West Virginia Wander; September 2019

Haggis

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#1
Did we have a Summer this year? If so I don’t remember much of it other than incessant rain and mandatory overtime. By the time Labor Day rolled around the wife and I needed to get away from all the demands Life was piling up on us. Our thoughts turned in a southerly direction as memories of trips past into the woods of wild and wonderful West Virginia called for us to return.

Having done many forays into the Mountianeer State we realized that we always traveled there with our group of friends...exploring, paddling, caving...with vast quantities of food involved. And while those were great trips with good people, wouldn’t it be nice to do a West Virginia run our way and poke into parts unseen by us and tailored to our tastes in adventure?

So over a long Labor Day weekend we changed up the way we always approach wandering our neighboring state to the south and in the process produced our best trip yet into West By God Virginia.

First thing to change was our camping style. All previous trips have been meet-ups with friends and family where a basecamp was established and we radiated out from there. This usually involved the pitching of tents in the early days and than setting up our home brewed BaseCamp trailer in later iterations. We wanted to be more nomadic this time, with less travel time coming and going to camp and more freedom to roam. With that being the focus and some trepidation from Michelle (she loves the trailer) the Maggiolina ended up on top of the Tacoma. Not since we had Fafhrd (1st gen Tundra of myth and legend) have we been solely truck based.

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Second thing to change was adventure focus. Usually we drive a lot with the gang. Trail runs, long explores...there was always too much time staring out car windows. Yeah, we did some good hikes but at times it felt like we sat on our duffs too much. We wanted to be more immersed in the environments we had always drove through, see things that solely vehicle based adventurers never will get to see.

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Last thing to chance was pace. With just ourselves to indulge we were going to make a point of slowing things down, taking more time to just breathe in WV splendor and simplify the experience. No grand feasts, no ruckus bs sessions. Just time alone together with nobody else’s demands to consider. It’s what we both needed to recharge.

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So on with our tale...
 

Haggis

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#2
Day One: Ghosts of Trips Past.

Leaving the Clanhold in our wake we rolled south and a bit east making good time through the back ways of Pennsylvania. Interstates were not on the menu this trip so the GPS was turned off and maps laid strewn across Michelle’s lap as she navigated a more relaxed course for us to follow. Rolling hills, deep forests and rural farmlands passed by the windows. Maryland came into view for a bit than we were weaving through the hills and hollers of West Virginny.
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We didn’t really have a plan other than Michelle wanted to revisit some spots we had shared with our friends over the years. So with that we decided to start out north of Thomas, WV, hit the forest road that started all this internet friendships and than roam south from there.

Turning of the black top we hit FR 18 and made for the fire tower. This is a well known spot and sort of a must do here about. The tower is worth the stop as it’s heights allow for some spectacular views and some cool pictures looking down.

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It was gusty this day, Michelle disliked all the swaying and noise making the tower was offering up so she didn’t go the whole way up. Me...I climbed trees and topped them in my younger days, this was nothing.

Returning to the drive we continued down 18 to the spot where we first met a bunch of internet strangers some 12 years ago who would go on to become close friends.

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Known to us as the Waterfall site, this spot holds some warm memories. Here we wandered down to the campsites namesake and hiked a few miles of the trails that crisscross the road and disappear into the forest.

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Back at the truck a quick lunch was made and then we continued the loop towards Thomas.
 

Haggis

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#3
We stopped in Thomas just long enough to top off the gas tank and than skirted south towards Davis. Turning off the main route we ducked into the Blackwater Falls State Park because, well there’s a waterfall there and Michelle likes waterfalls. A lot. It’s an obsession somewhat. Soon we hiked down the trail to the observation decks...

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This park has changed so much since we were last here that I didn’t hardly recognize where I was at. After here we hit the Canaan Loop as we searched for a campsite...

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Wanting to get an early start the next day we elected to find a campsite at the southern terminus of the Loop so we could hit the road sooner in the morning. This section is a more developed than the 4x4 section but would save us valuable travel time in the morning.

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We found a beautiful spot in a grove of moss carpeted red pines. Hammock hangs abounded and we took advantage of it. Camp set up was quick and we hit the hammocks and did not do much of anything. A couple of short, but relaxed hikes ensued as the light turned golden.

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Climbing into the Maggie, coyotes sang with the enshrouding night. Sleep was easy to come by and the night passed pleasantly.
 

Haggis

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#4
Day Two: On to the Sods.

Up early, chowing down a quick breakfast, we broke camp and rolled out. Our target for today was a section of the Dolly Sods Wilderness that had a hiking trail that caught our interest. According to AllTrails there would be a 3 mile hike from a closed forest road gate to the trailhead. But upon arriving at the forest road the gate was open so the road was as well. It seems this seldom used road is opened during hunting season and luckily for us this was the first weekend of bear dog training season. So down the two track we went, a rhododendron lined and tight access road saved us an additional 6 miles of hiking.

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As we rolled down forest road goodness, we came across a couple of hunters out busting brush with their gleeful hounds.

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Arriving at the trailhead we gathered our gear for a wander.

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The start of Roaring Plains trail.
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Awesome trail with ever changing terrain and hiking surfaces. And we saw not a single person on our 10 mile hike.
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We took a break half way through and let the day packs rest.

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Once back at the truck, lunch was scarfed down and than we headed back towards the Sods.
 

Haggis

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#8
Back at the truck we weaved our way back along the seasonal forest road and back out on to the long, dusty road that passes through the center of the Sods Wilderness.

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It being a holiday weekend, there were a lot of people present. But as we approached the area known as Bear Rocks the numbers just got ridiculous. For those not in the know, this area has become YouTube famous for its hiking trails as East Coast based YouTubers flock to film content here. But hey, folks were outside and enjoying a beautiful weekend so more power to them.

We found a place to pull of the road and started the clamber up Bear Rocks...

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Michelle’s social media pose ;)
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After spending some time just enjoying the views we loaded back in the truck and headed south. Michelle wanted to hike in the Spruce Knob area. We weaved along the mountian side roads, enjoying views and the rural countryside. As we got closer the skies turned grey and rain started. Driving along the forest roads around Spruce Knob we noticed many a sign reading “No camping Within 300’ of the Road”. These were new and killed using some sites we had used in the past. Finally we found a spur road south of Spruce Knob Lake that led off into a grouse habitat area. Traveling a couple of miles up this two track we found a decent spot to set up camp. I tossed the Kelty Tarp over the Maggie to allow us some shelter to cook and called it done. Wasn’t the most photogenic set-up but it functioned well with good cover and a dry entry into the tent.

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Haggis

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#9
Day 3: Fog on the Mountian

The night pasted swiftly, the patter of rain on the tent lulling us to sleep. Warm, dry and comfortable it was hard to wake with the emerging light. Not ones to lollygag we never a less were up early breaking down camp. The Kelty tarp was pretty damp so we gave it a good shake and stuffed it into a dry bag to deal with later. A thick fog held sway in the holler we were in giving no clue as to what the weather would bring this day. Still, once we were ready, we made for the highest point in West Virginia...Spruce Knob. A ghostly grey mist blanketed the road, the valleys and mountain tops so that your whole world lay within a 50’ radius of you. Our memories of the Knob were of spectacular views and gorgeous sunsets, today would offer a different perspective.

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Michelle was wanting to hike up to Seneca Rocks again this day, I wanted to do some new trails in this area. So we compromised and headed towards Seneca Rocks. If you haven’t tracked up the long, steep switchbacks to see the Rocks you should. It’s not a hard trail just a climb to the observation platform. Not much to see at the platform but you can head into the narrow spine of the rocks from there. Sure footedness and an affinity for heights helps but it’s worth it. This time the trail was clogged with people, the top worse. Poorly trained dogs and young frightened kids in flip flops caused a tangle on the rock outcroppings, when people failed to employ good sense. We bailed on going out on the spine because of what we were witnessing. The view at the bottom was better this day, especially when I had a delicious sandwich in my hand.

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Haggis

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#10
They skies looked like they were clearing more to the north so that’s where we pointed the truck. Early afternoon came along and our thoughts turned towards an early camp this night. We found ourselves on another seasonal forest road and because of dense rhododendrons on one side and a steep drop off on the other we found no sites suitable. The road ended at a wide turnaround but there was an additional gate that was open allowing for us to continue. Around a sharp bend just around from the gate we came across a Tacoma with United States Department of Agricultural plates on it. Curious we stoped to bs and found out that they were a team of USDA botanists preforming a plant survey of this area of the Sods. The USDA is actually in charge of the wilderness area within the confines of the Monongehela National Forest. Anyways what proceeded next was some quality Appalachia jawing as they showed us what they were up too and we showed them our set-up. At the end they asked if we were looking for a campsite and told us to continue up this road. Normally it’s closed off but would be open for a short while and there would be a place for us to set camp up the way. Taking their lead we drove up a splendid isolated road and found a sweet campsite by its side.
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Camp set we prepared supper and took a small nap in the Maggie. I also set my wet boots on a warm rock to dry out.
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Later we got restless and decided to walk further up the road to see what was what. About a mile and a half later the road ended at an old site that we later learned to be a military radio tower from back in the days when this area was a bombing training site.
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Behind the building we found a far flung scree pile that we played around on till the light of the day faded.
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The evening came and we set in our camp chairs and watched the stars pop out of the darkened sky. Owls and coyotes started singing and a few deer snorted their displeasure at our presence. Not a soul could be seen nor heard, it was the best site we have had in years. Snuggled in our Maggie, sleep was soon upon us.
 

Haggis

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#12
Day 4: Hillsides and Overlooks

Morning came in with dark clouds blowing away with a stiff morning wind. Inside the Maggie we were unaware of the wind but outside there was a pretty good breeze sweeping down the tunnel that the forest road made through the scrub. We dropped the tent and arranged the gear in the back of the truck before heading to our next goal. This time it was to find an unofficial hiking trail to a scenic overlook known as Pancake Rock. A short drive and a small hike later we found the cairn of rocks that designated the start of the trail. Other than the cairn it looked like any other game trail leading into the thick forests here. What followed was a game of “Follow the Cairns” as we made our way up the hillside. 092C6ED8-F9D6-40CF-A8DD-E25DF813F1E2.jpeg 658057A0-591D-48F3-966E-2B5643ED9111.jpeg 5A2889A1-D2AF-4791-8F31-361C94AA7DBA.jpeg BC5A06D8-CA5A-4C43-BC01-15DC988937D4.jpeg

Finally we reached the top and arrived at a fair sized rock outcropping. Though Pancake Rock looked more like a drop biscuit to me. Damn good view up here and we could hear the baying of multiple packs of bear dogs down amongst the hillsides.

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Next we traveled back up Brushy Ridge Road to Bear Rocks so we could hike Bear Rocks Trail. A trail we’ve always wanted to try. As it was Labor Day, most weekend hikers were leaving to head back home when we arrived and the number of people present was dramatically less. We gathered the day packs, stuffed some food in them and started off. We hiked a couple miles and became disillusioned with the trail. It was wide, from countless hikers making new paths around muddy spots. So much so it was more of a Jeep trail. We bailed. Another day we’ll come down and explore some of its neighboring trails, when it’s not so busy.

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Hiking out Michelle checked her saved hiking trail list and said “Let’s go find these Chimney Tops, they looked cool.” And she was right....
 

Haggis

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#13
Down past the Rocks, bumping along Brushy Ridge we made our way east towards the North Fork Mountain trail system. At a pull off by a spur trail we ate some lunch. The temperature was rising and this was the first day we felt any noticeable humidity. Geared up, packing a couple liters of water each we started up North Fork Mountian in search of the Chimney Tops rock formations.

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The trail started of through eastern hardwoods with a gentle slope. The first blushes of Fall were appearing in the surrounding foliage heralding cooler days to come. According to the hiking app this would be a hard trail with about 3 miles to hike to get to our goal. Meh, seems pretty easy to me.

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As terrain passed under foot, the grade increased and the stones under foot became more pronounced, many being pyramidal in shape so it seemed you were always stepping on a pointy bit. There were few switchbacks and with the increasing heat and humidity, the continuing greater grades this hike became a bruiser. About 3 miles in we reached the ridgeline, a good bit of our water reserves drained to replace the sweat we were working up. But it was getting interesting up here...

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Along the western flank of North Fork there runs a cliff escarpment that extends for miles. Drops in the hundreds of feet exist just beyond the horizon of the rocky ground. Every few yards there was another awesome view.

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The trail dropped away from the cliffs for a distance and routed us up and down the eastern flank. According to the data for this trail we should reach the Tops in a little over 2.5 miles. Almost 4 miles in we reached the little blue dot on Michelle’s hiking app...

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Umm, were’s the damn rocks. Oh, we have to go straight up this cairn marked goat path? Great...up we went. Pretty much a straight up the mountian scramble for another mile and a half. But it was worth it.

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Just. Freaking. Awesome! You ain’t gonna see that sitting next to your rig at some overland meet in a field somewhere. Gotta work for this one, but it’s damn sure worth it.

We spent a good bit of time here. Watching falcons and ravens challenge each other as they wheeled in the cliff side air currents. We hydrated, saving enough water to cover the descent, and fueled up on some trail snacks. During this time we met the only three people we saw on this trail, some backpackers doing a three nighter down the whole length of the North Fork Trail. That’s now on the List. Than we plodded back down the mountain. I think going down is harder on me than ascending, especially with all the damn rocks.

Back at the truck we were done, el pooped. Thank the gods for air conditioning and an onboard fridge. We headed back towards a campsite we had spied coming down off the Sods and made an early camp. There might have been napping involved, no, there was definitely some napping going on after all that exertion.

Later supper was fixed and we just chilled around camp until darkness sent us into the Maggie.

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The next morning we packed up and reluctantly aimed our faithful steed towards home. To make the trip last as long as possible we ran dirt and back roads as much as we could on the way home. This was without a doubt our favorite visit to the Mountaineer state. Getting to be deep within the areas only previously glimpsed from a moving vehicle was satisfying. It will be awhile before we visit again but other parts of West Virginia are calling us to explore and we will heed that call someday.

Thanks for taking the time to share our tale!
 

Doug

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#18
I think I actually felt a little coolness as I scrolled through those photos of the misty fog! Thanks for a great report.
 
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