The action of this trip actually began before I ever hoisted my pack. For the sake of avoiding a loop hike or out-and-back, I used a bike shuttle, a tactic I haven't employed for a few years. After staging our gear (and my fiancee, Sleeps With Skunks) at Temple Hill Trailhead, I drove to Lincoln Trailhead on the north side of the park. From there, I rode my bike the 6 miles of paved country road and gravel path back to Temple Hill, where I hid and padlocked the bike.
Then the hike began.
In the first couple of miles, we enjoyed the Green River over our right shoulders.
Sleeps With Skunks with Green River in background.
We continued on, with occasional twists and turns, and eventually joined a small creek for about a half mile.
Numerous blowdowns (more than 3 dozen in the first 4 miles) made the hike a bit more interesting, not terribly difficult, but interesting. We had planned to have lunch at McCoy Hollow Campsite, then bushwhack the 1/4-mile down to Wet Prong Creek. From there, we would follow it the few hundred yards to the trail intersection leading to Bluffs Campsite. This would have made for a 6-mile day.
However, in the midst of all the blowdowns, we apparently bypassed the access trail to McCoy Hollow. I knew we had to have bypassed the point based on our pace, but hoped I could correct the mistake without adding the 4+ miles staying on the winding trails would have created.
Along the way, we enjoyed the MANY unusual rock formations, both those formed my natural processes:
.... as well as some man-made ones....
Our mascot, Dewey Bear with his pet turtle Topper inside a fancy cairn...
Shortly after, we arrived at a creek crossing that firmly fixed our position. While SWS refilled her water bottle and enjoyed a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch, I shot a quick compass bearing, and ascended a very steep hill face. As I expected, Collie Ridge Campsite awaited after about 200 yards of climbing and I knew we could cut the (now) 10 miles of trail hiking to a bit less than 8. The key was whether SWS, who does NOT like heights, would feel OK with the short but steep trailless climb.
After explaining the options, she was more than game. I enjoyed a quick lunch, repacked and we began the ascent. SWS did great.
Sleeps With Skunks grunting up the steep hill....
Once at Collie Ridge Campsite, we were really tempted to squat there for the night. Collie Ridge was our first choice of campsite, but there was another group already reserved there. Sadly, we headed up the .4 mile access trail.
At the trail intersection, we enjoyed the two picnic tables set there for horsepacking groups that frequent the area. And there we met the solo hiker who was slated to stay at Collie Ridge. He was a bit disheveled and seemed puzzled to see his first two real human beings in three days in the Mammoth Cave backcountry. I wished him well as he headed to his own campsite for the night. And SWS and I began our 1.6 mile journey to Bluffs.
Along the way, I enjoyed the way a fir grove turned the brown and grey of the winter landscape to bright green.
A bit later, we arrived at Bluffs Campsite, which more than lives up to its name.
With the practice of many trips together, SWS set up our Hubba Hubba in footprint & fly mode while I gathered water. In about half an hour, our campsite was set.
My foodbag was much heavier than usual, feeling more like 6-day's instead of 2 day's worth of food, but the quality of meals was worth it. With added spices, fresh sausage, eggs, hashbrowns, cheese, and luxury desserts, we enjoyed something of a feast of freeze-dried Italian compared to the typical backpacking fare.
The sunset added to the overall quality of dinner.
With full stomachs and good books, we headed to bed.
The next morning, I rose to prepare skillet scrambles of hash browns, diced sausage links and fresh eggs with cheese. I brought SWS her's in her bed while I returned to work on mine as sprinkles began to drip. I finished mine and stowed the kitchen gear in the nearby cavelet just in time to crawl into the tent before the sky opened up. After about 10 minutes, the storm abated to mere sprinkles again.
At this point, I packed my down quilt and rolled my pad and moved all my gear to the cavelet and began to pack my pack while SWS packed up inside the tent. I found my little cave a happy respite from the drips of rain.
Finally, SWS whose knees and feet had suffered somewhat from the previous day, prepared to make her way the 3.2 miles down the Buffalo Trail to Maple Springs Campground. I would take the 6-mile route up the Collie Ridge Trail to the truck at Lincoln Trailhead, head out to pick up my bike, then return to Maple Springs to recover my fiancee. SWS stepped off as I pulled down the tent and packed the last bits of gear in my own kit.
I quickly backtracked the now-muddier 1.6 miles to the picnic tables at Collie Ridge Trail. There, I grabbed a candy bar, and pulled the pack cover off my pack. Of course, this proved to be a mistake, as the skies opened up within 3 minutes of stepping off up Collie Ridge Trail. I stopped, replaced the pack cover over the pack and pulled my windshirt onto myself. With 100 steps, the rain stopped again.
I finally decided on a compromise, returning the windshirt to a side pocket, but keeping the cover on. At least I had 4 super-fast miles of ridge-walking on Collie Ridge Trail, actually a regravelled old roadbead.
The only thing that slowed me down was horse traffic. Most of the horses seemed very skittish, stopping over 100 yards way. I had to step off the trail before most would come any closer, and wait for them to pass onward. Still I only had a couple of encounters, so it was not too much of an inconvenience.
The Double J Stables is located just outside Park boundaries and they lead horse rides through this area regularly.
I pushed quickly up the last .4 miles of muddy access trail to the Lincoln TH parking area. A group of more than a dozen horses were being saddled there, so I figured I'd gotten off very lucky in my timing as I started my truck at 11:45.
40 minutes later, my bike stowed in the bed of my truck, I picked up Sleeps With Skunks at Maple Springs, and we headed home.