I apologize to all you urban hipsters when my posts take a decidedly more outdoorsy, tree-hugging turn, but that’s who I am. Since Courtney wrote about what she does when I’m not around, I thought I’d share what I was doing on Sunday in order to leave her alone. In other words, this is what I do when I don’t bring Courtney along.
It is telling that whenever I get a day to myself, the only thing I even consider doing is heading straight to the nearest blank spot on the map, meaning someplace where the roads are really far apart. This day, I decided to head west, the direction of change, to the Cumberland Plateau. The Obed National Wild and Scenic River comprises a system of canyons that actually includes three major streams: the Obed, Clear Creek, and the Emory River. It was actually my fall-back option. So first, I stopped at Frozen Head State Natural Area to check out the hiking there, purportedly good. Frozen Head lies right next to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, giving me extra reason to appreciate the freedom I was experiencing as I drove through the complex of barbed-wire and chain-link surrounded by steep mountainsides. If you have to go to prison, this is actually a pretty scenic place to do it, I suppose. The park itself reminded me why I avoid state parks: volleyball courts, picnic areas, a visitor center and the dreaded boy scouts. Yup, at the trailhead I found a whole troop either just embarking on or just returning from a backpacking trip. Bad sign. Frozen Head’s probably pretty cool, but I’ll have to check it out some other time. On to the Obed.
The Obed is primarily known for world-class whitewater and secondarily for rock climbing, though it also has a growing number of trails for the intrepid hiker. It also has the Lilly Boulders, a small but high-quality bouldering area tucked among the hardwoods above Clear Creek. It’s been about two years since I’ve done any bouldering and six months since my last climbing trip, so I was anxious to pull down on some stone. I spent an hour or so monkeying around on the steep sandstone torching some muscles that haven’t seen action for quite awhile and wearing some of the skin off my fingers. There’s nothing like it. I didn’t realize how much I missed the smell of rock on my hands.
Feeling pleasantly worked over, I decided to fold up the crash pad and do some exploring. From the same parking area for the boulders, I went the other direction out to Lilly Point. It was just about two miles one way and the fall colors were gorgeous, much better than I’d expected considering the ongoing drought. Though the forest goes right down to the rim of the canyon, the thinning canopy allowed the occassional glimpse of the void beyond and the imposing walls on the opposite side. About halfway to the Point, I heard the distant cry of "ROPE!” and it brought joy to my heart.
Lilly Point marks the convergence of Clear Creek with the Obed, the 200-foot cliffs lining the watercourses coming together in a peninsula of gray sandstone high above the rivers. The trail goes right out to the end, and there’s actually a natural arch along the way. I spent some time scrambling around the rim and bushwacking my way to the top of the arch, at one point spying three sets of climbers on the other side of Clear Creek.
On the way back to the trailhead, I took a side trail that was marked with a cairn to the rim. There, I was completely surprised to find a 30-foot ladder made of 4x4 lumber descending a section off cliff. To get to it, I had to hand over hand down a fixed 10.5 mil line to where the top of the ladder was tied off to a bolt. Weird. At the bottom, I did find some sport routes on nearby sections of cliff and a waterfall that’s probably pretty neat in the spring, but nothing that seemed to warrant the effort of carrying and assembling a ladder out here. Seeing the climbing routes definitely made me itch to do some climbing, though.
With the sun quickly on its way down, I headed back up that wobbly homemade ladder and out to my trusty, dented pick-up. The one-hour trip home was filled with visions of Courtney dancing alone to loud music and looking forward to the chicken soup I had left to simmer all day in the crock pot. And that is what I do when left to my own devices.