Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snowshoeing in West Virginia: Blackwater Falls and Dolly Sods

We spent the weekend at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia with several friends from Old Rag Mountain Stewards. The state park has wonderful cabins that are practically a steal to rent, especially when divided by a crowd. We booked the cabin a while ago for a weekend of snowshoeing and good food. Two weeks ago, we were worried that there wouldn't be any snow at all, but we arrived at our cabin to find a foot of the lightest, fluffiest, driest powder that I've seen east of the Rockies.
Friday afternoon, we went down to Blackwater Falls was mostly frozen. The reddish color in the ice and in the water is tannins from the cedar forests surrounding the river.
Icicles near the falls. I really liked the patterns in the ice.

Friday evening, we headed over to the town of Thomas to the Purple Fiddle for dinner, a band, and some incredible people watching. The band was pretty good, if not my style of music, but the people watching was priceless.

We spent Saturday snowshoeing all over Blackwater Falls State Park. The high for the day was only around 20 degrees and the wind got progressively stronger as the day went on.
We followed the Canaan Loop Road to Lindy Point Overlook.
The Blackwater River canyon. The wind at the overlook was enough to take my breath away.
The curling bark of a paper birch tree.
 Michael breaking trail through fir trees.
The snow really picked up in the afternoon. It was cold enough that the trees popped and cracked as we hiked through the woods.
Balancing Rock in Blackwater Falls State Park. This isn't a great photo, but there isn't really a place to get a nice clear shot of the rock formation. Nonetheless, it was worth the hike to it.
At the end of the day, the group humored me by parking at the lodge so I could run down the Elkala Trail to see Elkala Falls. We ran into a couple we had seen near Balanced Rock earlier in the day. We chatted with them and mentioned that we were going to see the waterfall, to which they responded, "There isn't any waterfall." I pulled out my map, which showed that the falls were right by the bridge that we could see and that the couple had just walked over. They shrugged and continued on their way. We walked out onto the bridge, looked down, and there were the completely frozen falls. It took some work to get down to them and get the shot from below. Let's just say it was good to have traction devices.

Sunday, we headed for Dolly Sods, which is one of my favorite places to hike in the winter. We made the climb up the ski run in good time, getting a few funny looks from people who had the good sense to ride a lift to the top of the mountain. We started out in the sun, but by the time we reached the entrance to the wilderness, it was snowing again. It is a little strange to stand on the edge of the run, watching the crowds of skiers and snowboarders go by, then turn around and walk twenty yards into the wilderness area and a completely different world. 
The entrance to Dolly Sods Wilderness. No one else had been up there that morning, so we had untracked snow and complete solitude.
Michael making hot drinks for lunch.
Dolly Sods can have frightful weather. On Sunday, we experienced freezing cold (maybe twenty degrees), gale force winds, and lots of snow - some of it fell from the sky and some of it was just blowing around. It was hard to tell which was which sometimes. We plowed through drifts over our knees in places. When we finally turned around, we found a lot of our tracks and been completely covered by snow, even though we had only been there less than an hour before.
 Later in the afternoon, the sun did try to come out.
The trail through some cedars. We decided this would have been the perfect place to camp since it was sheltered from the wind.
 Looking west across the Canaan Valley. We got just a sliver of a sunset in the distance, beyond the clouds.
A friend of ours hiking along the ridge.
Breaking trail out in the open.
Blowing snow on the western edge of the ridge in Dolly Sods. I was just a little bit sad that we weren't camping out. It was such a beautiful day and there was so much snow that I wanted to spend more time out there. Unfortunately, we all had to get home for work on Monday. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Long Mountain: Bushwhacking in the Snow

Yesterday's hike started from the Trout Run trailhead along Trout Run Road in the Great North Mountain area of the George Washington National Forest. This area is just over the border into West Virginia, near Big Schloss. There was about an inch of snow on the ground at the trailhead. It was also cold, around 18 degrees. Our party included two dogs, who were very, very happy about the snow. One of them started his hike by doing barrel rolls in it. We crossed Trout Run on a nice footbridge and then began the climb up to the top of Cherry Ridge. The snow got a little deeper as we climbed, but not too bad. Every time the wind blew snow up my pant leg I repeated my wish that I had remembered my gaiters. 

We made good time getting up and over the ridge and soon enough, we reached the point where we needed to leave the trail and begin the nearly 2.5 mile bushwhack over Long Mountain. Since that spot was relatively sheltered from the wind and it was sunny, we took a standing break for lunch. Before long, though, everyone was cold and it was time to move on. 

The first 100 yards of the bushwhack were tough. The area had been cleared relatively recently, so it was pretty overgrown with small trees and shrubs. Once we pushed through that, the forest opened up and travel became a lot easier. We meandered our way up the ridge, aiming for a rock outcrop called Dog Rock. I suspect we meandered a bit too far southeast and I am not sure we made it to Dog Rock itself. The ridgeline of Long Mountain is dotted with outcrops. None of them, from what we could see, stand out as distinctive from the others. We had a nice view through the trees, though, given the wind, we didn't linger. We descended a steep gully, happy that it was free of snow and meandered generally east through the woods towards Trout Run Road. 

At the bottom of the valley, we followed an old road bed, which paralleled Trout Run Road. The idea was that we would be able to spot a gravel road on the other side of Trout Run Road (which we could see) through the trees. With the snow, we completely missed it and wound up at the boundary of some private land. At that point, we decided to walk back up the Trout Run Road so we wouldn't miss it again. It turned out that we had only missed it by a hundred yards or so. 

Back on trail, we made great time on the last half of the hike. Towards the end of the hike, we saw one other hiking party - the only other people we encountered the entire day. We arrived back at the car right at dusk. It was a cold, beautiful adventure.

Trout Run at the beginning of the hike.
Michael hiking up the Long Mountain Trail above Trout Run.
The junction of the Long Mountain Trail with a fire road.
A small stream on the east side of Long Mountain.
A clump of snow caught in the needles of a White Pine.
Hiking up the untracked Half Moon Trail.
Sunset near the end of the hike on the Bucktail Cutoff Trail.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Day on Big Schloss

We spent New Year's Eve with two friends at a cabin near Strassburg, Virginia. After a night of good food, cards, and hilarity, the four of us were a bit slow to get around on New Year's morning. We made it to the Big Schloss Cutoff trailhead around 12:30. For the first of January, we couldn't have asked for better weather. It was sunny and in the 40s.

Our intent was to hike both Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob as an out and back, which would mean finishing in the dark. We made good time hiking up the cutoff trail to the top of the ridge, where we ate a little bit of lunch. From the junction with the Mill Mountain Trail, we turned south and hiked to the top of Big Schloss. There were a few people on top of the outcrop, including a group of five or six mountain bikers. We found a nice spot in the sun and took a break for food and pictures. Since we had a long way to go, we soon returned to the Mill Mountain Trail and continued south, towards Wolf Gap. After a brief climb up a small peak on the ridgeline, the trail makes a short, but steep descent to Wolf Gap Campground.

At that point, it was almost 4 p.m. Tibbet Knob would have added three miles, round trip, to our hike and we had about 90 minutes of sunlight left. We opted to turn back. On the way back to the car, we got a couple of nice views of the sunset and of Big Schloss in the fading light. Even with that, the last hour of our hike was in the dark. A great start to the New Year: 10.5 miles of good hiking.

The Big Schloss Cutoff Trail at the junction with the Mill Mountain Trail.
Looking south down the Trout Run Valley. Tibbett Knob is the peak just to the left of center in the photo.
Bootshot from Big Schloss.
Our friends and Michael on Big Schloss.
The wooden bridge on top of Big Schloss. I can't imagine the logistics of getting the materials up to the top of the outcrop, let alone building it.
Distance sign at the Wolf Gap trailhead.
Looking east at sundown.
Big Schloss from the south.
Lichens on a rock outcrop.
The Mill Mountain Trail at sunset.