Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sky High at Spruce Knob

At noon on Friday, I left work and met Emily, Rob and Margie at Meadow House to embark on a camping weekend in West Virginia. We took 2 cars, originally hoping to get everything in one, but realizing that would be quite impossible. With all the things that couldn't be left behind stacked up high on the back seats and in the trunks, there was barely room for 2 people in each vehicle. but we still needed to cram more stuff in and stopped at Strasburg to load up with food and more beer.
It was a beautiful scenic drive to WV, bright and sunny with blue skies and barely a cloud until we got close to Spruce Knob, where we were camping. Suddenly the sky pulled a heavy grey blanket of clouds across the horizon and the winds whipped about the car. I saw 2 forks of lightning spit towards the ground and the heavens opened. Torrential rain beat against the windscreen and in front of us, a police car stopped twice to move fallen tree boughs from the road. Then thankfully, it eased off, and we turned up onto a narrow, partially unpaved, road that, after 10 miles, arrived at the top of the mountain.
 We were camping in a remote camp, so there was no electricity and no bathrooms, only chemical toilets and a water tap. But our site was pretty, without neighbors, and although a tad muddy, we got to setting up camp.
The tents went up fast and before long we had chairs out and beers cracked. Then dinner was made over a fire while Rob launched into sawing up extra wood. A Small Eyed Sphinx Moth kept us company all evening, sitting on the 5 gallon plastic water tank. We wondered if he was attracted to the condensation on the container as well as the light shining through it from the lanterns.
We sat and enjoyed the fire late into the night. I had only drank a couple of beers since Margie and I were rock climbing the following day, and I was a bag of nerves so had no intention of having the slightest of hangovers the next morning. I was also wanting to get a good night's sleep yet just as we were starting to pack up, the rain started. We managed, or Rob managed, to get everything covered in record time and we all dove into our tents as the rain fell down. It pittered and pattered, then splitted and splattered, then hammered down quite hard on our thin flysheets. I had hoped the sound would send me to sleep but instead I lay there wondering if my tent would collapse or start flooding. I tossed and turned, unable to get to sleep, one, because of my hard 'bed', the foam mattress I'd purchased for the weekend which was serving no purpose whatsoever, and two, I was fretting about and dreading the morning's event. I drifted in and out of sleep, trying to turn over when my hips or back hurt, but not finding much solace. Eventually, it was light and I crawled out into our soggy site, aching and feeling like I'd only had a 10 minute nap.
I stretched and looked about. I was very impressed at how Rob had so quickly and efficiently waterproofed everything. All our chairs had been turned upside down and a tarp laid over the table. I wasn't understanding why he'd put 2 branches across the fire pit, it wouldn't blow away, but he told me later that he'd hoped the fire might burn through them and create some more firewood that wouldn't require so much chopping. But the fire had stood no chance through that storm, it was soon doused. Margie's tent was on the other side of our camp site and I was thankful when she emerged soon after me. We had plenty of time before we had to be at the climb center and so we went for breakfast in a small diner at the bottom of the mountain. I needed plenty of caffeine. But that tale is for another blog.
Afterwards, we were unable to contact Emily and Rob, there was no cell phone signal, so we decided to explore an abandoned school that we'd seen locally. It had been closed for a few years, judging by the dates on magazines lying around, and seemed to be used as some sort of storage space.
The roof was leaking, the floors in the gym and hallways were sodden. Old furniture was piled up in rooms and was possibly once organized, but vandals had been in, throwing stuff about and leaving a few token empty beer cans and bottles. There was also a pervading smell of mold, we didn't stay long.
 Back at camp we met with the others, who'd been on a hike, and set to preparing dinner. We had all expended a fair amount of energy and were ready for a feast. The late afternoon was cool and sunny, as if autumn was attempting an early start. With plenty of daylight left, we started a fire and opened the coolers for food and very welcome beers.
Emily and Rob prepared kebabs while Margie and I cut some more firewood. It was hard work and we only managed 2 logs each. but we had plenty to keep us going through the night and also for breakfast. It was so relaxing, to later sit in front of the flames and unwind after our busy days. We still had no immediate neighbors and when conversation lulled, we all just stared contentedly into the flames, the crackling and spitting of the fire being the only sound. It was wonderfully therapeutic and I fervently hoped I was tired enough to get some sleep that night.
Margie got some practice in before we all headed to our sleeping bags, the fire sending dancing shadows against the side of my tent.
The next morning I emerged with another stiff back which gradually loosened up as we spent the next couple of hours having a leisurely breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausage, then slowly packing up camp. We had to be out by 11am but managed to drive away about 11:30. We descended a short way down the mountain to Spruce Knob Lake, the highest lake in WV. Man made in 1953, on its opening day the banks were filled with people and their fishing rods. Today there were only a few people, either fishing, kayaking or walking around the 1 mile perimeter, like us.
This whole mountain has beautiful vegetation. There are so many varieties, with different conifers, deciduous trees, mosses and lichens, wild flowers and grasses, and even because of the recent rainfall, numerous fungi. We even saw a couple of the Ghost Bells plant that I'd first come across on a hike a couple of weeks ago. We saw a water snake and plenty of butterflies and bees, there was little or no pollution up here, the air was fresh, crisp and sweet. I would be happy to live here, the scenery was untainted and so varied that a whole day could be spent exploring this small area. From meadow flowers, to springy marsh grasses or thick pine needles under spruce canopies, everywhere you looked there was something interesting to look at. This is a little piece of heaven, and luckily, due to its remoteness, not heavily frequented. And only campers are allowed to put boats on the water.
We left the lake to drive to the top of the mountain, the highest point in WV at 4861 feet. Up here, the beautiful red spruce trees dominated the landscape, with huge slabs of 300 million year old Pottsville sandstone rock and boulders beneath them. The climate here is similar to Newfoundland with the plant life similar to Canada's. The views were amazing, a 360 degree panorama of tree covered mountains, with barely any human activity in evidence, just a few small houses with a pocket sized patch cleared to grassland for a few cattle.
Lichens clung to the rock faces in the exposed areas, while under the shade of the branches, thick springy mosses carpeted the woodland floor, the sharp rocks softened to rounded hillocks under their emerald mantle. Small trails weaved through the woods opening up to vast vistas where a bench would be placed to sit on or a rugged expanse of rocks could be clambered over. We saw a couple of small rabbits hopping through the undergrowth, yet I'm sure this place was alive with small creatures, likely hiding in the many tunnels and holes we spied amongst the mossy boulders.
Rob climbed aloft on a huge boulder in the distance and posed for a photo while Margie worked her way towards him over the rocky pavement. Neither of them realized that their conversations carried to where Emily and I stood on our vantage point, and we laughed as we heard a commotion behind the rocks with Rob trying to hoist Margie up on to the largest boulder while she complained loudly. Margie then appeared on the smaller boulder in front, throwing her arms wide, as Rob had done earlier, and told him, "They don't know I'm not on the big rock!". Oh, yes we do Margie, we laughed. She had no idea we had heard her every word!
We left Spruce Knob and drove down the mountain towards Seneca. Rob had spied a store there, named Yokum's, named like him but with a different spelling, and he wanted a photo.
We nosed around the store. I was tempted to buy the Road Kill Grill seasoning but settled instead for a banana pudding ice cream, which was the best banana flavored ice cream I'd ever had. I smirked greedily with my 2 scoops when Emily lamented that she wanted more after finishing her 1 scoop, and quickly scuttled past in case she wanted to share mine. Rob posed for his photo, and then Margie and I left Emily and Rob to head back home. We'd had plenty of activity on our weekend and as we drove back towards Meadow House, with Seneca Rocks catching the late afternoon sun behind us, I was already looking forward to a soft comfy mattress and a good night's sleep.

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