February 7th 2014
I try to book free weekends with backpacking. With four kids we have a pretty busy schedule, but I managed to book February 8-9. However, I promised my wife I wouldn't take Justin camping when it was "too cold". Local forecasts around Cincinnati for that weekend were lows around 20°F. What do you do when you're looking for warmer temps? Look South!
It occurred to me that Red River Gorge is South of us. The forecasts looked marginally warmer: lows around 30°F. The wife defined "too cold" as "not much below freezing". I didn't think it was pushing it to camp out around 30°.
The week before we had a pretty good snow storm. Turns out it was an ice storm down at the Gorge. I called the park service and they said there was a lot of ice and they were closing park roads. State roads and highways would be open though and the park would also be open.
Friday after work we drove down. My intention was to camp at the cars near Grays Loop, hike on Saturday onto Rough trail, camp that night on the trail, and then hike back to the car on Sunday.
We got to the park around 8:30 that night. It was pretty dark. The road to the Grays Loop parking lot was closed a lot farther than I thought. It'd end up to be a mile or so hike to get to the parking lot. So we drove around to Nada Tunnel road. The tunnel was spectacular and spooky. It is a one lane tunnel carved through the rock. I've never seen anything like it.
We parked at the Martin Fork trail head. Set up our hammocks in the dark on a hill side. After we were all setup, I got to lay there and listen to a nearby stream gurgle until I fell asleep.
As it turns out, hanging in the dark is kinda hard. My feet were too high so I kept sliding in my hammock towards the head. I had a Hammock Gear Phoenix underquilt and my sleeping bag. As I would slowly slide towards the head of the hammock, I would slide out of the area covered by the underquilt. I'd get pretty cold until I scooted back up to where quilt was.
Eventually I got up and moved my quilt so that it covered more towards the head. This is a problem with the Hennessy hammock bottom entry. The integrated bug net and lack of zipper means it's very difficult to reach out and adjust an underquilt. This is really my number one complain with the Hennessy Hammocks. There's a husband and wife team that offer zipper modifications at a fairly reasonable price. If I keep this hammock, I'll end up doing that sooner or later.
Justin slept with his sleeping bag and a Warbonnet Yeti. When we settled down for the night, he said he was warm. I visually inspected his quilt and it seemed to be hung properly and fitted up against him. The next morning he said he slept pretty cold. I don't exactly know what happened.
On the way down, the thermometer in the car fluctuated between 19°F and 24°F. I have a digital thermometer that hangs from my pack that will recorded an overnight low of 23°F at our site.
That morning Justin was moving very slow. I woke up around 7:30am. I eventually got up, made some oatmeal and packed my stuff up. Justin didn't get up until almost 10am. He was really struggling to get his stuff packed. He was very frustrated and I was frustrated. I finally decided I was just expecting too much out of him. So, I packed up all his stuff for him while he sat in the car trying to get warm.
There's a couple lessons here. First, I need to do what I can to simplify the setup and teardown of his hammock and packing his backpack. Second, I pretty much need to plan on doing all that for him. Whatever he's able to do is bonus. I think that will make both of us happier.
After a cold night and a rough morning he was basically ready to go home. I knew if I could get him moving and out on the trail he'd enjoy it. So I said, "What about just a day hike?" He thought that was a great idea. I sad, "What about a day hike with our packs?" He agreed to that too. I was secretly hoping he'd have a good enough time to agree to another night.
We hiked down Martin's Fork trail from 77/Nada Tunnel Rd towards the Grays arch picnic area. My goal was to hook up with the Grays Arch trail and hike to the arch.
Along Martin's fork was pretty easy going. The stream was a beautiful little stream: at places it was two, maybe three feet deep. Justin was complaining about having to cross it so many times. Not having waterproof shoes, it was more important he keep his feet dry.
The day seemed to be warming up. The sun was shining. While we were moving it was very pleasant. There was a little snow on the ground.
Martin's Fork is down in the bottom of the gorge and Grays Arch trail is up on top of the ridge. It's about a 300-400 foot climb. The treacherous parts were the boulders covered in snow. It was hard to know where good footing was. We got lost a little bit trying to find the GA trail. We ended up going out on several different ridges.
Once we got up on the GA trail it was pretty easy hiking. The trail was mostly level and wide. It was here we saw the most evidence of icing. The taller trees seemed fine, but all of the undergrowth was completely iced. The little pine trees had there needles completely iced. The added weight had these soft trees bent over. Justin said it looked like they were bowing down.
We got to the end of the trail where it heads almost straight down. There are several flights of stairs covered in snow; which was kinda slippery. At the base of the arch was very slippery. I fell on the ice and slid a little and scared me more than a little. I felt like I was sliding off the trail. It was just too slippery to actually get down to the base of the arch.
That was the junction with Rough Trail where I was hoping to head on and camp overnight. So far, Justin had been keeping track of time and kept calculating when we'd get back to the car and then home. After my fall I wasn't really wanting to push any longer.
We climbed back up to the GA trail and stopped to make a hot lunch. Once we stopped it started getting colder. I managed to get a couple cups of ramen made. We packed back up and headed home.
While the return hike went much faster, it was also more slippery. I fell a couple more times back to the car. Justin was proud the final fall count was him 3 and me 5.
I'm very glad we went. I think Justin would say the same. The trip had it's "ups and downs", but we were out on the trail and saw some amazing stuff.
Gear considerations: Justin's stove still didn't work very well. I'm convinced I need to duplicate my super cat stove for him. It's reliable and pretty efficient. Having some hiking poles would definitely have helped. Justin's gloves weren't that great either. We probably should have had on some Trax or Microspikes.