Summer is a time for hiking. Summer is also a time for crispy beers. So, based on a little thing called the transitive property, hiking is a time for crispy beers.
As the calendar page was beginning to turn toward September, and the space at the center of the summer/hiking/crispy beers Venn diagram was starting to close, we packed a cooler, loaded up the Forester, and headed for Southeastern Ohio’s Hocking Hills.
There’s a little place down there that makes for a great day trip. It’s called Airplane Rock because it’s a rock that resembles an airplane. It looks as if a 747 had been caught mid-takeoff by Medusa’s gaze, frozen atop a 300-foot cliff of sheer sandstone with just the cockpit extending over the edge. Standing on the nose, you get a full, 180-degree view of the majestic Crane Hollow, as well as a good portion of the Hocking Hills State Park that surrounds it.
It’s absolutely serene.
Getting there, however, is no easy feat. At just more than two and a half miles, the hike isn’t very long, but it’s uphill the entire way. And most of the trail follows a bridle path, which means it gets gnarled and pocked by heavy horse traffic, especially in the rainy months when the ground softens.
The trail begins creekside under a thick canopy of trees. Even in the late August heat, the air is cool thanks to the density of branches above. The terrain begins to climb and the proximity of the trees begins to lessen, just slightly, as light begins to filter to the forest floor. More fungi and plants appear, lending a lush vibe.
The path transitions to a ridgeline as the ground begins to fall away on the left. After a few minutes, an outcropping appears with a single tree growing at its edge. Across from it, on the other side of the trail, is a towering rock shelter whose colors blend and bend from carrot to sorbet to moss to pea soup.
Higher and higher the trail climbs, eventually doubling back on itself. It’s at this point that the forest floor becomes discernible again, and the elevation shift is made apparent. Quickly, the trees and undergrowth come to a halt for a brief trek along an access path. The light there, unabated by any living thing, is intense and strange—a reminder of the unrelenting power of the sun, not to mention the hospitable shelter of the trees.
Entering the forest again after a brief-but-rocky climb feels like walking into air conditioning right after mowing the lawn. Not too much further, a small sign that reads “NO HORSES BEYOND THIS POINT” marks our arrival at Airplane Rock. Following a short jaunt over a few fallen trunks, we find ourselves on the sandstone ledge, sheer rock faces to both sides, nothing but treetops in front of us as far as the eye can see.
We’re once again unsheltered from the sun, its intensity magnified by the bright, smooth stone beneath our feet. As I remove my backpack, the sweat from the straps and my neckline combine to form a widened letter M. The view would be reward enough for the hike, but we’ve brought a few cans of Quinannan Falls to sweeten the deal.
After more than an hour on the trail, they’re by no means cold at this point. But they are crispy, and that’ll do.