We finally got a break in the weather around here and I had a chance to go on an organized hike at Clear Creek Metro Park. I kind of waited until the last minute to decide, because southern Ohio had gotten up to 2 feet of snow a few days before, and the area of the hike had certainly gotten a fair bit of snow itself. But then we’d also had a few warm days, and a day of rain.
It turned out that it was perfect for barefoot hiking.
There were still a few patches of snow around my house. That didn’t worry me—the question was how much more snow was there farther south near where the major snow had hit. But in the end I decided to go, and I am glad I did.
Here’s what their bulletin says about the hike:
Take a rugged 3-mile backcountry hike to see a magnificent centuries old oak tree.
All participants must register in advance. Be prepared for hilly, rugged, off-trail hiking. Bring drinking water. This hike is not recommended for children.
The oak tree is a northern red oak and is the tallest northern red oak in the whole state of Ohio. It’s also only 14 feet short of being the absolute tallest tree in Ohio. This was the first time this hike has been done. Also, since Clear Creek is a nature preserve, these sorts of off-trail hikes are only done “off-season”, when we will not be disturbing wildlife.
Arriving at the starting point (at the park maintenance center, not the normal parking lots), the fog was just starting to lift.
The hike headed up that hill to the right.
There had been patches of snow along the way, but I felt that was something I ought to be able to handle. I find continuous snow to be too much, but the occasional patch is like ice cream, and then my feet can warm back up on a non-snowy area. The air temperature started at around 40°, and then warmed to close to 50° by the end of the hike, so that was perfect for barefoot hiking, too.
For those who have done the hike to Beck’s Rocks, this started out using the same trail.
Here are some of the hikers heading up the hill.
There had been some other “barefoot hikers” up there previously. We found their footprints.
Along the way, we found this old sign which is being eaten by a tree.
Here’s a map of the route we ended up taking.
The maintenance center is the gray parking lot on the right. We followed Opossum Hollow Road for a short distance, then started head up the trail (blue). At the top of the hill we started bushwhacking to get to the old oak.
The hike ended up being just over 2¼ miles. This was not a speed-and-distance sort of hike. We took it to see and absorb nature, and to learn from our naturalist (and the other hikers always turn out to know a lot, too).
Note: Clear Creek is a Nature Preserve. People are not allowed to go off-trail unless accompanied by park personnel as part of an official organized hike. This area is normally off-limits. I should add that Clear Creek has plenty of other trails available for hiking.
After a short distance off-trail, we arrived at the tree.
Here you can see the Clear Creek Naturalist, Marcey, explaining about it to some of the other hikers. The tree is about 149½ feet tall and has a girth of 16 feet. They estimate that it is around 400 years old.
It’s rather remarkable that it is there, since much of this area was logged by the settlers and others. It is a bit hard to see it, though, as approaching it. You may be able to distinguish the stream behind it—it’s in a fairly low area with upslopes on either side, so its height is hidden by the shorter trees whose bases are up the hills.
Here’s a shot looking up its trunk.
And here I am, standing on one of its buttresses.
That’s what old oaks do, get those buttresses to help it stay upright. You can also get a feel for how much snow there is around. With those air temperatures, the snow was actually a bit refreshing.
We got everybody to pose for a group shot.
[Click for a much larger version. Most of these pictures have larger versions you can click on.]
It turns out there is another rather big tree nearby: a Canadian hemlock. It’s not record size, but it was still pretty big.
It recently lost that limb, leaving that impressive scar.
This was right near the creek, with a small waterfall, so I could not resist getting a picture.
You can see that the fog was still sitting down there in the hollow.
I also had a bit of fun taking some pictures of where the water was falling. Here are two shots of it, using different exposure times. Here’s a short exposure (1/60 second) where you can see the water droplets.
But then if one uses a longer exposure (this one was 1/5 second), then it looks all flowy.
On the way back from the big trees, we headed up the nose of the ridge. This area is fairly close to Beck’s Rocks, so we saw similar slump rock features. Here’s a nice ice sheet down a small cliff.
The Hocking Hills area is always spectacular in that way this time of year. It’s warm enough to do a lot of hiking, but there are still plenty of ice formations around.
Here’s another of the slump rock formations.
There was a little cave among the slump rocks. Here’s a shot of it, taken by fellow hiker Dale Hachtel. (Thanks, Dale!)
And here’s another shot by Dale showing the slump rocks (and the best way of climbing the slump rocks!).
On our way up, we came across this skull.
Pretty good set of teeth, eh?
I picked it up asking if folks knew what it was.
And that was when I got a whiff of it. It wasn’t too bad (or I would have noticed it sooner). If you look in this picture you can still see some of the pelt attached.
Clearly, the winter was too much for this guy (or gal).
Further up on our way out we came across these beech drops.
I don’t think I’d ever noticed them before. They are parasitic and are located near their hosts, which are beech trees.
Speaking of beeches, at the top of the ridge were a bunch of beech seedlings (which keep their leaves over the winter). It made the place look like a fairyland.
This was a truly wonderful hike. Perfect weather; nature everywhere. And Marcey is a great guide who is extremely knowledgeable.
This particular hike was part of their Metro 5-0 series, for older hikers (age 50 and up, who might be available on a weekday). This hike is being repeated this Saturday, so anybody in the area might consider doing it.
Note that you have to register at the MetroParks website. They need to limit the number of people to help protect the area. (Also, if there are too many people it gets hard to hear what Marcey is saying!)
This was another great program put on by the Columbus MetroParks, and it was also a wonderful opportunity for me to start out a season of barefoot hiking.