On Tuesday I decided I needed a short hike at Cantwell Cliffs. It had been about a week of on-and-off rain since my last hike, and my (bare) feet needed it. All of me needed it.
It also gave me a great opportunity to go off-trail and explore more of the area. My goal was to head into Goss Hollow.
In Ohio, the park system is a mix of State Parks and State Forests, with the two often adjoining each other. For instance, Cantwell Cliffs is part of Hocking Hills State Park, but it is surrounded by the Hocking State Forest. They are officially run by two separate agencies. (There is a third agency that operates Nature Preserves like Conkle’s Hollow.) It is illegal to leave the trails in Hocking Hills State Park (aside from people trampling the plants, they’re really afraid of people falling off of cliffs). However, it is not illegal to bushwhack in Hocking State Forest. Thus my plan was to stay on the official trail until it kissed the State Forest, and then head off cross-country in the State Forest toward Goss Hollow.
It was perfect for barefoot hiking. The air temperature was around 65° (18C). The ground was moist from all the rain, so toes were perfect for keeping a good grip. Another nice thing about heading into the hollow was all of the Canadian Hemlock needles on the ground. The hollows of Hocking Hills provide a perfect microclimate for the hemlocks, and their needles provide a soft, spongy surface to tread upon.
It was also a good day to work on Acclimatization. I basically hiked wearing just a pair of shorts, and found it amazingly comfortable. We really don’t need to overdress since 65° is quite comfortable as long as you are moving around.
The tip of Goss Hollow has two prongs, and I approached the left one first:
I then left most fanny pack there, and took my camera and clambered up the middle to get into the right-hand prong. Getting down in there required squeezing between the cliff face and a large slump rock:
When you are this far off the beaten track (in this case, about a quarter of a mile away from the main trail), you can feel really alone, as if you are at a place almost unvisited by humans. But then I entered the right-hand prong:
The dark area is where the waterfall has dripped down. And there in front of it: some neatly stacked firewood and a fire pit. OK, so the isolation was a bit of an illusion. But it is still the case that very, very few people have probably been back here, and it is certainly a small proportion of those who have visited Cantwell Cliffs. This location is actually on the back edge of the State Forest, so the wood may have been put there by the adjacent property owner.
Here’s a shot of the waterfall and the back of the cave:
Heading back, you can get a better view of the path I had to take to get down to the base of the waterfall.
I retrieved my fanny pack and then finally rejoined the main trail and headed back to the entrance. On a whim, and partly because, even though I’d been back there a while (bushwhacking can be slow), I hadn’t gone that far, I spent more time just wandering at the Cliffs themselves.
That is when I came across this little guy. He was about 4 inches long:
He was slowly crawling his way up the cliff face next to the trail. As far as I can tell, that is a Northern Red Salamander. You can just make out the yellow pupils that are a hallmark of the species. Normally you won’t see salamanders out in the open like this. They need a lot of moisture to maintain their water balance. But on this day it was so humid from the recent rain (you can also see how wet the rock face is) that it must have felt comfortable out there. It’s wet enough that there are fallen Hemlock needles on the rock face, and the salamander has even had a few stick to it.
My total mileage was only about 3 miles. But the psychological benefit was closer to 100.