Sunday, April 20, 2008

clifty wilderness

The Clifty Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness area located in central eastern Kentucky. It is part of the Red River Gorge Geological Area which is part of the Cumberland Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The federal management units in that area seem to be a real bureaucratic cluster fuck. The area seems to be heavily used and may need a more centralized management structure than the Forest Service can currently provide in order to minimize damage to the natural resources the area provides. See this website for a good summary of some of the problems.

The most accessible area of the wilderness, and the only place where trails are maintained by the forest service, is in the Swift Camp Creek gorge. Swift Camp Creek is tributary to the Red River that cuts a rugged gorge for twelve miles or so from the town of Campton (where the four lane Bert Combs highway ends) down to the Red River. The section of the creek in the wilderness is all downstream from the highway and the town of Campton which might have something to do with some of the bad things about the Swift Camp Creek gorge.

Here are some things one might want to know before heading to the Swift Camp Creek Gorge.

(1) While the gorge truly feels like a wild place, a prehistoric place, with old growth hemlocks and white pines, 200' cliff faces, caves, waterfalls, house sized boulders, rhododendron thickets like the best in North Carolina, moss and liverworts dripping from every tree etc. etc., the river was full of trash. There were many, many tires, right in the middle of the river miles from any road, plastic soda bottles, white styrofoam coolers and this was all just in the river. In areas where people obviously camp a lot there was some toilet paper, cigarette butts, tin foil etc. Now the place wasn't trashed. But there was trash there. More trash then in other comparable places I've been.

(2) If you're interested in fishing the creek, as I was, or any other creeks in the area, be forewarned that they aren't so hot. Some older regulations say that Swift Camp Creek is stocked for 8 wiles in the Clifty with rainbow, twice a year, and it is delayed harvest. But if you look at the 2008 regs, they say only about 1 mile upstream from the Red River is stocked. I didn't see any fish in the river. No smallmouth, no largemouth, no Kentucky spotted bass, nada. Maybe they were there, but I didn't see them. Though here is some good video of people catching trout, presumably on Swift Camp Creek because they say Rainbow trout and I'm not sure if any other creeks are stocked with rainbows in the red river gorge.

Chimney Top Creek is in Red River Gorge as well and is touted as one of Kentucky's best "hold over" brown trout (read: put-grow-take) fisheries. Well, the creek is quite small and I didn't see a single trout in it.

Dog Fork is a small tributary to Swift Camp Creek in the Clifty and is one of four creeks in Kentucky that hold wild brook trout. Looked like brook trout water to me. But I didn't see a single trout there either.

Needless to say, Kentucky doesn't have great trout fishing (unless you count the Cumberland tailwater). Then again, I didn't really give these creeks a thorough fishing either. But from what I saw, they weren't so great.

(3) As I mentioned above, Swift Camp Creek gorge is super rugged. I was looking forward to exploring the river a bit, but that is nearly impossible as the Swift Camp Creek Trail, #219, though it does follow the Swift Camp Creek, follows about 100' above the river on the west side. There are a very very very few trails down to the river (there is good access where Dog Fork runs into the river). Most of the time it is a sheer cliff or even an undercut cliff. One slip of the foot at the wrong place and you're toast. Hopefully that comes through in some of my pictures below. Similarly, the trail is narrow, angled towards the river, very rocky and rooty, and muddy after rain. It goes up and down and up and down and follows creek beds sometimes. There's not a lot of net elevation gain, but it is tough hiking.

(4) Finally, I had a hard time finding a good topo map of the area. One of the only ones I found is made by Outrage GIS. DON'T BUY THIS MAP. There is a better one endorsed and published by the USDA that is a real topo map. The OutrageGIS map is a topo map, but the contour intervals are fucking huge, number one, and number two, the whole goddamn map is printed over a shitty green satellite photo of the area. This makes it confusing to look at and the shading on the photo is all fucked up so that ridges look like valleys and vice versa. It's a terrible map for many other reasons I hope to detail in a post in a series I will call "my maps." Buy the USDA map, not the OutrageGIS map.

OK then. The rant is over. Here are some pictures. It was quite a nice trip actually. I just had a hard time finding information on the area online so I thought I should actually put some detailed commentary up here.

Click many to enlarge.

The rare Kentucky Snow Nymph emerging from her egg case.

On Chimney Top Rock

The Trillium were en fuego.

So were the morels.

And black snakes. Snow nymph is not a huge fan of snakes.

Above Creation Falls on a tributary to Swift Camp Creek.

Creation falls again.

Rock Bridge over Swift Camp Creek. Note three beer cans on lower left side of picture.

This picture might give you some idea about the difficulty in accessing the river from the trail.

Swift Camp Creek

Swift Camp Creek

Dog Fork

Dog Fork

Me crossing Dog Fork.

Amy at the confluence of Dog Fork and Swift Camp Creek.

On Swift Camp Creek.

Swift Camp Creek

At the end of the Swift Camp Creek trail.


Brian said...

I hope you harvested some of those morels. Stuff em with poached veal marrow. Dats good eatin'!

Matthew D Dunn said...

Looking forward to your visit dude. I'll be well stocked with fine beer and coffee. Probably no veal marrow and morels though.

Dale Berthon said...

Yes! The waterfall! I've been looking for pictures of it. A couple of buddies and I wandered around that trail on some LSD and absorbed our minds into the waterfall. My glasses are still somewhere in the D. Boone forest.

Jeff G said...

I buddy and I hiked that same trail about 3 years ago. By far the roughest trail i have ever encountered in the Red River Gorge. Needless to say it is a beautiful walk. We were in search of trout up that way in Nov. and did not find a thing. Sorry, my friend caught one creek chub. We had full packs and then some, which may have made that trail seem worse than it was. What you say about stocking Swift Camp a mile up from the Red River is true. That next day we caught at least 3o rainbows. It was a blast.

Yes the gorge is dirty at times. Thats what happens when you are the closest and prettiest place to so many big cities with no where else to escape. It is better now than it was 15 to 20 years ago before people had by passes and the banned camping in rock houses.

Anonymous said...

OH, wonderful! I was in that forest along with Dale Berthon. I lost track of my camera and forgot to take any pictures.