Tuesday, November 8, 2016

More Microadventures

The summer and fall of 2016 were full of microadventures throughout Appalachia:

Nuttalburg is an abandoned mining town in the New River Gorge. The Park Service has restored the historic conveyer and tipple and you can walk alongside the ruins of coke ovens, churches, and the company store. There's a short rail-trail/road loop nearby that we decided to bike, but in hindsight was probably too short (around 4 or 5 miles) to make it worth the hassle of stuffing the bikes in the truck and would have been more enjoyable as a hike. 

Keeny's Creek Rail Trail
Inspecting a coke oven
One of the highlights along the Appalachian Trail through Virginia is known as the "Triple Crown" of scenic features: McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and the Dragonstooth. Coast Guard buddy Tim Ozimek met me for a two-night 37-mile loop connecting all three features of the Triple Crown. McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed features along the AT and while pretty it was certainly crowded. Tim and I preferred the half mile section along Tinker Cliffs, combining scenery with more solitude. Most of the hiking was done along two dry ridgelines, so we had to carry quite a bit of water each day. In the valley connecting the two ridges we were treated to an active pastoral landscape, complete with herds of cattle. 

McAffee Knob, Virginia Appalachian Trail (photo credit: some random dude)

Virginia AT (photo credit: Tim Ozimek)
Tim's new friends. Don't drink the water!
The outings in July were the epitome of microadventure!. Michelle and I spent the weekend combining a number of small adventures into a grand tour of West Virginia. We explored some remnants of old-growth spruce forest, saved from the saw by a surveying error, at Gaudineer Knob. We hiked to the top of the North Peak of Seneca Rocks (and vowed to return to climb up the South Peak). We toured a homesteader cabin at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center. We spent a windy night atop Spruce Knob, the state's highest point. And we took a beginner-friendly caving jaunt through the Sinks of Gandy. 

The only thing better than one Michelle is three Michelles!
Sunset atop Spruce Knob
Seneca Rocks, North Peak (no climbing required)
The Sinks of Gandy
First time caver!  I don't recommend reading spooky cave books like "The Descent" beforehand
Later in the month when Michelle took off for a conference, I visited the Spice Run Wilderness. I've set a goal to visit all seven wilderness areas in the Monongahela National Forest and Spice Run was number five! It's unique among the state's wilderness areas in that it has no trails whatsoever and the easiest access route (unless you want to drive miles and miles of horrendous roads) involves wading across the Greenbrier River, after biking or hiking along the Greenbrier River trail. Once I crossed the river, I travelled along Spice Run and saw some of the damage wrought by the June flooding in central WV. I spent the hot afternoon beside a cool, shady pool, reading and watching trout swim around, and then camped in the center of the trail-less wilderness, feeling about as remote as you can get in West Virginia. 

Droop Mountain Tunnel, Greenbrier Rail Trail
Spice Run Wilderness
August was a mix of adventures big, medium, and micro. I climbed Luna Peak on a 5 day expedition in the North Cascades of Washington with Trevor Clark and then came home and headed down to North Carolina with Michelle. We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway to Linville Gorge and enjoyed a two night backpacking trip. Our first night was spent high on the rim of Linville Gorge and our second night was spent down by the Linville River, after a strenuous crossing! We found the trails to be far more rugged than expected, which coupled with August heat made for a more challenging trip than I had planned on for Michelle's first overnight backpack. Luckily she enjoyed herself (and the menu) enough to agree to future outings! 

Linville Gorge
Crossing the Linville River again at an easier part
Camp stove pizza! (photo credit: Michelle Knight)
Camp stove cinnamon biscuits! (photo credit: Michelle Knight)
In mid-August I headed up to Morgantown to start my Master's in Natural Resources. I come home on the weekends and we've been seeking out microadventures to maximize our time together. Toward the end of the month, Michelle got her first taste of outdoor rock climbing at Beauty Mountain in the New River Gorge.

Beauty Mountain morning
September's adventure was both a backpacking and climbing trip, a theme that would continue into October as Michelle got more exposure to rock climbing and wanted to try it more. West Virginia's outstanding recreation opportunities make this idea pretty easy to pull off. This month we returned to the New River Gorge, spending the night along Glade Creek and then relocating after breakfast for a climb up the "Pinnacle." The mountaineer in me loves the idea of topping out on a true summit and the Pinnacle is one of the few places you can do that in the NRG. It was also Michelle's first time in a multi-pitch setting and a proud accomplishment for her. 

Climbing the Pinnacle
Summit of the Pinnacle (note NRG Bridge behind)
October is my favorite month in West Virginia. I love the fall foliage and get a little obsessive trying to plan fun outings to coincide with maximum colors (thanks for putting up with me Michelle!). It was a tough year for planning purposes - anecdotal evidence from the season suggests that colors were about a week later than usual and since the state didn't receive much rain this summer beyond June's terrible floods the trees in most places were looking more wilted than vibrant. 

Hoping for those colors we planned a trip with two of my favorite views, combining a hike along North Fork Mountain with a climb up Seneca Rocks' South Peak. Our night atop North Fork Mountain was a bit rainy but we woke to bluebird skies. The views were amazing, as always, even if we missed "peak" fall foliage. In one of my most surprising small-world experiences ever, I bumped into my first college roommate on the trail. 

Photo credit: Michelle Knight
Photo credit: Michelle Knight
Our new tarp provides up 100sqft of dry ground! (photo credit: Michelle Knight)

North Fork Mountain morning
Some colors to be found
Photo credit: some other random dude
I caught up with Ryan for a little while but Michelle and I had to keep moving to have time for our climb up Seneca Rocks. And I'm glad we didn't linger - routes up and down the South Peak were clogged with climbers out enjoying the good weather and it took much longer than anticipated to get to the summit. Instead of waiting an hour to go down the standard lines, Michelle and I joined ropes with another party in order to make a single 60m overhanging rappel. Not to shabby for her second multi-pitch!

Quick selfie before an epic rappel off the South Peak of Seneca Rocks (climbing required)
In the area for my work with the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument team, I toured along the Highland Scenic Highway hoping for some fall colors in the middle of October. What I saw reinforced my ideas about this being a below-average fall season but nonetheless it's always great to visit this spectacular area and enjoy the sights. 

Highland Scenic Highway
Hills Creek
Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Operation Alpine Redemption

A 2014 solo attempt up Luna Peak, deep in the Picket Range wilderness of North Cascades National Park was the worst adventure I've ever been on in my life. I was soaked from sweat and fording waist deep creeks. Animals gnawed my clothing and gear to shreds. I fought for an hour to go 100 yards through the thickest brush imaginable. And at one point I looked up at the summit, still 4,000 feet above me and said F#$% it! I turned around and had 14 miles to hike out, beaten and demoralized. 

A few months after the trip I was flipping through an Eddie Bauer catalog. A professional climber and 6 time Everest-summiteer wrote about his own failed expedition in the Picket Range: "it was a remarkably unsuccessful trip ... until you've been unto the Pickets, you don't really know the magnitude and abusiveness of the range." I most certainly agree.

Fast forward to this summer and an email from Trevor Clark tossing out the idea of another shot at Luna Peak. Trevor clearly had no idea what he was getting into, but I did. And I surprised myself by actually entertaining the idea, letting it grow over the course of a week while figuring out where the last trip went wrong. For better or worse I agreed to the climb and began plotting my redemption. 

Why climb Luna in the first place? There are no trails into the rugged Picket Range, making it one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the Lower 48. Just to get to the bottom of the real climb we would have to take a boat for 6 miles, hike 11 miles, cross a deep creek, bushwhack 4 miles, cross another creek, and gain a mile in elevation - an adventure in itself. With no steep rock climbing or icy glaciers to cross the peak rewards those with stubborn tenacity over technical proficiency, a solid challenge that appeals to my desire to refrain from anything too bold in the mountains. And Luna is the tallest peak in the Pickets, giving it "the best view in Washington" according to those few parties who make the top in good weather. I'm a sucker for a good view.  

I pushed aside any negative thoughts from the deja vu as the shuttle boat dropped us off on the morning of our first day and instead just relished the opportunity to be back in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I missed the summers of sunshine, cooler temps, and low humidity. And I forgot just how big the trees were! 
Here we go again!
Goodbye shuttle boat, now we're on our own (photo credit Trevor Clark)
Hiking thru old growth forest along Big Beaver Creek (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The biggest difference between 2014 and 2016 was the pace. I pushed too far, too fast last time and ran out of energy and motivation. We took two days to cover what I did in one on the first go around. And now I had the hard earned scoop on "better" (there are no "good") places to cross the creeks and fight through the brush. With Trevor along it was far easier to keep spirits high ... until we wandered into a patch of slide alder and took 30 minutes to find our way out again. Truthfully I'm glad that happened just so he wouldn't think it was too easy and that I was a wuss last time. 

This is Devil's Club. It's not fun to walk through
Fording the Big Beaver (photo credit Trevor Clark)
This is what hiking through slider alder is like. Awful. 
On day three we finally entered new territory for me as we climbed past my previous turnaround. Regrettably we started said climbing in fog and picked the wrong gully and spent an hour trying to figure out why everything was so steep and not in the guidebook. We sorted it out, made our route, and began our traverse to high camp underneath the impressive pinnacles of the Picket Range. 

Climbing up gully (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The Southern Picket Range
The south side of Luna Peak. Traverse across slopes then ascend to high camp in the saddle. The climbing route follows the skyline to the top.  
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from high camp before setting off for the summit the following morning. The final 1,000 feet was a straightforward scramble, a piece of cake compared to the challenges lower on the mountain. But the views were indeed worth all the trouble.

Looking at the next day's climb of Luna Peak
Sunset at high camp, Picket Range
Ascending Luna Peak
A most impressive view from the top, two years in the making (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The descent was a blur of everything in reverse, but without the excitement of the climb ahead. It was a plod with heavy packs and sore feet back through the same thick brush (made slightly easier by going downhill) and down the same long trail, broken up by two exciting log crossings of the aforementioned creeks. Despite the pace, I made sure to pause to appreciate that this may be my last time in the North Cascades for a while. We lucked into some terrific hospitality once we made it back to the dock; folks offered us cold beer and a ride home in their motorboat. 

Heading down (photo credit Trevor Clark)
One last view of Luna Peak
Log crossing. I thought about walking across but it was like 30 feet up and probably a bad idea. 
Trevor captains the motorboat on our way out
Thanks to Phil for his hospitality in Seattle and letting us use his house as basecamp. And thanks to Trevor for being one of the few people that is willing to endure horrendous bushwhacking. Now I can remove the asterisk in my climbing guide! 

For some funny reads on bushwhacking check these out:

Friday, May 6, 2016

West Virginia Microadventures

I knew I'd be unable, and unwilling, to live in my truck and criss-cross the country for the rest of my life in a state of perpetual adventure. About the time I was feeling fulfilled and ready to settle back down in West Virginia to build my life anew, I came across the concept of "microadventures," a term coined by British adventurer Alastair Humphreys. Humphreys has biked around the world and rowed across the Atlantic, but decided to spend an entire year focusing on smaller trips without leaving the UK.

Microadventures aren't a revolutionary concept - anyone who has gone on a weekend camping trip has definitely been microadventuring - but Humphreys brings an unprecedented level of intentionality to the idea that resonated with me. I liked the reinforcement that adventure is more a state of mind than a physical location and that I needn't give up my adventurous spirit in light of new responsibilities with work, school, and relationships. Instead of dreaming up road trip itineraries to see me through months of continuous travel, I started building out a list of single-night to weeklong length trips, mostly in West Virginia, that I could easily accomplish among the other demands of "normal" life. And then I committed to carving out the time to start working on said list.

It helps that my girlfriend Michelle is a kindred spirit. She recently moved to West Virginia to teach and I was fortunate to take her off the market before the rest of the menfolk in the state realized what they were missing. She has been eager to explore her new home and I have been more than happy to play tour guide, showing off the best of the state that I'm so proud to be from. We've embarked on a 12-month Microadventure Challenge, trying to complete at least one overnight trip a month. We're pretty well on track, but it's more about making the most of our time together and doing fun, new things instead of strict adherence to a set of rules. With microadventures there are no rules!

January - Admittedly I was a bit nervous - January isn't often the best time for a first camping trip and I didn't want to sour Michelle on the experience. But she's a stalwart adventure buddy and loved it, sleet and all. I brought every sleeping bag and piece of insulated clothing I could find just to make sure we'd stay warm. I was able to shoot a short video for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition's Birthplace of Rivers National Monument campaign with Michelle's help.

Falls of Hills Creek, proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
We also made a day trip to Winterplace Ski Resort in southern WV
February - We visited friends from my time in the Coast Guard in Boston. The weather was bitterly cold but we made the best of our stay touring a bit of the Freedom Trail, making homemade raviolis, and playing the most epic session of the board game Trouble in my life.   

Freedom Trail, Boston MA
Faneuil Hall, Boston MA
We also made a second ski trip to Snowshoe Resort in eastern WV
March - We made a trip to Ohio to visit Michelle's parents. We rode bikes around a nearby lake and then I subsequently stuffed myself at Easter dinner. 

April - With the coming of spring we planned an overnight canoe trip along the Greenbrier River. It was Michelle's first time paddling a canoe and she handled herself adeptly in the Class 2 rapids. I see more river trips in our future! 

Michelle and I also interspersed our overnight microadventures with lots of day trips in the New River Gorge, about an hour and a half away. 

The ghost town of Thurmond, New River Gorge
Glade Creek Trail, New River Gorge
Grandview, New River Gorge
Kaymoor Mine, New River Gorge
Abandoned coke oven, Kaymoor Mine, New River Gorge
May - The warmer weather also has me busy working on trips in the Birthplace of Rivers area to help connect people with the myriad of reasons why this place is so special and deserving of national monument status and protections. I hosted Jess Daddio and Adam Ritter from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine on a 60-mile bike tour through the heart of the proposed monument. Read more about our story and watch a short clip here

Cranberry River, proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
Cranberry Backcountry, proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
I'm breaking with the microadventure concept for the remainder of May to complete the "Elkspedition," a 180-mile adventure down the length of the Elk River from the Birthplace of Rivers to our state capitol in Charleston. You can follow along here