My winter hike in Hocking Hills was mostly a success, but it was somewhat lacking in a key ingredient: winter.
Sure, the calendar claimed that Sunday was winter, but Ohio has pretty much ignored conventional weather this year, trading February snows for thunder and lightning. (After our February storms, a friend who keeps track of such things says she has now seen lightning in every month of the year in Ohio.)
The hike to the Rock House on Sunday was more like a spring outing, which was both good and bad. Good because we didn’t risk sliding to our deaths on the icy rock stairs. Bad because we didn’t get to see a frozen waterfall or icicles hanging from the rock face.
Although the towering trees are still leafless, the hills had plenty of color. Velvety moss shone a vivid green and Christmas ferns poked through fallen leaves. Giant hemlocks graced the hillside, and a huge rhododendron near the rock bridge made me wish that central Ohio had more acidic soil.
When I worked in West Virginia, one of my fellow reporters often referred, derisively, to my home state as “the flatlands.” True, much of Ohio was scoured flat by glaciers.
But he and the other Ohio mockers have never seen the stunning landscape features like that of Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, Old Man’s Cave and the rest of Hocking Hills State Park.
The Rock House is a true cave, carved through the eons from Blackhand sandstone. The result is a room 25 feet high and 200 feet long that has been used as a shelter by Native Americans, travelers, and, according to lore, the occasional thief hiding from the law.
The weather was cold enough to require hats and gloves. A few tiny icicles clung to the cliff side, and the end of a log was encased in ice. But I shed my coat for just a fleece jacket not long into the hike. It was a peaceful walk, and once past the Rock House we had the trail almost to ourselves.
The outing let me plan something I’d never undertaken before: a winter picnic. Figuring out what I could take that could warm us after the hike was a fun challenge. I wanted foods that would be relatively easy to make and that would travel well in thermoses.
I opted for shredded beef, served on focaccia bread; carrot soup; and mulled cider. Friends supplied hummus, crackers, fruit and brownies.
We were alone in the picnic area after our walk, enjoying the sunshine.
Conclusion: A great day out