Hey there, my names Tom Aguero and I normally blog over at Queen City Drinks talking about all things beer, especially local Cincinnati beer. I've been hiking longer than I have been drinking and my very first blog was about hiking around Cincinnati. I lost the passion for writing about hiking, then life got in the way and I lost the time to hike. I decided to reignite my love of the hike a few weeks ago with a trip to the Gorge, then decided to reach out to Cody here at Outside Cincy to reignite my blogging about hiking. What follows is the tale of me conquering a rock that had tempted me for years.
Red River Gorge Geological Area
Two hours south of Cincinnati, one hour east of Lexington, lies an outdoor adventurer’s wonderland of trails for hiking, cliff faces for climbing or rappelling, rivers for kayaking, and boundless beauty for all! What is this magical place? It’s the Red River Gorge Geological Area, or just “the Red” or “the Gorge” for short.
Of all the varied activities to do there I only camp and hike having rapelled only a handful of times and never climbed despite my joy of indoors bouldering. I’ve been going to the Gorge for 12 years now, most of those years I would go twice a month, not counting winter… I was only crazy enough for that once. Going that often meant that we walked all the official trails so many times we loathed them. Official trails being those with wooden signs and colored blazes on trees marking their paths.
Then we hit the unofficial trails, paths through woods beaten down over years of travel. After covering many of these we needed something new, somewhere we’d never been. Every time we drove north on rt. 77 from Nada tunnel we would see this big monolithic rock and ponder how to get there. It can also be seen when looking off to the left of Auxier Ridge like below.
Initially I found the name of that rock, Ravens Rock, and plenty of history about it. The Gorge was an area few knew of until there was talk of damming the Red River for flood control. That drew attention to the area which resulted in the beauty of the arches and valleys gaining widespread attention. That attention peaked with a hike by a Supreme Court judge trying to save the area.
After that the forest service built a road to the top of Ravens Rock, things get fuzzy here, either they were going to build a fire watch station or a restaurant/gift top. I’ve also seen things saying that hang gliding took place off the top of Ravens Rock but I have never seen anything official confirming any of this. Well, that’s not true anymore but more on that later.
One year I did some more research and found a potential trail. That trail involved fording the Red River just west of the steel bridge. The day we went to try this the river had a fast current and looked far too deep for safe crossing. We went south of the steel bridge, pulled off the road, and started heading through the trees.
I was halfway down a small slope leading from the road into the woods. A few friends were already all the way down and one or two still on the road. It was a quiet day, no traffic on the road, you could hear the birds singing and the wind gently blowing through the trees…
Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!
“Get off my land!”
And we’re running. The slope wasn’t too steep but I’m still astounded by how fast my friends got back up it. Those who were on the road were now in the car getting the engine going by the time I got to the top of the road. We all piled in and took off, our dreams of climbing Ravens Rock shattered.
The Return to Raven's Rock
Life has interfered with me greatly over the past two years preventing me from getting to the Gorge at all in that time. After telling friends so many tales from my hundreds of trips there we decided to stake out a weekend months in advance and commit to making a trip happen. We reserved a cabin a month ahead of time only to arrive at the week of our trip to almost constant rain. Lucky Saturday was forecast for 4 rain free hours in the middle of the day so we set out for Raven’s Rock.
For those familiar with the Gorge take a left at the Shell station and follow rt.15 to rt. 77 through the Nada tunnel. A few miles after the tunnel you’ll see some small signs on the left about parking, though you’ll probably shoot past it and go over the steel bridge so just turn around past the bridge. From rt. 77 you turn onto a small gravel road curving down into a set of a few houses. You’ll see more signs showing where to park and where to leave your money; $5 per car per day or $10 per car for overnight. Likely paying that same guy who shot at us.
The photo above is the path the old gravel road took through the woods to the base of the hill. Remember all that rain I mentioned earlier? Yeah, this part sucked. Only one of two of us made it through here with dry socks. If you attempt Raven's Rock I strongly suggest doing it when it's been dry for a while due to the number of swampy sections here. After about a mile of this trekking you take a turn and are faced with the first of many steep inclines.
I hope that photo gives a good perspective on how steep these sections were. They're nicely interspersed with flat sections where you seemed to be backtracking in a zigzagging fashion up the hill. You can clearly see this zigzagging in the map a couple photos down. All the inclined sections clearly show remnants of the asphalt road (Which I now have official confirmation of having been built since I saw it with my own eyes) that you used to be able to drive to the top. Though even at best these remnants make me wonder how any car made it up, let alone pass another car that was coming down. In the worst cases the road is more than half gone, like below:
As you get to the top, the road has remained relatively intact though the woods have grown to cover it, shockingly you can see that there was a yellow middle line which makes me think they would let tow cars pass each other.
After that last incline you've made it, you're done, you're on top of Raven's Rock! Again we have official eyewitness, my eyes, confirmation that someone built, or started to build, some thing on top of Raven's Rock.
The likelihood of it trying to be established as a restaurant/tourist area is somewhat confirmed due to the amount of metal railing along the edge. Very few places in the Gorge have any railings at all so their presence is notable.
Before the journey, I forgot to turn on my phone's stat tracker; I use Googe My Tracks, but I did turn it on at the top before heading down. Per My Tracks, the trip back was 1.77mi long and dropped 573ft, which is about a 16% decline. As mentioned before, you can see the zigzagging switchbacks of the inclines.
Well, that's all I've got. Thanks for reading! If you have any questions leave a comment below or shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com. If you're into beer be sure to check out my blog Queen City Drinks. I've enjoyed writing this post for Outside Cincy and I'll probably have more again soon!
Thanks to Tom for the amazing trip report on an off the beaten path peak! I am excited to check out this hike in the near future. Be sure to check out his site Queen City Drinks!
Inspired to share your own adventure? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get started!