Monday, December 14, 2015

A year of hiking, part 2

In Part 1 we told you about the brutal winter hikes in The Gorge and how we persevered to reach our goal of at least one serious hike per month. As the weather warmed up, our goal became much more pleasurable to face, but with so many trails and so little time, we had to plan our schedule carefully. We pored over Bryan Simon's "Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge" (which is the definitive guide book and of which we have three copies at Lafayette Flats for our guests to consult) and made lists of the trails we wanted to try.

Amy and Emily on a Keeney's Creek Trestle
In May, we took our friend Emily to Nuttallburg and hiked the Keeney's Creek Trail. The verdant landscape was coming to life after along winter's nap and the Keeney Creek waterfalls were delightful to both the eye and to the hot, tired feet. The leisurely incline of the old railroad grade and the pleasurable company made the 6 mile hike seem shorter than it was. After the hike we showed Emily around the Nuttallburg ruins that we first explored last year.

With Lafayette Flats nearing full occupancy, we had to take our second hike in May closer to our Charleston home. We chose two of Charleston's new trails in the Neighborwoods trail system, the Hamilton Trail in Fort Hill, and the Chilton Trail off of Louden Heights Road. Neither of these trails pose much of a challenge, and they don't take you away from the din of the city and noise of airplanes and vehicular traffic, but they are hard to beat for a quick escape to go walk in the woods.

In June we hiked a loop from Kaymoor Top that started out on Butcher's Branch Trail, connected to Long Point Trail and then followed Fayetteville Trail back to Kaymoor Top. We decided to save the the climbing access spur tail for another day. Before we left the area, we hiked the shortest of the Arrowhead Trails, Clovis, and Shawn made a mental note to come back on his bike really soon.

Old cabin along Farley Loop Trail
July was a busy month for Lafayette Flats, so we had to take our hiking on the road since our Fayetteville lodging was occupied.  On Independence Day, we headed over to Summers County and hiked the Farley Loop Trail in Pipestem State Park. Although the weather was hot, sticky and it rained on us a few times, the hike was magnificent. After a steep climb to a rocky outcrop with a eagles-eye view of the Bluestone River, we found an old log cabin in the middle of a meadow just in time to weather the hardest rain shower of the day on its porch. The trail returned into the woods where we had an encounter with two brave little fawns and a couple of snakes - including a five-foot long black rat snake.

So much beauty in the Cranberry Glades
Our second July hike, also away from the Gorge, was memorable for reasons good and bad. We decided to go to Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas County because the weather was hot and we knew that the 3,400' elevation would ensure tolerable hiking temperatures. The beautiful flora of Cranberry Glades made the 7.5 mile hike worth every step, but we were so distracted by the natural beauty that we missed a turn on the trail and found ourselves between confused and lost, and more importantly, running out of water. We eventually found the road and hiked back to the visitor's center where we were able to refill our water bottles and rest our aching feet before hiking the road back to our car. That 7.5 miles turned into approximately twelve miles on one of the hottest days of the year. Memorable indeed.

The upper portion of Butcher's Branch Falls
Before July was over, though, we made another trip back to Butchers Branch, this time down the climbing access spur tail to the beautiful Butcher's Branch Falls. We knew that the falls would be worth the hike, but we were surprised by the stunning beauty of the trail down to them. Moss, ferns, hemlock and fungi of every type, color and size made the steep hike worth every step. Since we had been blessed with so much rain in July, the falls were flowing spectacularly and we spent the better part of an hour just sitting in its spray and shooting photos. On our way out, we both agreed that this would go on our favorites list and would definitely be one that we would recommend to guests of Lafayette Flats.
Henry Clay's Furnace

August took us on another road trip, this time to Morgantown where we decided to check out Coopers Rock State Forest. We loved the namesake rock and the way it seemed to be sliding off the rim of the canyon, and we traversed the Henry Clay Trail to get a look at the centuries old stone oven at the trail's end.

The New River along Stone Cliff Trail
Back in the New River Gorge at the end of August, we doubled up again on the Stonecliff Trail with Amy's father Carl. Newly added to the "Old Growth Forest Network" this trail goes along the New River through some of the oldest stands of hardwood trees in the region. One of the few trails in the Gorge where you can actually touch the river, it gives many opportunities to see wildlife, flora and archaeological points of interest. About five miles out and back, the trail is mostly level but in the summertime it can be a bit buggy, so don't forget the DEET.

As you might see, for most months up till now, we have been surpassing our goal of one hike per month. Read the next installment to find out if we were able to continue our pace into the fall and winter months.

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