ran and hiked pretty much every marked trail in the park from Friday evening to Sunday morning, and used our limited climbing skills to climb up a few large rock, arch and cliff formations along the way.  This ended up totaling around 25 - 30 miles for the weekend, with a great mix of terrain.  The trails included lots of scenic rock bridges connecting ridge top cliff trails along what I would consider the "Grand Canyon" of the midwest.

I just started compiling the numerous photos I collected along the trails, so a follow up with my favorites will be my next post.