We were set to depart for Red River Gorge on Friday after work. The problem is that I fell ill early on the Thursday morning prior. What I thought was a 24-hour bug pushed me to the limit all day Thursday and throughout the morning on Friday. I was convinced that by 5:30pm on Friday I would be ready for our weekend trip. Unfortunately my determination to go on this trip outweighed two days of sickness.
After securing our two-day passes at the local gas station we ventured to the parking area adjacent to the Swift Camp Creek Trail. Our plan was to hike in a couple of miles and set up camp at the first open backcountry campsite. While the majority of the hiking I have done in Red River Gorge would be considered leisurely to moderate trails, this particular trail (in many areas) would be considered rugged. I have to admit that my perception of the trail may very well be skewed by how rotten I felt hiking it with my 40-pound pack, but at a minimum it is more rugged than other trails in The Red. Our destination was Rock Bridge and we would be covering 10-12 miles to get there.
After night-hiking with our headlamps and discovering that the first two backcountry sites were occupied we finally found a camp along Swift Creek, which ended up being a really nice place to set up. Unfortunately I was in bad shape with achy legs and back. Upon arriving at our campsite and collecting my thoughts, I let the guys know that I would probably leave the next morning if I didn’t feel much better. The steep ascents and descents the night before did not give me much hope for the subsequent long hike the next morning… and I couldn’t imagine feeling considerably better at sunrise. To my surprise, sunrise would bring fresh legs and bit more anticipation and excitement for our trek to Rock Bridge. It would also reveal the beauty of Swift Creek and the large, mossy boulders that lined the banks. This is definitely the kind of place where the healing of your mind, body, and soul can occur… and we were fortunate to be here.
The winding Swift Camp Creek Trail was really spectacular. One could tell that this particular trail was not as heavily traveled as others in the area. While parts of the trail were well-maintained, other parts were not. We found out from some locals that a portion of the unmaintained trails was known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I didn’t ask why, but my guess is that the ungodly combination of overgrowth with the extraordinarily humid rainforest conditions gave this area it’s moniker. Otherwise, this trail was a great combination of ascents, descents, small falls, caves, overhangs, and large boulders. I found myself lagging toward the back of the group frequently taking breaks, as my post-sickness left me weaker than usual. The biggest limitation of Swift Camp Creek Trail is that it stays a bit too high off of the creek with no real easy way of accessing it. This was unfortunate because there were several spots I would have loved to take a dip!
The remaining portion of Swift Camp Creek Trail leading to Rock Bridge was picturesque. While the trail only leveled out toward the end, the ascents along the ridge lines and the descents into the creek beds were well worth the effort. Rock Bridge was one of the few natural bridges I had not seen in the park. Even though I felt lousy upon reaching it (along with the realization that we still had another two hours of hiking to do that day)… Rock Bridge was a slice of heaven on earth and worth the effort to get there.
We hiked for about two hours backtracking from Rock Bridge and set up camp just south of Wildcat Trail. Our plan was to wake the next morning and head westward on Wildcat Trail and then jet north to our cars. Our campsite was set just inside a small hollow and upon entering it, the temperature easily drop ten degrees with the cool air blowing passed. This was a really sweet place to land for the night.
Fortunately, by the time we set out for Wildcat Trail on Sunday morning I was feeling about 90%. Two hours of hiking led us out of Wildcat and to our roadside destination where we would retrieve the cars. If you are anywhere close to Slade, Kentucky it is essential to eat at Miguel’s Pizza… and we did! There is no greater prize than finishing a weekend long hike with an Ale 8 and a few slices of pizza.
Next hiking trip will be in Colorado in the Rockies at the end of July.