Fiery Gizzard Trail

By adamandheather

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"Doesn't this, ah, look familiar?"

It was a bad sign, this early in the trip. We were deep in a ravine, dealing with very tricky footing that was wearing us out. Our packs began to feel heavy, as did the thoughts of the 6 or so miles that we still had to go. And it was getting warm.

This weekend we decided to try a trail closer to home, and the legend of the Fiery Gizzard Trail called out to us. This 12-mile trail stretches between two state parts and traverses private land. The trail has such a strong history that the landowners have agreed to keep the trail open to hikers.

We started off on the southern end, at Foster Falls state park. The trail is pretty varied around this area, crossing bridged creeks and crossing bluffs looking over the falls and the valley. At about the 2-mile point, it drops down into Laurel Gorge, about 200 feet down and quite steep. The footing was sketchy, and we seemed to spend the entire time hopping from one unsteady rock to another.

After crossing the creek, we followed a faint trail along the base of a line of bluffs. The trail twisted and climbed up and down steep ground. After a time, we were suddenly struck by Déjà vu. We'd been through this section already. This realization, in a section so demanding on the legs and feet, sapped our spirits. We began again, this time keeping our eyes peeled for the white blazes that mark the trail.

Improbably, the trail turns sharply into one of the bluffs, where an extremely steep, exposed trail winds right up the side of a bluff wall, steeper than a staircase and with uneven footing. As we got closer to this section, we saw a set of steel cables provided for stability. We gladly clung to them while trying not to look down the 30-or-so-foot drop on the side.

The trail continued another 6 miles to our campground, moving over largely flat ground and without many views. On several occasions, wooden steps were provided over barbed-wire fences, reminders that you're traversing private land. We passed blooming wildflowers and a pair of old moonshine stills, but few people. After a hot, breezeless day, we were glad to finally cruise into camp.

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After pitching our tent at the campground, we grabbed our cooking supplies and headed for Raven Point.

We were stunned by the vista. This section of the bluff comes to a point high above the confluence of Big Fiery Gizzard and McAlloyd Creeks, and overlooks the 500-foot deep gorges that they've carved. A gentle breeze kicked up as the sunlight began to turn golden. A dinner of red lentils, mac and cheese, and hot tea helped us wind down from the trek.

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We were convinced that the "nice" part of the trail, the part that makes it famous, must be the four miles still to the north of us. After yesterday's long trudge through viewless woods, we weren't going to head back until we got a taste of it. We left our camping gear set up and took light daypacks with us to explore.

This was the trail that we'd been looking for. It was enchantingly beautiful, rugged, and isolated. The trail passes through fields of huge boulders, traverses long beds of loose, rounded rocks, and continually rises and falls.

The creek creeps through a thick, rich forest, trickling over uncountable waterfalls. If the water had been warmer, and if there'd been more of it, there would have been many excellent watering holes for swimming. As it was, the cool water was good for our aching feet, and more tolerable once they went numb.

Instead of trying to hoof it all the way to end of the trail, we elected to slow down and enjoy our time in the valley. After several hours we returned to camp, packed up our gear, and began lugging our heavy packs back towards Foster Falls. We ended the day in a zombie-shuffle to the car just before sunset.

It was a 25-mile weekend. Next time, we'll focus our visit on the northernmost section of the trail.