Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Seth Long, CEO of Housing Oriented Ministries Established for Service, Inc. (HOMES), a Fahe member located in Whitesburg, KY. Seth reached out to me and told me that if I wanted to see one of the most beautiful areas in KY then he had a spot ready for me: Pine Ridge Trail.
This trip served two purposes; the most obvious was a chance to get to review the trail for the Appalachian Travel Guide and the second was that I had never visited HOMES before. I was happy to get a chance to stop by and see their office for a few minutes before Seth and I set out for adventure.
The drive from the HOMES office to Pine Ridge Trail was worth the trip alone. The winding roads cut through mountainsides that give a long view of the hollows and the changing colors of the trees for miles out. Switchback after switchback took me higher up and pretty soon Whitesburg was just a spot in the distance.
Before I go on, I want to point a few mildly important details. 1. For whatever reason, I had it in my mind that the trail was only four miles instead of seven and a half. 2. I had convinced myself that it would only take a few hours to hike. 3. Only two days prior to this trip, I had to receive a breathing treatment because my lungs decided they hated me after I had worked on my apartment to repair some water damage. The breathing treatment made me feel 100% better, but I probably didn’t wait long enough for a hike.
With those details in mind, I want you to be astounded by the fact that not only did I hike seven and a half miles, I did it while maintaining conversation and my legs were ready to give out before my lungs.
I also want to point out that I had a backpack with six waters, an energy bar, a hoodie, and a baggie full of deer jerky. When I spied Seth’s smaller fannie pack I felt maybe I had packed for the apocalypse instead of a mountain hike. The first leg of the trip was a steep incline for several hundred feet. Seth navigated me up the acorn slippery trail where we found footholds on rock shelves and tree roots. It was a nice a slow start for my legs and got me warmed up for the following six hours.
Since a good portion of this trip was walking, I’m not going to talk to you about every step but I have cataloged a lot of the great sites along the way in photo.
One thing to note is that this area is home to black bears. Seth pointed out their spoor from time to time along the trail along with obvious bear marks on some large logs. I have always heard that black bears prefer to avoid humans when possible and Seth agreed when I mentioned it. He told me about a time when he and his youngest son were hiking and they saw a bear only several hundred feet away. Seth let his son get a good look and then called out “Hey Mr. Bear” which sent the creature running in the opposite direction.
Several miles and several piles of bear dung later, we reached the ridge which just happens to be the second highest point in KY, 3,273 feet up in the air. The highest point belongs to neighboring Black Mountain. The ridge as I call is it a giant rock shelf that sits a at forty-five degree angle. Once you climb up it, the top of the rock ends in a sharp ridgeline and the entire valley below opens up. It was a breathtaking view. As I stood on the ridge I noticed how quiet it was except for the wind blowing and I was able to appreciate the vastness and the beauty of the rocks and the trees and all the life around me. Hiking always helps to clear my brain but being this deep in the woods and this high up without having seen any other humans felt incredibly refreshing. It was like someone had hit a reset button for all the time I find myself sitting in front of a computer.
Seth’s fannie pack proved to be more spacious than I had guessed. He produced four homemade cookies, two large packs of peanuts, and water. He split the food down the middle with me and I shared out my father-in-law’s deer jerky.
After a few photo-ops, we set back out on the trail. Seth began talking about the waterfall that marked the end of our trip and how he and his sons had come out in the middle of winter to see it frozen over.
Another hour or so passed with caves and narrow rock passages marking the way and soon we were at the crossroads. Seth asked if i was exhausted. We could turn now and see the falls or keep going straight and get to our cars.
I’m not going to lie. At that point I had been hiking for nearly five hours. I’m fat and the cookie and peanuts weren’t going to cut it much longer. But the sound of the rushing water was too much of a siren’s call. We’ve had walked that far and that close, there was no way I was going to say no. So despite the protests of my legs, I said yes and we climbed some more. The path to the falls was the most narrow section with steep drop offs to the side. However, when we turned the final corner and I saw the water cascading onto the smooth rocks below, I knew it was worth it.
I had a small sit down while I took the next set of pictures. On some of the rocks you’ll notice a small circle with a dot in the middle. Locals believe that they are native american symbols. Nobody completely agrees as to what they mean, but the most popular is that they are a funeral marker. Seth and I found several on the rocks below the falls so perhaps they indicate someone died on the treacherous rocks or perhaps they decided to choose such a beautiful and peaceful area as a memorial.
After we recouped a few, we set out blissfully downhill on the last leg of our journey back to our vehicles. It was rather uneventful except for one trip and fall on my part (caught a rock instead of sliding down down the ravine) and Seth’s discovery of a yellow jackets nest which sped the rest of the trip up considerably.
I enjoyed the ridge and the amazing overlook. I felt I could have built a cabin and lives right by the waterfall, but I think one of the best parts about the long trip was the company I had. I didn’t realize it till after I left but Seth and I spent nearly that entire 6 hours talking as we climbed the trails. I learned quite a bit of history about HOMES, Seth, and the Whitesburg area. Seth has been working in Appalachia 24 years and under his leadership, HOMES has grown and flourished. I also learned that Seth lives an incredibly self-sustainable lifestyle. He and his family maintain an orchard, tend bees, raise livestock, farm, and can all their food. They do this and still have time for work outsides the home and recreational activities.
I was soaked with sweat when we arrived back to our vehicles. Surprisingly I found myself breathing the easiest I had in weeks. I had expected to be huffing and wheezing but I felt wonderful. Maybe doctors should prescribe a nature hike to asthma patients. We said our goodbyes and I set out back to Berea. It was dark and I was ready to get home but I stopped for two gatorades and a giant hamburger before heading towards Hazard and the Mountain Parkway.
Hiking is one of my favorite outdoors activities. I’ve been able to see a lot of different n Appalachia, all beautiful and fun, but my visit to Pine Ridge Trail beats them all. If you find yourself around Whitesburg, KY with a few bottles of water and six hours to spare (and if you know Seth Long give him a call), then it’s well worth your time to visit the second highest peak in Kentucky.