Olson Tower

It was such a gorgeous day in the hills yesterday that we just had to get outside. Unfortunately, I was a bit too lazy to put the energy into researching a long hike or getting my butt out on a trail to do 5 miles. So, we decided to head up to Tucker County to visit Olson Tower and stop by Hellbender Burritos for lunch.

The view from Olson Tower is our #2 best view in the area. We've been there several times and are always amazed by the gorgeous view. To get there, take Rt. 219 past Parsons toward Thomas. Before you get to Tucker County High School, there will be a forest road hidden on the right-hand side of the road. It's easy to miss it going north on Rt. 219, but don't worry if you miss it. Turn around at the high school, and you'll see it easily coming back the other direction. Stay straight on the forest road for about 3 miles. The road will dead-end at Olson Tower.

Not many people know about Olson, so we were shocked when we got to Olson, and there were people there! We've never seen other people there! There were actually 2 groups of people. We waited in LTT until the crowd thinned out. The first group came down loudly and sped off noisily in their vehicle. Don't they know you're supposed to be awed to silence by the beauty of nature? C'mon people! Anyway, while we waited for them to leave, we listened to the truck next to us. There was a Ham radio inside, and two gentleman were communicating about a tower. Hmm, we're at a tower; were they talking about Olson? When we got out of LTT, we noticed that the other group had actually unlocked the hatch going into the cabin at the top of the tower. I have been intrigued by this cabin every time we've gone to Olson. It is beyond a locked-hatch door; the highest point of the tower is the cabin, but we've never been able to access it. Olson was a former fire tower. Years ago, before the forest service had helicopters, they would pay people to camp out in these towers to keep watch out for forest fires. They would live in the little cabin/room on top of the tower for weeks. So, I've always wanted to go inside the cabin at Olson Tower to see how big it was. Well, these nice gentleman were Ham radio operators who are part of an association that has antennas on the tower. They were up there to do repairs on their equipment. They were gracious enough to let Scott and I come into the cabin, while they were out on the roof of the cabin working on their antennas. Wow, the cabin was so small! It had windows on every side and was probably 7 feet by 6 feet. Unfortunately, some of the windows were busted out and glass was everywhere. But it was still a great, rare experience to see what the cabin was like and what the view was like from up there. A special thank you to the Ham radio operators for being generous enough to let us see the cabin.

On our way down the tower, I overheard the Ham radio operators talking about how the forest service is planning changes to the tower. When we got to the bottom, we asked them what they were talking about. Supposedly the forest service a few months ago began plans to take out the tower's bottom staircases. Thus, you would no longer be able to climb the tower and see the absolute best view in the area. Honestly, it would not surprise me if these happens. At one time there were pit-toilets and picnic tables at Olson. It was a nice place to take a family picnic. Now, it's overgrown and the first mile of the forest road getting there has some potholes. The whole place has an air of neglect. That being said, it probably will take at least a year for the stair removal to happen since it is the government and there's lots of red-tape. But I think it will happen. So do yourself a favor and grab your camera and go see the view from Olson Tower before it's no longer accessible.

Davis/Allegheny Trail

Today started out with quite a bit of frustration. We had planned to try to hike the trail in Otter Creek Wilderness that we were unable to finish last year due to a torrential downpour. We got to the parking lot for the trailhead and realized we had another downpour on our hands. Both Scott and I hike with water bladders (AKA camel packs). When I went to pick up my pack, it was soaking wet! Come to find out part of my bladder was not tightly secured and almost 1 liter of water had leaked inside my pack. The back of my pack was soaked, and I was disheartened. While we contemplated whether to just call it a day or soldier on, a car with three men came into the already pretty full parking lot. They said, "Hello" and we waved back. They had enough gear with them for me to know they were serious hikers out for an overnight backpacking trip. They were also very fit. All this intimidated me. And thus I became frustrated with myself. Why am I not like them? Why can't I hike 10 miles in a day? Why can't I be more into overnight trips? Why can't I be thin? I told Scott I wanted to hike somewhere else, and we left. We stopped by the side of the road for Scott to check out a little cove and for me to get out my hiking books and figure out just where we were going. After much hemming and hawing, we settled on hiking part of the Allegheny Trail I had eyed a few weeks ago. The Allegheny Trail goes 330 miles from the West Virginia/Pennsylvania border to Peter's Mountain in Virginia. (http://www.wvscenictrails.org/AlleghenyTrailOverview.aspx) It's meant for some serious overnight backpacking in the same vein as the Appalachian Trail. I've been wanting for some time to be able to say that I've hiked part of the Allegheny Trail. Almost 140 miles of it runs through Monongahela National Forest. The trail when it was constructed used existing trails as well as new trails. One of the existing trails is the Davis Trail that goes from Blackwater Falls State Park into Mon Forest. The Davis Trail is 2.8 miles from the trailhead in Blackwater to Canaan Loop Road in Mon Forest. We decided to hike 1.6 miles of the Davis Trail to a shelter meant for overnighters on the Allegheny Trail, and then hike back out the way we came in. So, overall this hike is about 3.2 miles.

Parking for the Davis Trail is in Blackwater Falls State Park at their petting zoo. If you follow the signs for the lodge and the petting zoo, you will notice signs also for the Davis Trail. Park at the petting zoo, head back down the driveway towards the road and you'll see a sign that says "Yellow Birch Trail/Allegheny Trail." This is the trailhead. Not too long after entering the trail there's an intersection. The Yellow Birch Trail continues straight; turn right to join up with the Allegheny Trail/Davis Trail. The first half of the hike meanders through the forest that borders a nice babbling brook. Scott really liked hearing the water as we hiked. You can tell it's an old railroad grade by the wideness of the path. The only hard part about this portion of the hike is that there are several rocks and tree roots in the path. And on top of that, these rocks and tree roots are slick from moss and dampness. Scott said "Watch that root; it's slick!" so many times that he said I should title this blog post that! If you do this hike, please make sure you have hiking boots on. This would not be a fun hike in sneakers. About 0.75 miles into the hike you reach the uphill portion of this hike. It is a moderate ascent, nothing too severe. Not far after the top of the hill is the shelter. Neither of us had seen one of these before. I've read about them from my hiking books and reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. They are very simple structures with a platform and a roof. There's also a register for people to sign to say where they are from and what they are doing on the trail. Evidentially one time the register must have been full because a certain Tom and Bobbi decided to sign the wall above the register: "Too old and too fat to be out doing this!" That made me feel better about the whole fit-hiker incident at Otter Creek. That and the fact that someone had decided that the sign for the shelter looked a bit like Jesus's birthplace. (Check it out in the picture below.) We hiked back out the way we came and stopped for a bit to soak our feet in the babbling brook towards the trailhead.

Overall, this was a cool hike just to say I've done part of the Allegheny Trail. It's also a nice forested walk. I give it 3 out of 5 hiking sticks; an average hiking experience.

Kumbrabow State Forest

Today was awesome! I'm actually having a hard time putting into words how wonderful a day it was. I have been just dying to get out and hike. But it's been hot and humid with at least a 40% chance of storms all week. Today, there were no storms in sight and, because of the lessened humidity, it seemed cooler. I'm not sure where I heard about Kumbrabow State Forest first or whom from, but I'm glad we decided to check this place out. It is an absolute gem, a great park all around. There is a nice campground, several cabins for rent, lots of hiking trails, good fishing streams, a waterfall...this place has it all! If you live in Randolph County, you should really go to Kumbrabow. You won't regret it!

So onto the adventure which is what I'm sure you all are reading this blog for! Kumbrabow is easy to get to. There are several ways to access the park. We took Rt. 219 south to Huttonsville and turned right onto Kumbrabow Road. The road here is sometimes paved, sometimes gravel, but is in good condition. It's about 8 miles from Rt. 219 to the park headquarters. I did my research online at their website http://www.kumbrabow.com/. There are several trails within the park that all sounded really good, but I decided to turn 3 trails into a nice circuit hike of about 2.5 miles. We hiked the Mowry Trail (0.5 miles; red blazes) to the Mill Ridge Fire Trail (1 mile; green blazes) and finished on the Clay Run Trail (0.75 miles; white blazes). We parked at the park headquarters (which is open for souvenirs and information 8am to 4pm weekdays). The trailhead for Clay Run Trail is directly across the forest road from the park headquarters. If you hike this circuit the direction I've given, you'll end your hike here. To start the hike, you'll need to turn right onto the forest road and walk on the forest road for less than 0.25 miles to reach the trailhead for the Mowry Trail.

Mowry Trail is the most difficult portion of this circuit hike, which is why I'm glad I put it first. From the trailhead, you descend sharply to Mill Creek. As I said before, it has been rainy up here in the hills. So the trail leading down to the creek was slick mud, but it didn't last long (maybe 100 feet). The next challenge (at least for me) is crossing the creek, which today was up over our boots. I'm terrible at creek crossings; I tend to get pretty anxious. If the water is shallow enough (meaning, not over the tops of my boots), I'll just walk through it since my boots are pretty waterproof. But it's something called rock-hopping that just gets me all worked up. Scott is able to rock-hop a stream even if there seems no good way to rock-hop the stream. Today, I started out trying to rock-hop the creek and then thought "Hey, why am I trying to balance myself on these slick rocks in boots when I can walk across barefoot and my toes can curl around the rocks?" So, I took off my socks and boots and walked across the stream. The water was cold, but I felt much calmer walking across the creek this way than rock-hopping it. If you look at the pictures below the creek,doesn't seem like much, but as I said creek crossings make me anxious. After crossing Mill Creek, Mowry Trail really starts. This trail has a kick-your-butt mentality, but it's worth it in the end. It is 0.5 miles of non-stop uphill. You keep climbing and climbing, wondering just how can this 0.5 miles feel like 5?! We did have a really cool discovery on this trail: a red eft. A red eft is a juvenile red-spotted newt. He stayed still long enough for me to take his picture, which is below. At the end of Mowry Trail, we met the Mill Ridge Fire Trail. This is a wonderful trail. We were walking along the ridge, under a rich canopy of trees and on a trail that's footbed is luxuriously soft. There were birds singing and a wonderful breeze traveling through the trees. It was hiker heaven! Towards the end of the 1 mile, there is a picnic table at an amazing overlook. Here there is an phenomenal view of Tygart Valley and Cheat Mountain. We sat down and had some homemade trail mix. It was an absolutely beautiful day that just made me feel very in tune with God and nature. After our nice little break, we headed a bit further on Mill Ridge Fire Trail to meet the trailhead for Clay Run Trail. The first half of this trail is a rapid descent from the ridge. The trail was again a bit slick, but nothing really that bad. Eventually the trail flattened out and was a nice little hike until we met up with Mill Creek again. Armed with the knowledge from my previous breakthrough, I took my boots off and walked across the creek. Once we crossed the creek, we could see the forest road and the park headquarters. We were so close I didn't even bother to put my boots back on HA HA!

Today's circuit hike of Mowry Trail--Mill Ridge Fire Trail--Clay Run Trail and Kumbrabow State Forest get an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 hiking sticks!

Another Good Website

I am in the midst of researching our next adventure and came upon another good hiking website that I had forgotten about: http://hikingupward.com/ Just like http://www.midatlantichikes.com/ and http://www.trailpixie.net/, this website gives good descriptions of trails, as well as pictures.

As for the next adventure, we're hopefully going out this weekend. But you'll have to wait for the blog post to know where we've gone!

Maybe Soon?

Today was Election Day. For a few weeks I had been harboring this notion of going to vote and then traipsing off into the hills. It felt very patriotic to me! But today, it's really rainy. Yucky weather--not the kind of weather that we like to hike in. See for all our talk, all our gear, we still are not the hardcore hikers that many of you out there view us as. Trust me, there are some hikers out there who are just nuts. They think nothing of hiking 10+ miles a day with a 30-pound pack of gear. They'll even be crazy enough to sleep in the wilderness and do another 10+ miles the next day. If it rains, they just deal. Last year, at our peak, Scott and I could hike 6 miles in a day. We would then promptly return home to sleep in our comfortable bed. We got caught in the rain only twice last year, and both times were miserable! If you've never hiked 2 miles in a downpour, it's an experience to say the least. To give you more perspective on all of this, I was talking to a hiker friend a few weeks ago who said he didn't mind hiking in the rain. He said setting up/tearing down camp in the rain was the worst. This is also a hiker friend who camps out in the wilderness during the dead of winter. See what I'm saying; there are some crazies out there!

That all being said, maybe soon Scott and I will be those crazies. I think that this summer we will be able to hike 10+ miles in a day. Not sure we'll be able to repeat the performance the next day after sleeping in a tent out in the middle of nowhere, but who knows. The fact is last summer was the beginning of our life as hikers. We both had hiked some as kids, but nothing close to what we're into now. I guess what I'm saying is that for all of you out there who think you couldn't do this, you can. It's probably more of a question of do you want to? If you don't, I completely understand. But for me there is this intense desire to get out into nature. I feel so peaceful and close to God out in the wilderness. I can even be hiking up some hill that is stealing every breath in my body, but I will still feel so grateful and happy! So that gives me hope that someday we will be deemed nutso hikers too. Maybe soon?

Lindy Point Overlook

Our excursion to Cranesville Swamp was not as long and exhausting as our normal hikes, so we were done relatively early in the day and with energy to spare. We weren't ready to pack it in, so we decided on a hiking pitstop on the way back to Elkins. I have read about Lindy Point Overlook for years but had never been out to it. It's a crazy easy spot to get to, which gives me no excuse for taking so long to see this gorgeous vista.

Most people visit Blackwater Falls State Park for the Blackwater Falls and miss out on the other cool stuff this place has to offer. Lindy Point Overlook can be one of those overlooked gems. It's very easy to get to. Instead of going straight at the intersection and heading towards the steps to the falls, take a left. Follow this road past the lodge and all the way to the Nordic Ski Warming Hut. If it's not winter, the gate will be open, and you will find yourself on a paved road to Lindy Point. After about a mile, there is a parking lot on the right before the road turns to a potholed-gravel mess. The trailhead for Lindy Point Overlook is right there. The trail is a little over a mile out and back to the overlook. There is a minor hill or two, but the trail is so short you barely notice them. The trail dead-ends at a wooden platform with a really awesome view. What you see is Blackwater Canyon with the Blackwater River snaking its way through. This vista is now on our top 3 list of "Crazy Amazing Awesome Views." (Just in case you're curious, #1 Bear Rocks at Dolly Sods, #2 Olson Tower, #3 Lindy Point.) Here are the pics to prove it:

Cranesville Swamp

Last month's edition of Wonderful West Virginia magazine featured an article on Cranesville Swamp. It sounded like a pretty cool place. Another one of those "bowls" in the natural landscape that lends itself to being a bog. It also is the home of many rare species of plants not normally seen outside Canada. For instance, this is the southernmost known location for a Tamarack tree to exist. Scott and I decided to make our first hike of the season this one. We hike A LOT in Monongahela National Forest, especially the Dolly Sods area. For a change of scenery, we decided to make the hour and a half drive up to Cranesville. It's not too far from Oakland, Maryland; in fact, it's just about 10 miles off Route 219. The cool thing is that the state boundary for Maryland-West Virginia goes directly through the swamp. Most of the swamp is actually in Preston County, West Virginia. (For specific directions to and information on Cranesville Swamp, click here.)

We loaded up our gear into L.T.T. (Little Toyota Truck) and headed north on Route 219. Since we were going right through Thomas on our way out to Cranesville, we made it a point to stop and eat breakfast at our favorite breakfast spot: The Flying Pig. It's on Front Street (the main drag) in Thomas and specializes in breakfast. Seriously, if you haven't had their amazing food, go check it out. Just make sure you go Wednesday through Sunday before 2pm. It's good food, but to keep themselves in business, I think they are only open when they are expecting customers.

Okay, back to the story at hand. (Sorry, food often distracts me!) There are five trails that traverse Cranesville Swamp. All of the trails are less than 2 miles each. We decided on the Orange Trail to the Loop Trail to the Blue Trail. This created a circuit hike of around 3 miles. (I'm estimating the distance, just FYI) This is a wonderfully easy hike. The trails were all fairly level--flat, no altitude gains to worry about nor big rocks in the trail (a BIG change from a Mon Forest trail).

The Orange Trail goes through some woods. Its main purpose is to connect you to the Loop Trail. The Loop Trail is the main attraction because it is the trail that actually goes THROUGH the swamp. The website warned that the trail might be muddy in places, but we didn't have to contend with mud significant enough to even mention (again, being regular Dolly Sods hikers, we have experienced mud). There are boards down in the soggiest of places and about 1500 feet of boardwalk through the swampiest parts of the bog. I recommend going in a clockwise direction on the Loop Trail--this saves the best for last. The spot of the boardwalk also happens to be the prettiest part of this entire trip! A vast openess with cranberries, moss and water. We took the Blue Trail back. This was a nice little journey through a pine plantation on our way back to the parking area.

All in all, I give Cranesville Swamp a 3.5 out 5 hiking sticks. It's a beautiful place, but I still find Cranberry Glades much more scenic. The best part of Cranesville Swamp has to be the plantlife. If you are just learning how to identify trees, wildflowers, plants, edible plants...this is the place to come! We saw hawthorne trees, wood sorrels, skunk cabbage, cranberries and an amazing amount of huckleberries (small blueberries). I have to say, if you are wanting to do some huckleberry picking, this is the place to go. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE!

Here are a couple of pics from this adventure. I've posted most of the photos on Facebook.