Jamie came up with this venue and we opened it up to others who might like to join us. Our good friend Don was up for the adventure, so the three of us set out after Jamie got off work, around 4:30 with the plan being to secure a parking spot at the Bison Way trailhead for a Saturday morning start. The plan was to find a campsite there and get a good night’s rest before taking on a 12-13 mile trek. That is not how the evening went down!
Since we knew we would be arriving late, we planned to grab something to eat on the way, so that landed us at Outback Steakhouse until about 9:00 p.m. We were a bit behind schedule due to rush hour traffic getting out of Columbus as well as a few other slow-downs. About 30 minutes later, we arrived at the trailhead and took the last open parking spot. As our luck would have it, there were no public or primitive campsites to be had. The rule of this national park system is no camping within 300 feet of any trail or road. It was dark and we saw no viable options, other than to bed down for the night in the car. We grabbed our sleeping bags and with Jamie paired up with the steering wheel, Don in the backseat and me in the passenger side, we attempted to sleep. Don stayed up for a bit and snapped some photos of the beautiful starry sky, capturing the Galactic Disk/Milky Way. I fell asleep fairly quickly, but woke many times with my legs asleep from the semi-upright position I was in, which is something that also happens during long car trips, so this was no surprise, since my legs were lower than the rest of my body. We had also been forewarned that there had been several car break-ins in the park that night, so we were a bit uneasy and slept with one eye open. At some point during my semi-slumber, I lowered my seat (no recollection of doing this) and trapped poor Don’s legs under my seat back. Being the gentleman that he is, he didn’t say a word and gutted out the entrapment until we woke in the morning. Life is all about the experiences and this was definitely one to remember! We cooked up some oatmeal with our little camp stove, walked to the visitor center about a quarter mile down the road, obtained our permit/parking pass and off we went, but not before snapping a starting picture of the three of us.
The hike started out a tad bit uphill, but nothing like some of the other hikes we’ve been on. The trail was even, with scattered roots popping up. We came upon a family from Columbus and chatted with them for a bit once we came upon one of the arches that this gorge is known for. We were looking for a spot called the “Cloud Splitter”, which is a highlight of the gorge. We came across a very high and scenic spot of rock formations and thought we had found it. We took some panoramic photos and continued on our way, only to wind up at a dead-end, overlooking the spot where we had parked the car. At this time, we also passed a trail runner who seemed to be familiar with the area. She assured us we were going the right way, however, the trail pretty much ended and we found ourselves hiking on what was barely a trail at all and nothing like what we had just been on. We decided to turn around and try to see where we may have missed a turn. We found the fork (a spot that I had actually mentioned that I felt we should go the other way) and at the same time, decided to take a break for lunch. Within a few minutes, the trail runner girl came back past us, admitting that she too, had gone the wrong way. We chatted a bit with her and another couple that was hiking by, then headed back out on the right track.
After a few more miles, we passed a couple hiking with their dog. We chatted with them for a bit and learned that we were just a few feet from the start of the climb to the real “Cloud Splitter”. As we turned to start our ascent up a very steep grade, tons of people were on their way back down and we realized that we had our work cut out for us! We climbed and climbed until we came to an enormous rock formation that was only accessible to the top by using a rope that was secured to a dead tree trunk. At that point, we left our backpacks at the bottom and made our way repelling up the rope. The views were breathtaking and it certainly lived up to its’ name! There was also a very narrow cave entrance from this vantage point and it too was accessible with a dead tree that someone made into a ladder. You have to be fairly thin to gain access to this cave and you also have to pretend to be Spider Man and use your body strength to essentially hike yourself up and shimmy through the very narrow opening. These are the times that you learn just how mentally and physically tough you are! It was tough, but we all made it up, over, through and back out and got some amazing photos to show for it. The trek back down was no picnic it was steep or we were tired by this point. We eagerly looked forward to getting to our campsite and knew at this point, that 12-13 miles was not in the cards.
The next landmark that we were looking for and one that would be near our anticipated campsite, was the Suspension Bridge. It took us a few more miles to get to it. After crossing the river, we found an awesome site on top of a hill overlooking the river. We followed the laughs and screams of what was obviously a nearby cliff jumping spot and Jamie headed up the hill and found our hidden gem. There was an existing fire ring and plenty of wood. We unloaded our packs, pitched our tents and headed to the cliff where Jamie proceeded to do some jumps while Don and I snapped photos and videos. Generally I would partake in this festivity, however I did not want to sleep with river rat hair all night, so vanity won. I was more than happy to watch my husband take the plunges.
Once Jamie got the kid in him out of his system, he got busy putting his fire building skills to swift use as I gathered wood. He was eager to try out his new knife that he got to use cut tree limbs and split wood as we have had issues at some of our other locations with the campsites being very picked over. It adds a good bit of extra weight to his pack, but it’s worth it to have a way to find and cut some good limps and split it to build a faster, bigger fire. We cooked up some dinner using our Jet Boil stove (Louisiana Red Beans and Rice from REI) and called it a night by 10:00.
We were up and at it by 8:00 after an average nights’ sleep. It rained for a few hours towards early morning but stopped by the time we headed out around 9:00. We decided to cut the distance short and take the road back our car. All in all, the total hike was only about ten miles for the two days, but a good time was had and we agreed that we would definitely want to come back and experience the rest of this extensive trail system. We stopped and had pizza at a place called Miguel’s that was recommended by the trail runner girl that we met on day one. It hit the spot and what’s best is that they have gluten-free pizza!