I was out barefoot hiking again this past Friday. Aside from the usual chance to stretch my legs, I had another purpose: My explorations around Vulture Point and Vulture Cave convinced me that my map of the area just wasn’t quite right.
So I headed back there determined to pay close attention to the terrain and apply it to my map-making.
If you haven’t seen them before, I have an extensive set of maps for the hiking trails in southeastern Ohio. I have hiked every single one of those marked trails barefoot. What I have learned over the years is how to read the terrain and apply what I see to a topographic map. At that point it is fairly easy to draw onto the topo map almost exactly where the trail sits. (Yes, these days one could use GPS, but a lot of this trail-recording was pre-GPS, or at least pre-cheap-GPS.)
Here’s the official government topo map for the area around Conkle’s Hollow and Vulture Point:
“A” shows the original trail to get to the rim trail. The topo map itself dates from 1961. Now, when I draw on my trails, if the trail is already marked on the map I just follow it. Well, in this case I shouldn’t have done so.
If you go to Conkle’s Hollow, the rim trail starts with a long flight of stairs. I’d been getting pretty suspicious that the stair location was not built right over the old trail. Furthermore, hiking up the trail, you could see the ravine marked by “B” as you hiked to the top. From the topo map, that should have been impossible. So again, on Friday I paid close attention to where the trail actually went, with an eye towards fixing things.
On that map, Vulture Point is as “C”, and Vulture Cave is at “D”. You can tell there is a steep drop-off there because the elevation lines are very close together (for those of you new to topo maps, each brown line shows a line of constant elevation). As I left the rim trail to bushwhack in the State Forest (which touches the Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve there), I paid close attention to what ravine I was in.
On these maps, one also has to keep in mind that features that look small, or simply as a minor curve, on the map can appear pretty large on the ground. It’s a real trick to learn how to correlate that correctly.
I scouted along below the cliff face and came upon another ravine going parallel to me. That was pretty clearly the one marked with “E”. It was also pretty big, and led me easily into Vulture Cave. Here’s that entrance from there (last time I entered, I came from the other direction).
That large rock in the distance is huge, well over five times my height.
Next up, more approaching Vulture Cave, along the cliff wall.
With the leaves coming off the trees, one can get a better view of the area. From Vulture Cave you can see Vulture Point.
That’s not the vulture-shaped point, but another overhanging know that is about 40 feet away from the vulture. We’ll get another look at that from the top in a minute.
I continued hiking along the bottom of the cliff face, and reconfirmed for myself something else about the topo map. That trail marked with “F” just doesn’t exist, and quite frankly, never could. There’s to access there—it’s a solid rock face. There’s no way a trail could ever have been there. The real trail is farther north (and has been marked by me on my maps from early on).
There is a nice view though, even from below the cliff face, of Airplane Rock across Crane Hollow, if you carefully look between the trees.
I finally ascended to the top of the cliff, and headed back to Vulture Point. Here you can see that other knob, the one that’s not the vulture:
Yes, my right foot had gotten pretty dirty. As if often the case, the horses’ hooves had chewed up the trails pretty bad, and there were some majorly muddy areas. I should note that sitting on that knob is probably pretty safe—the rock, while overhanging slightly, is pretty well supported underneath. I would not recommend sitting on the Vulture, though. From the pictures I’ve taken from below, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gave way under the weight of a person. Finally, Vulture Cave is just below me, and the view behind me in the distance is of Pine Creek valley.
Here is the result of my scouting. On the left is my old map that used the old trail marking. To the right is the new improved version. I’ve removed the trails from the original topo map that just aren’t there any more, and show the correct locations of the rim trail (red) and the orange bridle trail (orange). I also added a bushwhack suggestion. Those blue dotted lines show a place one can scramble down the cliff face and bushwhack across the valley to Airplane Rock.
All that just from taking careful note of the terrain one is walking through.