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. 

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