Gray's Arch - 4
Red River Gorge Geological Area
Daniel Boone National Forest
Grey's Arch the day after 18 inches of snow fello. Read on for the long story of our adventure...
It’s becoming obvious to me that I am having a hard time accepting the fact that I am now middle aged and not a young whipper snapper anymore. That being said, as many of you know a massive snowstorm made it’s way across the state of Kentucky a couple of Fridays ago in route to paralyzing the north east. Northern Ky didn’t get squat, where Rockcastle county in the southern section of the state was in blizzard conditions stranding 100’s drivers on I-75 for nearly 16 hrs. My good friend Chris and I had been talking all week of driving to Red River Gorge the following Saturday. Our initial plan was to hit the Rock Bridge Trail, but as the storm approached it became quite clear this weather event was going to be a doosy. Friday morning it was announced that all the forest roads in the Gorge were going to be closed, indefinitely, which made us change our plans. We decided to make the hike to Grey’s Arch. Friday night we were watching snowfalls totals, monitoring traffic cameras and snow plow GPS locations. I was on the fence about going, but that morning when I got up and rechecked everything, the snow was coming to an end and roads looked pretty good all the way to Lexington. We had planned on taking my 1987 Jeep Wrangler. I had recently put on a new soft top and had got the 4 wheel drive fully operational over the summer. Although I have owned it for over 11 years I’d never driven it far from home, it has always been a problem child. As soon as we hopped on I-75 it popped out of 4 wheel drive, at the time it wasn’t a problem, we stopped by Hardee’s for breakfast and reengaged it. The further south we traveled the more deteriorated the roads became, 75 was ok, 64 was worse and Mountain Parkway was sketchy. As we approached the exit for Slade we noticed that KY 15, oddly, was in far better shape than the interstate but the exit ramp was in awful shape. Our destination was one mile up a section of 15 that had sharp curves and a steep grade. Based on the clear condition at Slade we decided to make the effort. Our minds were blown. We couldn’t believe it. The road was completely clear. Once we arrived to Tunnel Ridge Road snow plows had mounded up snow at the entrance. So I just punched the Jeep through it. Bad idea, this caused the 4 wheel drive to pop out again, so I rocked the Jeep out and onto the road. I had brought a snow shovel and Chris used it to shovel out a parking spot while I drove around trying to get the 4 X 4 to engage to no avail, finally parking it in frustration. We were careful not to block Tunnel Ridge Road, even though it was gated, if there was an emergency, crews would still need to get in there. The hike ahead was 5 miles round trip, a little over a mile up the closed road to the trailhead parking area and then another 1.2 miles to the arch. As we crossed the bridge over Mountain Parkway it was evident that this was going to be a bit more difficult than we imagined, the snow was up to our knees, about 18 inches. Chris took the lead, but after a while we had to trade and we continued to trade back and forth as we made the approach to the trailhead. We were disappointed to see that we were not the first to be back here as a group of footprints had joined the road from the Sheltowee Trace National Trail. When we arrived to the Grey’s Arch trailhead we decided to take a rest on a picnic table. My left leg had begun to start hurting at my left hip and an old softball injury to my knee on the same leg was beginning to bother me as well. Chris had been feeling some pain for quite some time, but we’d made it this far we weren’t turning back now. It had taken us a little less than an hour to reach this point. After about 10 minutes we resumed our trek, and when we reached where it intersected with the Rough Trail the footprints turned towards Martin’s Fork leaving beautiful virgin snow headed in the direction of Grey’s Arch. For the most part this next section of trail is level except for the last .3 or .4 of a mile as it descends sharply far below the arch. When we reached this stage of the trail we decided to shuffle our feet on the way down to create a better path through the snow. By now both of us were hurting pretty good, however the downhill trek was fairly easy, we just had to watch out for snow covered steps and fallen trees on the trail. Once we got to the bottom we rested up shooting the arch from deep inside the gully, and we also realized it took us two hours and twenty minutes to make the hike. Feeling rushed we followed the trail up to where we were right underneath it. This was where I really knew that the trek back out wasn’t going to be fun whatsoever, my left hip and knee were really getting to me now. We didn’t spend much time up at the arch, maybe 20 minutes, if that, because most of the perspectives involved a blown out sky. And so began our arduous trek out. On the way in I had cleaned off the steps pretty good so outside the fact it was a bunch of steps, it wasn’t too bad. Thank goodness we had shuffled our feet downhill, it helped with the pain a lot, but it still hurt. Once to the top of the ridge we figured it would be easy going but we were wrong, we had made only a partial impact on the trail and as we walked on the pain increased. For me it was becoming excruciating to lift my left leg and eventually I began dragging my leg more and more. I just kept thinking about sitting down in the Jeep for the entire remaining 2 miles and I pushed forward, letting the pain get to me was not an option in my book. When we reached Tunnel Ridge Road it was obvious several people had made their way back and a tromped pathway show it, although still painful, it was easier. I’m sure as we made our approach around the corner from the Jeep the family we passed playing in the snow probably compared us to zombie extras from the show The Walking Dead: two guys, exhausted, dragging their feet and trekking poles who can barely muster a “hello.” I think the worst part was the final 200 ft. as we walked the bridge over Mountain Parkway, the snow was deeper there. Finally relief! I hopped in the Jeep, started it up, jumped back out, dusted the snow off, took off my Yaktrax, waited for it to warm up, and off we went down 15 towards Slade. It was quite clear I’d messed the 4 wheel drive when I busted over that drift, I got it to work where I needed it to but after a short time it would pop back out. You’d think this adventure would end there, but it did not. Once on Mountain Parkway it was freezing. The soft top was allowing too much air in but the heat was working fine. At our feet it was 100 degrees and at our heads it was outdoor temperature, we could clearly see our breath. To say the least, the journey to Winchester was a cold one and we decided to stop by Applebee’s to grab a bite to eat and warm up. Again, things didn’t plan out as we would have thought. Once inside and we took off our outer layer of clothing we were both soaking wet underneath, so sitting inside a 70 degree room we were shivering cold. I will commend the servers at the restaurant, they brought us some coffee for free after dinner to warm us up and it worked. First time in 20 years I’ve drank coffee. While sitting there I told Chris we need to find a Kohls or a Wal-Mart. We still had over 100 miles to drive and it was going to be an awful ride unless we bought some fresh cloths. Luckily there was a Wal-Mart about a mile down the road. Back into the icebox we went. After arriving at Wal-Mart I found some replacement gloves (mine were soaked on the inside), I found a turtle neck shirt ( I never wear them), and I found a nice fuzzy lined flannel jacket thing. When checking out I explained to the cashier was going into the restroom to change and she looked at me like I had 5 heads. So in I went, some lucky guy got to see me shirtless in there. With a new upper layer of clothing on Chris and I jumped back into the jeep and began the ride home. The new digs made all the difference in the world. Once we made it Sadieville on I-75 I noticed the icebox on wheels was a bit warmer and asked Chris if he noticed, which he had. He looked at his phone and turns out it was 3 degrees when we were at Winchester and it was 26 where we were then. What a day, one that was worth the trip, the suffering and the cold. I will say this, I’ll never hike in 18 inches of snow ever again.