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